The Digit by Simon Barker

Sunday, September 11, 2016
Simon Barker's humorous short inspired by Saki, in which a doctor searching for research subjects takes advantage of a drunken man wanting something else entirely.

"Copulation in the Agile Antechinus is very vigorous. Shortly after mating all males die (as in other antechinuses)."

R. Strahan, The Mammals of Australia

Without warning Dr Schartz-Metterklume stepped from her taxi and strode through the traffic towards a gang of building workers.

"Hey!" she called as the men harassed a passing office girl. "What do you think you're doing?"

The men shut up for a second then saw they were being addressed by a woman in a business suit and cranked up their harassment. The office girl fled, saluting with a finger behind her back. The lights changed and there was a tumult of car horns, but Dr Schartz-Metterklume wasn't fazed.

"Who's your supervisor?"

The gang hooted like simians. "Is this your vehicle?" she asked, indicating a shabby pickup. She turned to retrieve her phone and saw that her taxi had driven off. Oh, that was typical. Well, at least she had her handbag and the building contractor wouldn't be hard to look up. Complete Façade, was the name on the pickup's door.

Now taxiless, Dr Schartz-Metterklume chose to walk to her appointment although she was already late. Darling Harbour wasn't far but she lost even more time locating the hotel since she'd been counting on the guidance of her phone. Well overdue she entered the hotel reception to find it crowded with biotech conference delegates. She'd come to discuss the licensing of a provisional patent with one of them. But none of the name tags rang a bell and the young man at the reception desk appeared to be a nitwit.

Suddenly recollecting that the hotel room number was 113 she rode upstairs and knocked. Sure enough, the occupant was at home and when the door opened Dr Schartz-Metterklume found herself face to chest with an undersized gentleman who looked like he meant business. But not patent business. Instead of introducing himself he stood in silence, insolently looking her up and down - mostly down - before announcing enthusiastically. "You're from the agency."

"I beg your pardon."

"You're from the agency," he repeated. He was well drunk.

"What agency?"

"You know..."

"I'm afraid I don't."

"The escort agency," he insisted and as proof he held up a folded magazine. Dr Schartz-Metterklume leant forward and examined an advertisement. It showed a woman dressed as a health worker with the motto Call Nursie! For all your medical (and Veterinary!) needs.

Call Nursie, thought Dr Schartz-Metterklume, how childish is that? All the same she couldn't help noticing that Nursie bore her some resemblance, at least in the statistically less vital areas. And the man who had opened the door obviously had no doubts. He could hardly believe his luck.

Well, all right then, Dr Schartz-Metterklume said to herself, if you insist on taking me for a nurse rather than the doctor, lets see how far it gets you.

"Are you Ray?" she enquired.

"Yeah, that's right. Come and put on the uniform."

"Have you got it ready?"

"I thought you were bringing it."

"Hardly. Didn't they explain that the client supplies the uniform?"


"Well, I don't carry nurses' uniforms around," said Dr Schartz-Metterklume dismissively. "I've got a stethoscope," she added, extracting one from her bag. "And some bandaids... somewhere. Would you like to be upgraded from nurse to doctor?"

"No, I want Nursie."

"Yes, I thought you'd say that. Your type always does. We'll just have to go shopping. Come on. I'll need rubber gloves too, if I'm going to do a proper job. I don't suppose you remembered them either. Do you have a car? No? We'll take a taxi."

Dr Schartz-Metterklume practically pushed the man out of his hotel room and down to the entrance. Unsteady as he was he was still keen to get his money's worth and clearly found his escort's bossing to be a powerful stimulant. She had the hotel valet whistle up a taxi and off they drove on an apparently aimless journey through the city. As they stopped and started in the traffic the man blathered drunkenly and when he looked out the taxi window he caught sight of a bumper sticker campaigning for improved wages for nurses. Nurses - we can't live without them, he read. This set him off on a panegyric. How he loved nurses, he told Dr Schartz-Metterklume. How he loved the way they dressed, how he loved the way they bent over to make beds, how he loved the way they made you strip so they could wash you, how he loved the way they scolded you. Dr Schartz-Metterklume didn't bother pointing out to him that making beds was no longer a nursing duty. She listened with scepticism as he explained to her that he was a happily married man with perfectly normal tastes but he had always loved nurses. Everything about nurses turned him on, their hats, their blouses, their titles, their sensible shoes, their thermometers. And what was so wrong with that, he wanted to know. His friend Phil was the same. Phil couldn't go a week without a visit from Nursie. And Roland too. In fact it was Roland who'd recommended the agency. She must remember him - the tall man with the big nose. "Roland wouldn't shut up about you," the man enthused.

"Wouldn't he? Well, everything Roland deserves, you deserve too."

The man rubbed his hands. "Including the squirty thing?"

"The squirty thing? You mean a syringe?"

"No, no, not the syringe. The big thing - you know..."

"Oh, that. Yes, you can have that too. You can have that till you howl."

"Jesus," the man yelped. Then looking round he added, "Why don't we get back to the hotel? I want to get started. I'm in the mood."

"Oh, we won't be going back to the hotel."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm the nurse and I say you need to go to the hospital."

"The hospital?"

"Definitely." Dr Schartz-Metterklume grabbed the man's hairy wrist and pretended to find his pulse. "I think you need a proper examination. As soon as possible."

"Oh, yes!"

"I want you to get straight into bed while I prepare the instruments."

The man rubbed his hands once more with fury. This was better than he'd imagined. He couldn't wait to tell Roland. "I thought Roland was bullshitting. I didn't believe it."

"Oh, you'll believe it," said Dr Schartz-Metterklume as they approached the hospital entrance. Then she added nonchalantly, "Has Roland recovered then?"


"Yes. Did they take out the tube?"

"What tube?"

"The urethral... Didn't he tell you?"


"Oh, it's the funniest story. It wouldn't go down." The man stared. "It's true. I tried everything. It only made things worse. He was totally shagged out but it still wouldn't go limp. I shouldn't laugh. He had the worst time of it trying to piss. In the end they had to shove a tube up him. Otherwise he would have exploded."

"You're kidding?"

"No. It was stuck."


"Hours and hours it went on for, without budging."

"Was it Viagra?"

"Nothing to do with Viagra, my dear. It was my fault. I gave him the digit."

"The digit?"

Dr Schartz-Metterklume nodded solemnly pointing her finger in a gesture that duplicated the one she'd seen earlier in the afternoon when the office girl had fled the building workers. "Didn't he tell you about the digit? The digit makes Viagra look like jelly beans."

"He never mentioned it," the man gasped.

"Hmm. Well, I hope you've emptied your bladder. I think that's where he stuffed up."

"What are you doing here?" the ward sister demanded as she stood at the head of the bed in which the man lay.

"Me? I'm waiting for that bloody tart to come back," the man responded. At first the sister thought he must have been referring to his dessert since the evening meal had now ended. But it soon became apparent he was referring to something else. "I asked for a nurse and they sent some tart without any uniform. She told me I was supposed to have the uniform. Jesus. I've been here for hours. Where's she got to? She's pissed off without doing anything."

"Sir. Please."

"Oh, finally. You're back. Where the hell did you get to? It's been hours and we haven't done anything. What about some action."

"I beg your pardon, Sir. This is Dr Schartz-Metterklume. She's conducting research. I won't have you behaving like this to the doctors in my ward."

"Alright then, spank me. Come on, I came here for some action. What about it, Honey? I like that uniform. Why don't you undo some of those buttons?"

"Sir, I'm the ward sister. Have you been drinking?"

"Of course I've been drinking."

"Then I'll have to ask you to behave yourself."

At this point a more junior nurse entered. She was bearing Dr Schartz-Metterklume's phone.

"Oi, Nursie!" the man in the bed ejaculated at the sight of this young woman. "That's more like it." He began fondling himself under the threadbare hospital blanket.

The nurse ignored him and turned to Dr Schartz-Metterklume. "A cab driver just dropped this off for you. He said you left it in his taxi."

"Oh, my phone. Wonderful. Now I can look up that number." Dr Schartz-Metterklume pressed the call button. Almost at once came the muffled polyphony of The William Tell Overture. The drunken man scrambled for his mobile in the bag of personal belongings stowed under the bed.


"Is that Ray Quilty?"

"Yeah, you got me."

"It's Doctor Schartz-Metterklume. I'm sorry about our appointment this afternoon. I'm afraid my phone went missing. If it's convenient we can meet at 11 tomorrow morning. Would that be okay...?"

The drunk stared at his phone, then at Dr Schartz-Metterklume, then back at the phone. "Hey, what the hell's going on?"

"I'm conducting research, as Sister just explained."

"Yes, that's right. Dr Schartz-Metterklume is an expert on prostate disease," the sister chimed in. "She's discovered a new method of testing for..."

"Jesus Christ! I phone up for a bit of uniform and I end up... This's bloody ridiculous. I swear to God next time I'll order a plain old shag."

"Sir, if you continue to be offensive," the sister scolded, "I'll be forced to call the orderlies."

"I don't know why we have to put up with patients like that," the sister complained later. "They shouldn't bring them up to the ward in that state. Did you see how drunk he was?"

"Yes, I did," said Dr Schartz-Metterklume as she read through the result of a pathology test. "And it says here that his prostate is perfectly normal."

"That's interesting. So you didn't need to take the sample."

"No, but I thought he was so drunk he wouldn't feel anything."

"Not from the noise he made."

"It was a tad ear-splitting, wasn't it."

"And did you hear about the woman who turned up looking for him? Dr Wiseman said she was a prostitute. He must have phoned her. It's amazing what people will do."

"Was she dressed as a nurse?"

"Yes, she was, actually. The residents thought she worked here. But Dr Wiseman recognised her."

"It's a small world."


  1. Very funny and well paced. A good and entertaining read,

  2. Entertaining tale well constructed
    Not a word wasted
    Nicely done
    Mike Mc

  3. Very funny! I thought the story moved very well. The main character was especially well-written. The ending was quite satisfying too. There's probably a joke there but I haven't had enough coffee to make it.

  4. Oh, Lord have Nursie! Some squirmy reading - like "The Water Method Man". My favourite line: "Of course I've been drinking." A good read, funny and sunny despite the shady topic.

  5. Ooo-er matron! An amusing tale, nudge nudge wink wink. Carry On Writing...