Archer parked his car at the edge of the sprawling car park at the front of Kingston Hospital's single story building. Davey sat in the passenger seat and Geek leaned in from the back. His breath still smelling of last night's alcohol. 'What's the plan?'
Davey pointed toward the hospital entrance, where three armed policemen stood in bulletproof jackets. Their rifles were holstered, but they were threatening nonetheless. 'What do you suppose they're doing here?'
'It's standard now,' said Archer. 'Since that madman went on a gun rampage at St George's last year, they've stationed guards at all hospitals. The only way you can get in now is if the NHS database verifies you as a relation to the patient.'
Davey turned in his seat to look at Archer. 'Or if you are a patient.'
Archer looked at Geek. Geek looked at Davey and laughed nervously. 'I hope you're not thinking what I'm thinking.'
Davey said, 'I don't see any other way, do you? We could do something fairly low level to you.'
'Low level?' yelled Geek. 'Like what?'
'Shhh! Don't draw attention,' whispered Archer.
'Forget it, I'm not going to let you do anything. I'm not. Well, what are you going to do?'
Davey rubbed his temples, 'Maybe a gash down the leg? What do you think?'
Archer added. 'It was your fault we lost the Capacillant Frame. Only right you should fix the mistake.'
‘Guys, there must be some other way.'
'I'm all ears.'
'Look, even if I do get in as a patient that doesn't mean I'm going to gain access to the guy they admitted. And even if I did, he's a vegetable. What possible information..?'
Davey uttered a small, ironic laugh that interrupted Geek. 'You've got one of the greatest minds on the planet, you'll figure something out. Now be quiet and roll up your trouser leg. Hang on! We haven't got anything sharp. Geek have you got anything sharp?'
'Yes, I've got a Stanley knife in my tool bag. Wait, I didn't say that. That bitch must have given me some kind of compliance drug. Hey guys, come on let's think about this. I get queasy at the sight of blood.'
'Just get the knife,' said Archer. 'Would you rather do it yourself? On second thoughts that may not be such a good idea. You'll probably mess it up.'
Davey reached into the tool bag and, after some rummaging, produced the Stanley knife. He opened the blade. 'A bit rusty. Is your tetanus up to date?'
Although it was past dusk, even in the dimly lit car park Archer could see Geek's forehead gleaming with sweat. 'Err... I'm not sure.'
'Well, they'll give you one inside. Just say it was a rusty nail or something. I mean, it'll hurt, but you won't die.'
'Oh, that's ok then! Jeeesus. You guys are mental. Just... make the bloody cut.'
Davey leaned over the seat, twisting so that he could lower the knife to Geek's leg. He pressed the rusty blade against his friend's hairy skin.
'Make it quick,' said Archer. 'But deep enough to require stitches.'
Geek shut his eyes, gritted his teeth, took a sharp, deep intake of breath, then opened his eyes. 'Stop! Wait.'
Davey moved the blade away. 'What?'
'We can hack the database. Make me into a next of kin.'
'How? We don't even know the guy's name.'
'If I've hacked the database that won't matter. We'll hunt for the admittances, see what we come up with.'
'Why didn't you suggest this earlier?'
'I only just thought of it. I'm not thinking clearly. Must be the drugs. It's got to be worth a try.'
Archer turned to the front and flopped in his seat. 'Are you sure you can hack it? It might take hours. I still think we should do it with the cut.'
'Look, wait. Give me one hour. If I can't do what we need by then, I'll let you cut my balls off.'
'Stop sir, who are you here to see?'
'Vernal Campion. I'm his next of kin.'
'Can I see some ID.'
Geek flashed his identity card.
The officer consulted a handheld computer. Geek read the screen upside down while the man called up Vernal Campion's NHS record, verified the next of kin and allowed Geek through the main doors. Geek only briefly turned his head to see Archer and Davey sat at the opposite end of the car park, in Archer's car, no doubt pleased that this part of the plan had worked. After checking the ward-room number with the reception desk, he headed left along a brightly lit, long, shiny white corridor that joined another white corridor at a t-junction. At this time of the evening there were not so many visitors around. Geek imagined that, as the next of kin of an injured man, he would be allowed to stay throughout the night.
At the ward reception desk, trying not to look like a terrified liar, Geek announced himself as Vernal's next of kin. An older doctor who introduced himself as Doctor Banerjee led him into a cramped, messy office.
'Are you related to Vernal in any way?'
'No,' said Geek. 'He has... no other family. He was involved in a boating accident that took them all.' This yarn would link in with the updated database record. 'He and I have been best friends since we were little.'
'Do you know why he might have been left outside the hospital like this?'
'He's in a coma. Slipped into it about two hours ago. We've put him through the MRI scanner and his brain activity is way up, to a level I've never seen before.'
Geek sighed his best sigh. He shook his head slowly for effect. 'Vernal had been mixing with the wrong type of people. Pleasure seekers. People who were into experimental drugs. I have no idea what kind of stuff he was into.'
'We're waiting for our own toxicology reports to come back. Then I'll be able to tell you. In the meantime, we have no idea how long this coma will last. But in the next hour or so I will be able to hand you over to a support counsellor who will be able to talk you through the options.'
'Can I see him?'
'Of course you can. Just... try not to be too alarmed. There's a good chance he'll make a full recovery.'
Geek knew the doctor was lying; telling a next of kin what he thought they wanted to hear.
Vernal Campion lay under a bedsheet in a private room, as still as the dead, for he may as well have been. His hair had either been shaved, or it was already short. Geek chose not to ask which, as it would reveal that he didn't already know what his friend looked like. He made no comment on the lack of hair, and let Doctor Banerjee think, or not think, whatever he liked.
The young man's head was hooked up to a machine and so was his heart, hence the rhythmic beeping as his pulse was monitored. Geek noticed that the little finger on Vernal Campion’s right hand was missing.
'His things are in the draw by his bed,' said Doctor Banerjee.
'Can I have a moment alone with him?'
The doctor bowed his head sympathetically. 'Of course. I'll be in my office.'
He left the room.
When the coast was clear, Geek went to the bedside draw and looked inside. He was slow and measured about his actions, as he would undoubtedly be under closed-circuit surveillance. A quick glance up identified the corner of the room where the camera was mounted.
The draw contained only Vernal's clothes. The pockets of his combat trousers were all empty but for one which contained his wallet. Using his body as a shield from the camera, Geek pocketed the wallet and then went to sit by the bed, acting out some fake resemblance of friendly grief.
Now he would just have to find a way to get out.
Davey pointed at the dashboard. 'Do you want the radio?'
'I'm too nervous.'
'Too nervous for jazz fusion? Hang on a minute. Who's that?'
Archer turned his eyes in the direction of Davey's gaze. Across the car park by the entrance to the hospital an older couple appeared to be arguing with the security officer, who was consulting his computer.
'Shit.' Geek was about to be rumbled. The database change might hold things up a bit. But it wouldn't take long to unravel the truth. And Geek needed to be well clear of the hospital when that happened. Archer pulled out his mobile and hastily wrote a text, typing quickly with sweaty, uncooperative fingers.
Geek's phone buzzed in his pocket. He took it out and read the text.
PARENTS ARRIVING. GET OUT.
He felt the blood draining from his face. Stripping colour and heat with it. Don't be hasty. Remembering the camera he stood up slowly and tucked the phone back into his pocket. He could only hope at this stage that Doctor Banerjee had not yet been alerted. He walked out into the empty corridor. The door to Doctor Banerjee's office was closed but despite this Geek turned in the opposite direction and headed deeper into the hospital. Looking at the signs he thought it would make sense to head for the Maternity Wing. There would be activity there so he wouldn't look out of place, and there would undoubtedly be a twenty-four hour entrance that would allow him to slip out of the building. He mounted a flight of stairs and walked across a glass bridge over a dark and empty access road. Once in the Maternity Wing, he skipped down another flight of stairs that pointed to the Way Out, holding open the door for a couple of nurses. The door was closed but had a night access buzzer on both the inside and outside, but the mere press of the button and a short wait brought the cool night air through the door as it slid open to reveal the car park. Someone manning a desk had happily let him out. He must have carried out his exhausted expectant father look pretty well on the CCTV.
He didn't dare go back to the car. Instead he slipped away through a pedestrian entrance in a dark corner of the car park and walked briskly down the road.
Torchlight pierced the car from across the car park. The guard behind it started to make his way towards them.
'Time to go,' said Davey and Archer needed no further persuading as he turned the key in the ignition. Slipping the car into first gear and accelerating hard in the opposite direction of the guard pointing the torch. Into second gear and round a corner to the exit. A bush now between them and the guard.
Looking in his rear-view, waiting for the moment to pull out, he said. 'Let's hope he didn't catch my number plate.'
It was dark enough and he had been moving fast enough. He could only hope they would have avoided a proper look from the guard.
Davey said, 'What about Geek?'
A gap in the traffic, the torchlight piercing the hedge as the guard approached it from the other side. Archer pulled out and rammed the accelerator hard to get away.
Davey’s mobile buzzed. He picked it up from his lap and opened it. 'It's Geek, he's clear of the building. He's waiting at the Norbiton roundabout.'
Archer eyed the rear-view mirror, expecting to see flashing lights in it at any moment.