Excerpt of The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore
(Page 3 of 8)
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How the man is abasing himself. He will hate Andrei for it afterwards,
once all this is over. No one makes a better enemy than a man who has
had to beg for your help.
But perhaps Russov really has missed something. He's thorough, but
he goes by the book. It's also just conceivable that he's aware of this - that
he's not as self-satisfied as he always seems... In which case he might
be doing exactly what ought to be done in such a case: seeking a second
'You still haven't told me anything about this child,' says Andrei.
Another throat-clearing. Russov's hand strays to his jacket pocket,
where he keeps his cigarettes, and then falls to his side. His eyes stare
into Andrei's, but remain opaque.
'My thinking was that it would be best for you to come to the case
A rising breeze makes the lime trees shiver all over. Hold back, thinks
Andrei. Don't commit yourself. Not instantly, like this. He recognizes it
already as one of those moments that has the power to change everything.
Perhaps he won't be able to avoid it. If you put everything else aside,
there's still a sick child here, and he needs the best possible treatment.
What if Russov gets it wrong again?
But Andrei has Anna to think of, and Kolya.
Their faces rise up in his mind, oblivious. There's a knot of tiny lines
on Anna's forehead, but when she looks up and sees him that knot will
clear. And there is Kolya, tall and thin, narrow-shouldered because he
hasn't grown into his height yet. Kolya frowning at his homework, then
suddenly jumping up and crashing across the living room because he's
spotted a mouse under the table. Or claims he's spotted one - Kolya wants
a cat, and Anna isn't keen.
Kolya, lunging between child and man, and out of step with both.
Andrei's heart beats hard. Whatever happens, these two mustn't be
But Russov didn't want any of this, either. He's just a trapped, ordinary
man. Reasonably competent, reasonably conscientious. And now quite
'So, you'll see the boy?' asks Russov.
'Have you got the case notes with you?'
His colleague hesitates.
'It was just a preliminary examination, you understand. I've done no
tests. There's been no possibility of making any sort of diagnosis. The boy
was brought in last night with certain symptoms, that's all. By private
ambulance,' he adds, as if this hopelessly irrelevant detail will make up
for all the blanks.
In a flash, Andrei does understand. The bare minimum has been put
'But you must have ordered tests. You must have thought about what
would be needed.'
'I don't want to prejudice your own examination.'
Andrei feels himself recoil. Even here, out in the courtyard where
surely nobody can be listening, his so-called colleague won't talk. He's
studied hard all right, in the unwritten subject that runs through every
other course of study. Keep your tongue and your hands still, unless you
are absolutely sure that it's safe to move them. Don't take risks. Don't
stand out. Be anonymous and average; keep in step.
'It was Doctor B. I. Russov, of course, who made the initial examination and
first suggested the diagnosis that was later confirmed...' He'll do anything to
avoid that. Much better for Russov to be able to say: 'I asked a colleague - a
first-rate general paediatric physician and one of our finest diagnosticians - if
he would examine the patient. Dr Alekseyev has a particular interest in juvenile
arthritic disease, and given that my own caseload does not permit me to take the
special interest in this case which it requires, it seemed the best course of action
to hand over the case as soon as possible. Consistency of care, you understand,
is of the utmost importance.'
The Betrayal © 2010 by Helen Dunmore; reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove/Atlantic, Inc.