‘Good morning Agent,’ came a voice from his ear piece.
‘Good morning,’ he muttered and waited for the door to slide open. He left the busy street with its glaring morning light and city dust and stepped into the safe-house. Inside, next to the lift was a placard which ran: ‘Vigilance and Justice’.
‘We’ve got a couple of cases for you today,’ said the voice. ‘One hot and one historical.’
‘That’s fine,’ he said and began to pick at a loose thread on his cuff.
‘We’d like to thank you again for all of your input over the last three years and we hope you realise that you are a very valued Agent.’
He didn’t bother replying, the voice in his ear was filtered and anonymised; for all he knew it could be a machine thanking him and he half remembered being told the same thing last week. When the lift doors opened he made his way directly to the viewing room which was windowless and dimly lit, designed to eliminate as many real world distractions as possible. Most of the room was occupied by a bank of machines used to view captured video-tape. There were already a couple of other agents at work, pouring over hours of footage, scribbling down their observations which would later go into a report.
He took his seat by one of the machines and typed in his log in codes, sixteen randomised digits which were changed more frequently than he cared to remember.
He removed his ear piece and waited for the first case. He’d been doing this work for some time now, he didn’t know where most of it led and at first he struggled with it, finding it hard to criticise his colleagues, to find flaws and gaps in their work which would force them to defend their practice. He would often silently mime ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone,’ but the microphones had picked up on that and he’d been disciplined.
The light on the chute next to his elbow began to wink green which meant his first case was ready for analysis.
He pulled out the paper-copy and removed the clip, playing with it absent mindedly as he read. This was a hot case, the practice had already been accused and he double checked that the audio/visual was in the right place.
Out of all the cases he liked these the most, although challenging they often got real world results. The practice had decided to shut its doors to patients earlier than contracted at New Year. This represented a serious breach of contract and would be easy to prove.
After only half an hour he noted down the timing and wrote a small passage on the paperwork. This day was going to be easier than he thought. He signed it off and posted it back in the chute; his writing would be anonymised later.
All around him, other agents, wearing instantly forgettable suits and instantly forgettable faces were doing the same. Some were clearly struggling with the work, perhaps new to the job, wrestling with their conscience, not clear if they should report on what they saw or not, whereas others, like himself, were morally purer and smoothed through.
He thought about getting a cup of coffee but the imperious green light began to wink again. This one was much more complex, it was a historical case and concerned minor errors in a particular doctor’s work. Errors which wouldn’t interest the general public but ones which could be used in other ways. His job would be to sift through and unearth any supporting evidence from the great scree of data.
He straightened his back and leaned into the screen. The footage was poor quality and it was hard to make out the audio which scratched through the headphones. There were all sorts of things he could pick up on and as usual the agency hadn’t told him in advance what he was supposed to be looking for.
He zoomed in on the footage using the roller ball and could just make out the doctor’s back, sitting at his desk. On one occasion he prescribed antibiotics for a child which was a clear infringement of local policy and would have to be logged. A little while later the same doctor bowed to pressure from a patient and referred her for a pointless scan. Later in the afternoon he wrote up a branded drug for a patient who swore that the generic one wasn’t working as well. Again he noted down the exact point on the tape for his provisional report. A number of other errors crept in and he noticed how quickly the doctor had to work, but pressure of work was no excuse.
The agent sneered; the doctor had made so many decisions which bucked the trend and went against their guidance that he felt he’d amassed enough evidence to accuse.
As the tape began to flick towards the end the doctor on the TV stood up and stretched. For a brief moment he turned toward the camera and ran a hand through his hair.
The agent stopped the tape dead, his pulse thumping inside his headset. He recognised the face and paused the footage. He rewound it slightly and then played it back, shuffling it forward frame by frame. With a growing, spreading fear he realised he’d been looking at himself. He looked different back then, but it was definitely him. He frantically tried to grab at his report which by now was full of criticism and condescending comment but it had already been snapped up by the machine.
‘Those without sin,’ he whispered to himself, but the voice inside the headset over-heard and snaked its way in.
‘Thank you for all of your hard work agent, you may leave now.’
Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen.