The Scalpel of Doom – Ray Cummings

pulpscalpelofdoom01After Death Flight and this one, I feel like maybe I’m not getting my $.99/25 worth out of some of these stories.  But I always seem to lose interest in the last few short stories in a collection. I’ve never known whether it was my short attention span or if the good stuff is skewed to the front [1].

Dr. Bates is resting in the office of his medical practice which occupies the bottom floor. He had a rough day with performing two operations and taking patients until 11:30 PM. Meanwhile, I sat for 3 goddamn hours at the urgent care clinic last Monday and only got as far as a nurse practitioner.  But I digress.

Dr. Bates gets a visitor at midnight.  18 year old Jenny Dolan needs him to attend to her twin brother Tom who is injured in the woods.  She drives Bates out to the spot as far as they can by road then they go on foot to a shack in the woods.

Bates diagnoses by the wound that Tom has been stabbed.  He diagnoses by his prison-issued clothes that he just busted out of the joint.  Tom starts waving a gun around, but Bates is able to grab it away.

Turns out Tom is serving time for a murder committed by Jenny’s hoodlum husband Jim during a robbery they pulled together. Tom was not injured in the escape, but was stabbed by Jim when Tom confronted him about abusing his wife.  Rather than seeing the error of his ways or being grateful for Tom taking the murder rap, he is more interested in where the loot is hidden.

Jim shows up at the cabin looking for the loot.  Jenny thought she had seen him lurking around her house.  So did he follow her to the cabin when Jenny brought Tom to the cabin?  Why not confront Tom at the house while she was out stealing a car?

OK, maybe he was afraid of being spotted by the neighbors.  So he hung around the neighborhood for however long not knowing if or when they would relocate?

He tailed them to the shack, then did not confront them immediately, or confront Tom alone while Jenny had gone to get the doctor.

But he does show when Tom is there with two allies and witnesses.  He pulls out a gun demanding again to know where the loot is.  He gets off a couple of shots but only manages to hit the doctor in the arm.  The doctor manages to take a scalpel to his throat.

The doctor drives Tom and Jenny to the hospital.  Although, as she is the only one not shot or stabbed, it seems like Her Majesty could have volunteered for the driving duties.

I guess, free of Jim’s terror, these two crazy kids will live happily ever after.  Except, Tom is still an escaped prisoner who was involved in the original crime that left a man dead, and Jenny is now a car thief.

[1] I’ve come to the realization that I have the attention span of a hummingbird; which is part of the reason for this blog.  Just in Stephen King’s collections:

  • Night Shift (1978) — Skipped the last 4 stories.
  • Different Seasons (1982) — Skipped the last story, The Breathing Method.
  • Skeleton Crew (1985) — I think I actually finished this one.
  • Four Past Midnight (1990) — On a roll, I think I finished this one too.
  • Nightmares & Dreamscapes (1993) — Skipped the last 7 stories.
  • Everything’s Eventual (2002) — Stephen King says in the intro that the stories were ordered randomly based on a deck of cards.  I have no memory of the last 2, but am also spotty on a few others.
  • Skipped Just after Sunset (2008) and Full Dark, No Stars (2010) altogether.

On the other hand, I did finish Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts (2005) and look forward to another collection.


  • First published in Ten Detective Aces, February 1947.
  • Also that month:  Really nothing exciting.  I guess people were still sleeping-in after WWII.

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