After a week of comparative good health (even the spot on the end of my nose, having ranged between tomato red and electric crimson for months, has faded to a sugar almond pink), I am struck down by achy joints and a taut chest. 'Oh Jesus, what now?' says my wife, when she returns from work to find me in bed. 'A temperature of 102.7,' I reply, removing the thermometer. She walks round to my side of the bed, and places a finger underneath an empty mug. 'Still warm,' she observes. 'If you must raise your temperature, can't you at least come up with something more original?' 'Like what?' 'How about typhoid.'
Added to the symptoms is a sensitised scalp - the second-best indicator that I am unwell (the first is the presence of the letter 'Y' in the day of the week). Appointment-less, I drag myself to the Grove surgery, and wait 30 minutes before Dr Beverley MacDonald summons me to her room. She diagnoses a touch of 'flu. When I mention that Sarah Jarvis has suggested she remove my nose spot with liquid hydrogen at her popular Thursday 'small ops' clinic, Dr MacDonald asks me to come back 'when you're 100 per cent'. That's all well and good, but when have I ever been 100 per cent?
At 10.30pm, Rebecca comes into the sitting room to say good night, but something about the video I've just put on seems to mesmerise her. It is Double Indemnity, in which Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck kill her husband by faking a railway accident - a style of fatality for which the insurance company offers double the usual life pay-out. Unluckily, risk assessor Edward G Robinson, and the 'little man' in his head, sniffs out the fraud. My wife is transfixed, and remains so even when the closing credits have faded from the screen.
With the 'flu departing, I ring the Grove about Dr MacDonald's Thursday clinic, but it is fully booked until April. 'But this is an emergency,' I say. 'There's a spot on my nose which changes colour by the hour, and is now a lurid red.' 'Well, you ring Comic Relief and see what they've got for you,' says the receptionist, 'and come back to see Dr MacDonald in April.'
While trying to catch up with a backlog of work, I absentmindedly reach out for the bottle of water that always stands to my right on my desk. Something about the smell - an oily, rather cloying scent - alerts me, however, and just in time I stop myself taking a swig. After spitting out the few drops that enter my mouth, I notice that the 'water' is a rich blue in colour. When Rebecca comes in from walking the dog, I ask if she knows what it is. 'Oh, I was wondering where I'd put that,' she says. 'It's the anti-freeze the mechanic left when he dropped the car off after its MOT.'
I awake feeling shaky and paranoid after an exceedingly troubled night. In the dream, I am on the mortuary slab stiffening by the moment. Rebecca stands over me, and next to her is Edward G Robinson, who is handing her a cheque. Somehow I reclaim life for a second, and scream, 'For Christ's sake, Edward, doesn't your "little man" have something to say about this one?' They both smile. 'His little man has plenty to say,' says my widow, flicking a suggestive glance just beneath his waist. 'Come on, darling, our Concorde leaves in an hour.'
Hearing Rebecca on the phone as I come down to inspect the fridge, I stop on the stairs and listen. 'How much is the policy? Oh, that's twice what I expected. I'll have a think and get back to you tomorrow.' I finish my descent and pour myself a whisky, sniffing it before taking the first sip. 'Becca, who was that on the phone?' I ask with a wild stab at insouciance. 'The car insurance people. They're doubling the premium because we lost our no-claims.' Steadily, she holds my gaze. 'Now then,' she continues, 'do you fancy an omelette? Someone at work came back from the country with these wonderful fresh mushrooms...' I thank her for the offer but decline, preferring to put tonight's catering in the safe hands of Domino's Pizza.