Ernie Velmont, wearing bright red board shorts, an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, aviator sunglasses and a pair of Ugg boots, strode into the veterinary practice on Lime Street. The one next to the hairdressers. He lifted his sunglasses, looked around the waiting room at the young boy with his mother, the old man, the very fat woman and the young businessman seated there. Ernie dropped the sunglasses down onto the tip of his nose and glanced over the dark lenses toward Bernadette, the receptionist. Bernadette rolled her eyes. Ernie winked, then put his index finger to his glasses and slid them back up to the bridge of his nose. He put his shoulders back, took a deep breath, then extended his arm and pointed his finger and thumb out in a gun shape. He aimed at the boy’s pet turtle. “Three,” said Ernie, much louder than necessary. He trained his finger gun on the old man’s cockatiel. “Six,” he said. After that, the fat woman’s beagle. “Eight.” Finally, he aimed at the businessman’s crayfish. He paused, tilted his head slightly, then nodded with a confident smirk. “One and a half.” Ernie put his finger gun into an imaginary holster at his hip like a movie cowboy. Everyone in the waiting room stared at him.
Ernie swaggered across the room, propped an elbow on the reception desk and leaned toward Bernadette. He took off his sunglasses and slid them into his shirt pocket. “Well?” he said.
Bernadette kept an unimpressed glare on him as she took a long, slow sip of her seven-dollar latte. She set the coffee cup down and licked her lips. “Well what?”
Ernie chuckled and looked around the waiting room. He looked back at Bernadette. “Are you going to tell me that didn’t amaze you?”
Ernie ground his teeth, bulging his chiselled jaw. He stood upright and turned to face the room. “You, kid,” he said, pointing to the young boy. “How old is that turtle?”
“He’s three years old,” said the boy.
Ernie turned to Bernadette and raised his eyebrows. “What did I say?”
Bernadette quickly removed her gaze from Ernie’s tanned torso, put on her most bored expression and sniffed.
Ernie huffed and turned to the old man. “What about you, pal? How old is your bird?”
“Well,” said the old man, screwing up his nose in thought. “I’d say Daisy is about six years old now.”
“Daisy?” muttered Ernie. “Six. Yes, I knew it.” He looked at the fat woman. “What about the dog?”
Ernie looked at Bernadette, then turned to the businessman. “How old is that lobster?”
“It’s a crayfish.”
“All right. How old?”
“I’ve had it a year.”
“A year?” said Ernie.
The businessman shrugged. “Maybe a year and a half.”
“Boom,” said Ernie. He spread his arms and spun around victoriously to face Bernadette.
Bernadette was staring down at her phone. She lifted her head and looked at Ernie. “Hmm? Did you say something?”
The smile faded from Ernie’s face. He shook his head and wagged his finger. “I know what you’re trying to do.” He straightened his shirt. “Come on, Bernadette, seriously—is that not impressive? How many times have I come in here? And every time I have told you the age of all the animals in this waiting room.”
Bernadette sighed and nodded. “A good guess, I suppose.”
“A good guess?” Ernie’s eyes widened and he grabbed his thick, wavy hair with both hands. Bernadette raised an eyebrow at him. He took a breath and calmed himself, fixing his hair. “Getting the age of one or two animals right would be a good guess,” he said deliberately, “but being able to tell the exact age of every animal I look at is not a guess. It’s… genius.”
Bernadette snickered. Ernie scowled.
The door in the corner behind the reception desk clicked open, and Dr Ruddock entered the room. He stopped when he saw Ernie. A stormy look came over his face. He cleared his throat and checked his clipboard. “Tom?” he said. The boy with the turtle stood up, his mother with him. Dr Ruddock smiled. “Hello, Tom. Come through and let’s have a look at…” He checked his clipboard again. “Morton, is it?” The young boy nodded. He and his mother stepped through the door to Dr Ruddock’s treatment room. Dr Ruddock glared at Bernadette and whispered, “Get rid of him!” The door closed behind him.
“Your name’s not really Ruddock!” Ernie called after him. “It’s not scary!” He laughed to himself, then looked at Bernadette. “His name isn’t Donovan Ruddock, you know that, right? He changed it. Donovan Ruddock is a boxer from the nineties. Your boss just wanted people to be afraid of him, so he stole a tough name.”
“Well, whatever his name is,” said Bernadette, swivelling on her chair to face Ernie, “he wants you out of here.”
“You’re not kicking me out, are you?”
Bernadette shrugged. “That’s what he wants.”
Ernie put his hands on the desk and leaned down so his piercing blue eyes were level with Bernadette’s. “But I can tell the age of any animal just by looking at it. This is a gift.”
Bernadette cleared her throat. “Even if someone could do that—”
“I can do that! I just did it!”
Bernadette pursed her lips. “Hmm. Even if you could… what use would it be?”
“This is a vet clinic,” said Ernie. “It’s full of animals. You could find a use for it. I wouldn’t need to look at a clipboard, I could just look at the animal and I’d know straight away how old it is. Think of the time it would save in emergencies!”
The reception desk phone beeped. Bernadette picked it up. “Yes Doctor? No, he’s just leaving now… Okay.” She hung up the phone. “Time to go,” she said.
“Oh, come on,” pleaded Ernie.
“Sorry,” said Bernadette, shaking her head.
Ernie stood up and sighed. He buttoned one hole in the middle of his shirt. “Well… Can I come back another time?”
Bernadette gave a faint smile. “Sure.”
Ernie nodded. He took the sunglasses from his pocket and put them on, then turned and walked out through the waiting room. Bernadette bit her bottom lip and watched him leave.
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