In Robin Hathaway's The Doctor Dines in Prague, Dr. Fenimore has a surprised communication from a cousin he doesn't know, who lives in Prague, and she indicates that she and her family are having serious problems and needs help from him. Off he goes to Prague to help her in whatever way he can, and decides to get his relatives to the U.S. But it is not simple, and Fenimore pulls in his lover, his secretary, and the street urchin turned teenaged helper, bringing them all to the beautiful old city, where they become tangled with a psychopath who is planning to overthrow the government and declare himself ruler of the country, an agenda that involves a talented maker of puppets, the rescue of a young child, and murder.
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THE DOCTOR DINES IN PRAGUE
And I may dine at journey's end ...
W. B. Yeats
With the telephone receiver tucked under his chin, Fenimore continued packing. As he listened to the repeated staccato ringsEuropean, not Americanhis anxiety rose. After a dozen rings he hung up.
He had been calling his cousin, Anna, in Prague, every day for two weeks, to no avail. He had assumed she and her family were awayat their summer cottage. But three nights ago, when he had called at four A.M.Czech Republic timethe receiver had been lifted for a split second. No one spoke. He detected no sound of breathing. And as soon as he said, "Hello," the receiver was replaced. That was when he'd decided to go to Prague.
It seemed crazy, even to him, to take such a long trip simply because someone didn't answer the telephone. But he had a strong feeling that something was wrongcall it intuition. And he couldn't let it go. He owed it to his mother to look into it. Anna was his mother's sister's only child, and his mother and her sister had remained very close, despite the geographical distance that had separated them for all those years.
He had been in closer touch with Anna recently because her husband, Vlasta, was ill. He suffered from anginaa suffocatingpressure in the center of the chest caused by too little blood getting to the heart. They had been making plans for him to come to the States for a complete cardiac evaluation. Then, suddenly, they had dropped out of sight.
Some people might wonder why Fenimore didn't notify the Prague police. This did not occur to him. Since he'd been a small child he had heard his mother's tales of the police. The secret police. The gestapo under the Nazis; the KGB under the Soviets. These stories had come from his mother and her family in Prague, and they had remained indelibly engraved in his mind. Despite all the noise about police brutality in the United States, the fear of the police in the States was nothing to the terror of the police in Central Europe. Although the Czechs had been free of Communism for over ten years, there had been very little retaliationor purging of the old guard. (Czechs, by their nature, are not a vengeful people.) Some thugs from the former regime still held positions in the bureaucratic ranks. Most were probably doing a good job, but Fenimore could not bring himself to call on the Prague police for help.
Only a few things remained on the bed to be packed. A green-and-black tartan bathrobefaded and frayed. Well, why not, after a dozen years of wear? But it was still warm, and no one ever saw him in it, except Jennifer, and she didn't care about such things. A pair of bedroom slippers, once lined with something warm and fuzzy, but now bare. And a battered shaving kit. He placed these items into the shiny new suitcase that lay open on the end of the bed. His friends had presented him with the bag the night before at an impromptu bon voyage party. His decision to go to Prague had been sudden and there had been no time to plan anything more elaborate. His good friend Detective Rafferty had brought the champagne. Mrs. Doyle, his nurse, had made the cake. Horatio, his teenage office helper (also known as Rat), had decorated the office with red and green streamers (the only ones available in Fenimore's "party drawer"). The boy had also ransacked a thrift shop and come up with an old poster of an ocean liner (although Fenimore was traveling by plane), which he had tacked on the wall. Jennifer, Fenimore'sfrequent companion (he refused to use the more trendy "significant other"), had organized the whole thing.
His biggest problemgetting someone to cover his patients while he was awayhad been easily solved. Larry Freeman, a cardiology colleague, had offered his services as soon as he heard Fenimore's destination. But Freeman had his price: Fenimore had to take a photograph of Franz Kafka's house for him. Fenimore eagerly agreed, only to remember that he didn't own a camera. Mrs. Doyle offered to lend him her old box camera, but Jennifer bought him one of the new disposable kind. "It's lighter and easier to carry," she said. "And if you lose it you won't feel guilty for the rest of your life."
There was no denying it, the new suitcase was handsome. But much too extravagant. Fenimore would have preferred a more economical backpack. Not because he was hip or into camping out, but because he had few clothes and paid little attention to his appearance. He didn't think much of his looks. Short, middle-aged, verging on bald, with prominent earswhen confronted by his image in the mirror, he had been heard to mutter, "You certainly won't win any beauty contests."
"How do you know?" Jennifer had retorted once when overhearing him. "You have very expressive eyes, artistic hands, and a certain ... indefinable charm."
"Humph," he said, and his ears turned bright red, which did nothing to enhance them.
The only things left on the bed were his traveler's checks, his passport, and his plane ticket. He glanced at his watch. Four-thirty. In a few minutes Jennifer would arrive to take him to the airport. Since she didn't own a car (a real city girl), they had agreed she would drive his. He had one ordeal to face before he left. As if by extrasensory perception, that ordeal sidled into the room. Sal, his marmalade cat, had sensed impending doom for three days. Now she realized it was imminent. She hopped on the bed and investigated the foreign objects lying there. Fenimore stroked her back and scratched under her chin.
"Now, don't mope," he said sternly. "You're in good hands." He had arranged for Horatio to stop by once a day to replenish her food and water and change her litter box. "I'll be back in two weeks," he assured her. "Before you can say 'Jack Robinson.'"
Her two, sharp, answering mews, Fenimore was sure, would translate into "Jack Robinson." As she leapt to the floor and wrapped herself around his ankle, the doorbell rang. Hastily disentangling himself, Fenimore picked up his suitcase and started down the stairs. With a final glance around his office and waiting room, he made for the front door. Sal was close on his heels. When he reached the vestibule, with a single adroit motion he shoved his suitcase in front of him and shut the vestibule door behind him, leaving Sal on the other sidean act that had taken years to perfect. An indignant "Rowrrr!" was the last sound he heard as he stepped outside.
THE DOCTOR DINES IN PRAGUE. Copyright © 2003 by Robin Hathaway. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.