An Interesting Man
By Portwenn Hydra
Author's Note: Doc Martin and all of its characters, themes and plotlines are the property of Buffalo Pictures. This work of fiction is written for purely entertainment purposes and no infringement of legal rights is intended. Portions of this story are written from the perspective of a tourist from the United States, and there are many "Americanisms" in the story. We ask your indulgence.
Hal had no idea what he was unleashing when he asked Martin if he'd ever seen the Chough's up close. Certainly not the animated rush that came next.
"You see there was this mad baker who was trying to steal the Chough's eggs . . ." began Louisa.
"Bloody idiot! He had no idea of proper hygiene – infected himself and could have laid the whole village low with a bacterial infection from all those bird feces . . ." Martin continued, disgust evident in his tone.
"He climbed down the cliff to get the eggs – they're valuable you know -"
"When the moron fell down the cliff and sustained a serious subdural hematoma. . ."
"And Martin was brilliant, just brilliant! He rappelled down that cliff like it was a walk in the park so he could save his patient. And all he had was a power drill and a bungee cord." Louisa was clearly bursting with pride as she gave her husband a pat on his hand.
"Didn't have much choice, did I – no other medical help within fifty miles of that place." His voice was a little gruff, but his face softened as he placed his hand on top of hers. "Plus there was the gun."
"And the mental patient off his meds . . ."
"And don't forget your father . . ."
"No, or Bert Large . . ."
"Bert!" exclaimed Zarie. "That nice man who runs the restaurant?"
"Yes but he was still a plumber, then," explained Louisa.
"Not that he was any better at that than he is at running a restaurant," grumbled Martin.
"And Pauline was there too, of course . . ."
"And Al with that blasted boat . . ."
"AND THE MYSTERIOUS PACKAGE FROM SPAIN!" they both exclaimed in unison, Louisa bubbling over with laughter and Martin smiling just a little.
Hal and Zarie looked at each other, thoroughly bewildered by the story but intrigued by the way the Martin and Louisa had interacted while they told it. The English pair clearly had a shared history and a much deeper bond than initially met the eye. Hal gave Zarie a wink. He had just known in his bones that this couple had something going for them. They could draw on these experiences and memories to build a life together instead of living parallel ones in the same house, he was sure.
"Well that's quite a tale, there," Hal said. "I could see how you might have been a little too busy with all that going on to pay a whole lot of attention to the Choughs. Maybe you'll get another chance. They're mighty pretty birds to watch."
Before Louisa could stop laughing completely or Martin could respond to Hal, Martin's cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his breast pocket, scowled at the screen and swore. "Ellingham!" He answered, his tone curt and clearly exasperated.
Louisa and Zarie had turned their attention back to James Henry, but Hal watched the doctor closely as he took the call. He saw Martin's face grow grave.
"Okay, Al. Have you rung for the ambulance yet? Right, that's good. I don't suppose they told you how long they would be, did they? That long? Hmmm. Tell me where you are." The doctor's voice was steady and clinical now, no sign of the irritation he'd shown just moments before.
He nodded his head as he drew a prescription pad and pen out of his pocket and began writing. "Got that. Is he conscious? I see. Keep him talking. He's likely concussed, so we want to see if we can keep him conscious. Yes, that's right."
"A landslip? Not sure I can get through that in the car. Yes, I see. Well I'll find someone. Just stay calm and keep him talking and I'll be there as soon as I can." With that, Martin ended the call and put his mobile phone away, sighing heavily.
"I have to go out – there's been an accident on the road to the moor. A landslip caused by all the rain from the storm. Al was coming back from Aunt Ruth's and he found Penhale's vehicle flipped over and half covered in mud; we have to see if we can extricate him."
"Oh, Martin!" Louisa exclaimed in dismay. She picked up the baby and held him close. "Is Joe alright?"
Martin was walking away toward his surgery. "I don't know. Al says it looks like he's bleeding from his head and may have other injuries. Plus there's a risk that the car is in an unstable place and that more rain will cause a broader landslip." He turned his head back over his shoulder. "Can you get me a torch, please, and my rain gear?" Louisa nodded, handed James to Zarie, and turned towards the pantry.
Hal sat down on the sofa next to Zarie and James. "A landslip? I wonder what that is. Doesn't sound too good."
"Sounds like a good old Missouri mudslide to me."
Hal nodded. "You're probably right. I heard him say something about not being able to get there in his car – it sounds like the road might be washed out."
"That poor trapped man. I hope he can hang on until help gets there."
Hal nodded and patted Zarie's hand before starting another game of peek-a-boo with James.
When Martin returned to the living room, he was carrying his black medical bag and a portable tool box with a handle. Hal nodded at the practicality. "Anything I can help you with, Martin?"
Martin shook his head. Just then, Louisa returned with a dark green waxed cotton coat and a broad brimmed hat. When Martin took them from her, she handed him his torch.
Martin stopped and took her hand, ignoring the guests. "Listen, Louisa, don't wait up for me. I don't know how long it's going to be – I'm not even sure I can get there in the car. Al says the roads on the moor are being washed out."
She looked distraught. "It won't help for you to get stuck out there in the storm too. Is there anyone who can take you out in a 4 by 4? Maybe I could call Roger? Or the lifeboat crew?"
Hal interrupted. "I have an idea for you. The crew that was filming the Choughs with David Attenborough had a whole fleet of Range Rovers. Those things look like they can get through just about anything. Anyhow, the crew said they were going to be down at the pub tonight – something about a band playing. I'm sure if we go down and ask, one of them will drive you up there."
Martin looked dubious as he struggled into his coat and hat. "It won't be much help if a drunkard runs off the road in a Rover."
"Martin!" Louisa chided. "I'm sure at least some of them are sober. And if they aren't maybe they will let you drive." She turned to Hal. "That's a great idea, Hal. Thanks." She smiled warmly at him.
Martin made a sound of disgust, stooped to give James a kiss on the forehead, and then headed for the door with Hal at his heels.
The atmosphere at the Crab and Lobster when Hal and Martin came in out of the storm was raucous as the capacity crowd clapped along to the music of the Fisherman's Friends and the beer was clearly flowing liberally. Hal itched to join in the music – they were singing Pay Me My Money Down, a song Hal could play in his sleep. But tonight was not the night for making music, he reminded himself, thinking of the storm and the mudslide and the poor man he now knew was the village's policeman trapped in his car.
As Hal scanned the crowd for his friends from the film crew, he was startled to see Martin square his shoulders and then stride across the barroom to the makeshift stage. The doctor seemed oblivious to the dirty looks and shouts of Tosser and Killjoy that followed in his wake. Once up at the stage, he grabbed the microphone from the stunned singer, as the crowd jeered and the band gave each other bemused looks.
"Attention, attention," the doctor intoned, his booming baritone amplified by the microphone to a deafening roar. "There has been a landslip out on the road to Bodmin moor. P.C. Penhale was involved in an accident. Many of the roads are reported to be washed out from the storm and it will take the ambulance at least an hour and probably longer to get through from Truro. It is imperative that I find someone sober with access to an off-road vehicle to take me out to the site so I can provide medical treatment." He looked out expectantly, with a little moue of disgust at the smell of beer.
The crowd fell quiet, stunned. Hal was impressed at their reaction – there was immediate concern for the victim and despite having just maligned the doctor, the crowd seemed to take his request very seriously. The film crew driver who had brought Hal and Zarie to Martin's surgery the first day stood up and volunteered to drive out to the accident, followed by several others.
A young blond man who looked like a surfer to Hal shouted, "Look, Doc Martin won't be able to dig Joe out by himself. We need everyone who isn't pie-faced to head out to help. Count me in – I'm too broke to have drunk much. And my truck will fit two more." Hal saw that Martin merely nodded his head once.
There were murmurs of agreement. Hal noticed Morwenna making her way up to Martin. "Hiya Doc. I'll come along,'f ya like. I can be your assistant, like I was for Louisa's mum, or hold a torch or whatever."
Hal found himself volunteering too. "You know I haven't had more than a glass of wine. I can't help with the heavy lifting but there must be something I can do."
"But you're supposed to be resting," Martin protested.
"Who can rest knowing some poor soul is out on the moor, trapped in a mudslide?"
Martin didn't have an answer to that, but he didn't protest when Hal and Morwenna followed him out to the film crew's SUV.
It was after midnight when Hal knocked on the kitchen door at the stone cottage on Rosscarrock Hill. Louisa came to the door, a mug of tea in her hand and fearful look on her face.
"Hal! Oh, I'm so glad to see you! But, where is Martin?" She stood aside to let him in, his wet clothes dripping and his mini-flashlight giving off a dim light in the darkness outside.
"He went in the ambulance to the hospital with the policeman." Hal's tone was grim and his voice sounded exhausted.
"Oh, Joe. How is he? Did Martin get there in time? What happened to the car?" She noticed how tired her visitor looked and stopped her questions abruptly. "Here, sit down and let me get you some tea."
Hal sat in the chair at the kitchen table, heavily. "That would go down a treat, my dear." He looked around for his wife and frowned when he didn't see her. "Did Zarie go back to the hotel? I thought she'd wait for me."
"She's still here. She just excused herself for the loo." Hal nodded, relieved, as Louisa set a mug of tea on the table in front of him, along with some chocolate biscuits arranged on a plate. As he took a grateful sip, she slipped into the utility room and came back with a towel just out of the dryer.
Hal took the towel and mopped his damp face and dried his hair. He felt a little more human dry and with the warmth of the tea in his hands and his throat. It had been a long and frightening ordeal just getting to the area where the rain had washed the hillside down over the constable's car. The storm had been intense and they'd been forced off-road several times where the rain had flowed down the road like a river. "Hal!" Zarie exclaimed as she returned to the room. "Oh, Hal, I am so glad to see you. Is everything alright? Where's Martin?" She threw her arms around his neck.
"Easy there, darlin' – I don't want to spill my tea."
She smacked his arm in mock chagrin, then kissed the top of his head and sat down beside him and began to rub his shoulders. "You didn't over do it, did you Hal? I was so worried."
"No, I'm fine. Martin kept an eye on me. Your husband is good in a crisis, isn't he, Louisa? And very dedicated to his patients."
Louisa nodded, taking a sip of her own tea. "Yes, yes he is. Those are some of the qualities that I first noticed about him."
"He really commanded the respect of the people in the pub too, persuaded them to go out and rescue the policeman in the middle of the storm. Remarkable."
"Yes, he's always been like that. Rescued our former police constable when he was bit by a snake in the woods at his stag party; did surgery on one of my students in the back of an ambulance to save his life; got Mr. Coley down of the roof at the school; and when James was kidnapped . . . well I just don't know what I we would do without him."
"Did you say James was kidnapped?" Hal asked in astonishment.
"Mercy!' said Zarie. "Who would want to take that sweet little boy?"
"It's another long story and I don't think I can do it justice just now. But one of Martin's patients went mental and took James off to a castle on the moor because she thought she was in love with Martin."
"My word!" Zarie patted Louisa's arm. "What an awful thing."
"Wow. That's a lot of excitement for one little town." Hal gave Zarie a meaningful look. "But this time everything will be okay. It was hard work and it took a lot of people but Joe is out of danger and on his way to the hospital as we speak. And Martin was amazing. He closed up the gash in the guy's forehead and set the broken bone in his leg right there in the rain with me holding the flashlight and that Morwenna girl handing him his instruments and some stranger from the pub holding a tarp so the rain wouldn't get in the wound."
Louisa smiled softly, looking down at her hands. "That sounds like Martin. He is really talented. You know he was a celebrated surgeon back when he was in London? Some days I think he belongs back in London using his talents instead of here in the back of beyond." Her voice was wistful.
"Oh, he seems to have plenty of chances to use his talents here in Portwenn from what I hear. It sounds like this is just where he is meant to be." Hal gave Louisa a reassuring smile and took her hand between both of his.
"I have to agree with Hal, sweetie," Zarie added. "You know, you married an interesting man, I have to say. A real interesting man."
Louisa chuckled. "I think you're right, Zarie."
"Hal! Zarie! Welcome back! Table for two?" asked the portly man wearing what Hal would have called a sweater vest. "Right this way."
"Hello, Bert! It's nice to see you again," said Zarie as the American couple followed the host across the terrace to a lovely table overlooking the harbor with a view of the gorgeous sunset.
"How are the Choughs? A Cornish treasure to be sure. Did you get out today?"
"No, we took it easy today," sighed Zarie. "We were out late last night, and tomorrow we head back to Edinburgh and then we fly back to Missouri."
"It's been a real adventure being here, though," added Hal. "We've seen the Choughs, seen the moor and the costal path, not to mention the pub." His eyes twinkled.
"And don't forget the Doctor's office," Zarie piped up. "Leave it to Hal to need emergency medical treatment on our dream vacation."
"Oh, yes, I heard you'd met our Doc Martin." Bert left a pregnant pause, and then went on, "he's a bit of an enigma, our Doc. Bullies everyone around, never enters in, refuses to go with the flow and all that. But he's got a good heart in there, he does. Takes good care of all of us. Take last night, with that nastiness with Joe Penhale. Out in the storm goes the Doc to take care of business."
"Yes, I was there. He was quite impressive. And he's helped me out too. And watching him with his wife and his little son I can't help thinking there's more to him than meets the eye."
"You're right about that, Hal. Why you should have seen him when Louisa moved back to London. He was a lost soul. Got grumpier and grumpier before our very eyes." Bert gave the Chuppins a conspiratorial smile. "You know it was me who persuaded him to give Portwenn a chance to begin with? He was ready to throw in the towel after his first couple of days in Portwenn but I had a little heart-to-heart and let him know how much we needed him here, whether he liked us or not. And he stayed, and through thick and thin he's been here for us all. And so for us here in Portwenn, he might be a tosser, but he's our tosser."
As Bert was speaking, Hal caught sight of the Ellinghams, walking along the beach by the harbor with James holding on to one hand of each of his parents and taking a couple of tiny, tentative steps before reaching up to his father to be carried. The doctor reached down and scooped up his son. For some reason, the sight warmed Hal's heart. He could imagine the sound of the baby's giggle.
"Yes," said Hal, thoughtfully. "Zarie, I think you're right. We did meet an interesting man."
X X XX X
Thank you, dear readers, for indulging us as we paid tribute to our stalwart friend, reviewer and fan, Chapin. We hope you've enjoyed another perspective on Portwenn and its inhabitants, and we especially hope that Chapin has had some fun on his virtual visit to Cornwall this summer.
Each of us would like to thank the rest of the team for reuniting on this project and supporting and encouraging each other in this endeavor. Our motto of the more the merrier has served us well as the whole story is so much more than a sum of its parts.
We'd also like to thank Buffalo Pictures and everyone associated with Doc Martin for giving us such wonderful inspiration
With love from the writers who make up the Hydra,