It was a clear and brisk day, and Sören Sigurdsson was outside on his break. The twenty-six-year-old neurosurgeon was glad for a breath of fresh air, the coolness after the heat he always generated when operating, a chance to "dial back" from the surgery he'd just performed and take in the blue sky, the landscaping of the hospital grounds, though it was a bit less impressive in early winter. Here was a moment of peace, where he could just be before going inside for the last few hours of his shift. Nice and quiet. Blissful solitude -
It was an unfamiliar voice. Baritone register, Londoner if he had to place the accent - though he'd only been in the UK since the summer of 2010 and hadn't quite figured it all out yet, he was getting better at determining accents. Sören glanced over his shoulder, annoyed at being interrupted on his break by someone who didn't know him, even more annoyed that it was a suit. Although, the man in the charcoal grey suit was quite attractive - about two inches taller than Sören's six feet, broad-shouldered, trim, short dark hair, green eyes. On the pale side, clear-complexioned, clean-shaven. As pretty as he was handsome, with high cheekbones, a full, generous mouth, strong jawline, a bit of a smoulder to him. He looked thirtysomething at the oldest, probably not that much older than Sören.
"Jæja?" Sören tried not to glare, not wanting to come off as totally rude, but he couldn't keep the note of irritation out of his voice.
The man stepped forward. "I was told you'd be out here," he said, sounding somewhat apologetic, as if he knew Sören was on break and he was interrupting that precious time. He extended his hand - manicured, Rolex watch, long, elegant fingers... the kind of smooth, soft hands of someone who'd never done hard labor. Sören hated shaking hands with strangers, as a surgeon who had to wash his hands constantly, and also where if something happened to his hand, like a sprain or a break, that was very bad for his job. Not that handshakes tended to result in that, but Sören was paranoid, especially when he'd had to deal with hysterical family members of patients in the past. Nonetheless, Sören took the suit's hand. The man had a strong grip, both assuring and dominating.
"I'm Anthony Wyatt-Jones," the man said, giving a thin smile that did not meet his eyes. "Criminal defense barrister -"
Sören rolled his eyes and let out a deep sigh. "If you're here about Rafferty, I've already spoken to solicitors."
"Yes, Mr. Sigurdsson, I'm aware of that. I'm here to do a followup. I prefer to err on the side of being thorough, leaving none of the proverbial stones unturned. My colleagues may not appreciate that, but my clients do."
Sören pursed his lips. This was the last thing he wanted to do on his break; at least this Anthony Wyatt-Jones was easy on the eyes, and easy to listen to. Sören's eyes raked him up and down, taking him in. "Go on."
"I'd like to ask you some questions, and if possible, be taken on a tour of where Mr. Rafferty performed the operation he's being sued for. Have a glance at the lighting, equipment... that sort of thing."
Pete Rafferty had been suspended following a charge of criminal negligence - operating under the influence. The patient had died, which of course created a bit of a scandal for the hospital, and just the event of the death had been fairly traumatic for the entire staff, especially those who had witnessed it.
"We'll go on the tour first," Sören said.
"Thank you, Mr. Sigurdsson."
Sören narrowed his eyes. After living in the UK for over a year, he'd gotten used to the inevitability that he would be addressed by his last name, but it was properly a patronymic and not a surname - in Iceland everyone was on a first-name basis, no matter who they were, and it was seen as a bit of a faux pas to call someone by their last name. Sören was used to it now, but he still didn't like it, and being interrupted on his break increased the annoyance he'd otherwise feel. And he really hated the British custom of specialists being called "Mister" instead of "Doctor". "I. AM. A. DOCTOR." he'd ranted privately to his cousin after he'd moved. That was just the icing on the cake of his annoyance.
Anthony Wyatt-Jones was not kidding when he said he preferred to err on the side of being thorough, wanting a demonstration of the lights and all the equipment in the operating room, not currently in use. He took notes as Sören showed that everything was fully functional, and then Sören took him back outside, because he would be damned if he wasn't getting at least some fresh air. A little bit of wind was kicking up now, carrying the notes of Anthony's cologne, a cool, clean scent, rain or ocean notes, with a touch of warm musk underneath. It was likely expensive, and just enough to make a good impression without being overpowering. Sören liked it. Under other circumstances he would have asked what it was.
"The deceased had been to you for scans and advisement before the procedure. Were there any contraindicators for surgery? Any underlying health problems that would have made the surgery higher risk, a higher chance for dying under the knife?"
"No," Sören said.
More notes. "To my understanding, you reported Rafferty to your chief physician?"
Sören nodded. "We were doing two different procedures but we were scrubbing in at the same time and he seemed... off."
There was a pause, and then the next question. "What was your relationship like with Peter Rafferty?"
"Honestly? We weren't friends, we didn't like each other much."
This, of course, was exactly the sort of thing the shark was looking for, the "gotcha". Rafferty hadn't been blood tested before or after the procedure, so the intoxication couldn't be proven beyond doubt that way. All the prosecution had to work with was witnesses.
"Why was that?"
Sören wanted to say "none of your business", feeling uncomfortable discussing this sort of thing with a stranger, but he knew that if he withheld information that might actually do more harm than good, somehow. "I was at the Pride parade over the summer, marching with a few colleagues and other doctors from other branches of the NHS system. We had some photos taken of us, our names got on social media and in the newspapers. Rafferty of course couldn't say anything to my face without getting fired, but he, you know. Is a pretty outspoken Tory, telly would be on in the break room and he'd say stuff like 'what this country needs is a return to traditional values' and he'd glare at me. Passive-aggressive shite... er, stuff... like referring to me as 'you' and the other doctors by their names. A look on his face when he talked to me like he was smelling something foul or had just sucked on a lemon. Giving me a wider physical berth than he gave other people. Those little tells. All little things, but they added up. He didn't like me, I didn't like him, it was sort of a hostile work environment."
"And when you reported him... that was prior to his procedure?"
"Correct. He obviously was still allowed to perform, though my complaint may not have been noted until the operation was already underway. I really don't know."
"You said there was something 'off' about him. Off how?"
Sören closed his eyes for a moment, recalling what he'd seen in his mind's eye. He opened them to Anthony's watchful green eyes. "Unsteady gait, slightly slurred speech. He had beer breath. Not enough where you could smell him a kilometer away, but enough that up close..."
"And you're quite sure it was beer you smelled, not, for example, the breath of someone having a diabetic sugar episode or with another health condition."
"I'll never say I'm 100% sure on the 0.5% chance I might be wrong, but I've smelled glycemic imbalances before, dental conditions, other things... this wasn't that. Plus that combined with the way he was walking, talking..."
"So you've had experience observing people under the influence? Are you a bit of a drinker yourself, Mr. Sigurdsson?"
Sören normally wouldn't disclose something like this to a total stranger, but he bristled at the way that was worded, and reacted. "My guardians were alcoholics, I think I'm probably an expert on that subject."
Anthony's expression had been neutral thus far, but Sören noted a little frown and tightness around his eyes. There was a pause before he fired off his next question. "So you reporting him was strictly because of that, and not because his dislike of you being part of the LGBT community."
Sören nodded. "I would have reported him regardless of my personal feelings for him. Even if it was one of the surgeons I'm friendly with. If someone can do their job - and Rafferty was a damn fine surgeon up to this point - I don't care what their bloody politics are, I care that they can get shit done." Once again the swearing came out, and Sören felt a bit self-conscious, letting it slip in front of someone posh, cultured, but he wasn't here to impress the guy - handsome that he was - he was here to answer questions. "And if someone can't do their job because they're too fucked up on alcohol or drugs or they haven't gotten enough sleep or what have you, I don't care about their personal relationship to me, I care about the safety of that patient. I don't want blood on my hands because I'd rather score popularity points than listen to my conscience."
"Thank you for your honesty, Mr. Sigurdsson. And for your conscience."
Sören glared. "You thank me for my conscience, but you're defending this guy?"
Anthony's expression was no longer neutral. His nostrils flared slightly. He squared his shoulders. "It's my job," he said, his irritation cold rather than hot, lowering his voice instead of raising it. "We don't get to pick and choose our clients, no more than you get to pick or choose your patients. And in this country, people get a fair trial. Most people with a conscience would prefer it be so, even at the distaste of defending the indefensible, rather than someone being thrown in prison without a chance to prove one's innocence. In countries where that's done, it goes hand in hand with other human rights violations. I will defend ninety-nine guilty people to make sure one innocent isn't wrongly imprisoned. I will defend ninety-nine monsters to ask for leniency for one who chose the wrong path because they didn't have better choices."
That sounds personal. Sören decided not to pry. "Fair enough," he said. "I can respect that. Are you done with your questions, Mr. Wyatt-Jones?"
"Är du från Sverige? Jag tog några års ledighet från skolan till turné Västeuropa och Skandinavien var min favoritdel av turnén."
Sören was caught off guard, and strangely charmed by this question. Though the question had been in Swedish, he replied in Danish, his third language - he didn't speak Swedish, though Danish and Swedish were for the most part mutually intelligible. "Jeg er fra Island. Født i Akureyri, var kirurg på hospitalet i Reykjavik, før jeg kom hit for et år siden."
Anthony nodded slowly, taking it in. "Icelandic. I did think that was strange for a Swedish accent." He quickly added, "Not that your accent is strange. I quite like it."
"I've gotten that a lot." Sören's weight shifted from one foot to the other. "So anything else? Am I dismissed?"
"There is one more thing." Their eyes met. "Would you like to go out for dinner sometime? I know you've got rotating shifts, so the word 'dinner' is flexible - when we've mutually got some time off."
Sören cocked his head to one side. He was taken aback. "You mean... like, a date?"
"Yes. I'm gay."
It came out before Sören could stop himself. "Hi Gay, I'm Sören."
Anthony laughed - a genuine laugh, which made Sören smile. Which in turn produced a genuine smile from Anthony, smiling with his eyes, not the fake disarming smile of earlier. It was warm. Dazzling.
"Shit, you probably regret asking now," Sören said.
"No. I don't." The smile was softer, but still genuine. "If anything, I'm even more convinced asking you was the right decision. I needed that."
Sören smirked. "Hi Even More Convinced -"
Anthony raised an eyebrow. "Don't push it."
"Oh, but pushing it is fun. I push it real good."
Anthony caught the innuendo and turned a little pink, giving a guilty grin that all but shouted Mind, gutter. Sören's cheeks flushed too - he was surprised by the return of the devil-may-care attitude, the glimpse of the old him that he'd thought long since gone. And Sören felt a little flutter. He hadn't dated anyone since he'd moved to London - not only did he have a busy schedule, but the set of experiences that had prompted his exodus from his home country had put him off to bars, the club scene, and online dating services. He was wary. But he couldn't deny he missed companionship, he missed touch, he missed sex. And with dating another professional, Anthony would likely "get it" with being busy, and time being precious, so at least they had that going for them.
"So is that a yes, then?" Anthony looked a little hopeful.
Sören did some mental calculations. "It's Thursday the seventeenth... as things go, I actually have this Saturday night free, the nineteenth, and most of Sunday the twentieth. I'll have to be back at work in the evening, but I can either do Saturday night or Sunday brunch if -"
"Saturday night? Is 7 OK?"
Sören nodded. "Seven is good. You have anywhere in mind? I'm still getting a feel for London and what's good -"
"What part of London are you in? I don't want you to have to travel too far."
Anthony thought for a moment, and suggested a restaurant. Upmarket, fusion cuisine. "We can go elsewhere if you've got any dietary restrictions..."
"I don't, so we can go there. Should I meet you there?"
"I don't mind picking you up, but if you'd rather meet me there that works. I'd like to pay for you, though, I'm a bit old-fashioned that way."
"OK." Sören smiled again. "Well, that made up for you intruding on my break."
Anthony gave a nervous chuckle. "This made up for me having to come out here to bother you."
They exchanged cell numbers, and then Anthony was on his way with a smile and a wave. Sören had a little spring in his step when he went back inside the hospital and he got through the last few hours of his shift without feeling ready to fall over. On the Tube ride back home, Sören was actually singing.