Monday, November 5th
Rachel hated Mondays with a vengeance. Getting up early to be somewhere on time after a relaxing weekend, got on her nerves. She wished the weekend could last longer than the two days allotted. However, this Monday was different. She was starting a new job. Thrilled and nervous at the same time, a smile came over Rachel ‘s face. She was glad she had a full-time professional job that paid well. She no longer had to pinch pennies to pay her bills.
This morning brought more fog and rain to the town of Salter’s Point. A thick white mist hovered over the road forcing Rachel to turn on her headlights. As she navigated the slippery road, she could see South Campus Hospital up ahead. Eager to start her day, she was excited about her new job. By the time Rachel reached the hospital and parked, the rain had ceased but the fog was so thick, only the outline of the building was visible. Dark outside, the sun wouldn’t rise until eight o’clock, a common occurrence in the great northwest.
Rachel turned off the ignition and sat in her car as she prepared her mind for the day ahead. Feeling flush, Rachel reached up and touched her forehead. It was damp with perspiration, and she slapped the visor down. Rachel peered into the brightly lit vanity mirror and beads of perspiration glistened on her face. She reached in her handbag and took out a tissue. Being careful not to mess up her foundation, Rachel lightly dabbed her face. She closed her eyes momentarily inhaling deep breaths. Her anxiety was getting the best of her, and she desperately needed to calm down.
Soon Rachel felt calmer. She slapped the sun visor in place and opened her car door. When she stepped out of the car, the damp air felt cool against her face. With her handbag on her shoulder, she buttoned up her coat. Rachel grabbed her umbrella and locked the car door. She strutted to the hospital entrance with her high-heeled pumps clicking hard on the charcoal pavement. After she arrived, Rachel reached up and rang the buzzer instead of using the button. She waited for the sliding door to open. The door didn’t move so Rachel grabbed the handle trying to pry it open. The door still wouldn’t budge. Rachel pressed her nose against the cold glass door. She stared into the lobby and noticed Joyce sitting at her desk.
Rachel pounded on the door, but Joyce ignored her. Irritated, Rachel pounded on the door even harder.
“The doors don’t open until eight,” came a rough booming voice from behind. Rachel spun around so quick, she almost lost her balance and fell on the ground. Catching herself, her eyes fell on a tall, slender man about six feet tall, wearing blue sweats and a knit wool hat. He was in the process of chaining his ten-speed bike to the rack. The man’s sparkling blue eyes complimented his silver-gray mustache and beard. “You need a key to get in after hours,” he added.
“Oh, okay,” Rachel replied. She recognized him as the man she saw riding his bike on her way to her interview two weeks ago.
“Are you here for an appointment?”
Rachel cleared her throat. “Um, yes, I’m Rachel Thomas, the new social worker for the admissions unit, and this is my first day.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, young lady. I’m Doctor George Benny,” he smiled exposing a mustard-yellow grill. Rachel lowered her eyes, unnerved by his smile.
“Nice to meet you too.” Damn, he looks like an over-grown Cheshire Cat grinning like that!
George walked over. “I heard you were coming. We need a lot of help around here. Where are you heading?”
“To Beth Jones’ office.”
“Allow me to accompany you there.”
“Well, thank you.” Rachel smiled as she stepped aside to allow Doctor Benny to unlock the sliding glass door. He pulled the door open and stepped inside, holding it back until Rachel safely walked through. When he released the door, it slammed shut. Rachel followed him as he walked wide-leg across the lobby, and he waved as he passed Joyce’s desk. Rachel refrained from waving still sore Joyce had ignored her earlier.
When they arrived at the admissions unit, Doctor Benny unlocked the heavy steel door. He shoved the door open, moving to the side so Rachel could walk in. The door slammed hard behind him and the floor shook beneath them. Rachel walked alongside Doctor Benny the short distance to Beth’s office. Rachel coughed repeatedly, bothered by the strong cigarette smoke in the hall. George looked over at her with pity on his face. “Are you all right?”
“I’m afraid I’m allergic to cigarette smoke,” she explained.
“That’s too bad. Smoking is a common habit around here with staff and patients. I hope you can get used to it.”
Annoyed, Rachel coughed again. The doctor’s lack of concern for her health irritated her. How dare he say that? He can get used to it! This smoking is for the birds! Fuming, Rachel decided during smoke breaks she’d go outside. She didn’t mind the cold. She’d rather breathe fresh air than die from smoke inhalation or, much worse, lung cancer.
Soon they were standing in front of Beth’s office and her door was slightly ajar. Cigarette smoke crept out of her office causing Rachel to cough again. George banged on the door, but Beth ignored him. She was sitting in her high-back swivel chair with her feet propped on the desk, puffing on a cigarette. Her lime-green knee-high granny boots matched her low-cut flowing dress. Pinned on the left side of her head was a flaming lime-green hat. Beth looked like an evil leprechaun in a horror flick, and it took everything in Rachel’s power not to laugh out loud. George pounded on the door again and waited a couple more moments. He grimaced and took the liberty to enter, clearly irritated by Beth ignoring him. He charged into her.
“What the hell is your problem this morning? Didn’t you hear me knocking?”
“You called that knocking? It was more like pounding,” Beth quipped as she flashed her big green eyes at him.
George gave her an icy stare. “You’re so despicable at times,” he mumbled under his breath.
“No more despicable than you,” she shot back. It was clear to Rachel, these two didn’t like each other. Beth smashed her spent cigarette in the ashtray and slid her feet to the floor. Straightening up in her chair, Beth gave Rachel an annoyed look as if she didn’t want her there. “Good morning, young lady, I see you made it.”
“Good Morning Beth, I’m excited to be here,” Rachel replied with big eyes. Scared out of her wits, she wondered if a bomb was going to drop soon. Rachel flinched when Beth popped out of her chair wildly waving her hands.
“Take a seat. You don’t have to stand there looking like a scared goose!”
George rolled his eyes. “Beth, you’ve no class,” he mumbled. Beth glared at him, giving the doctor the silent treatment. Jittery, Rachel pulled off her coat and sat in a chair across from Beth’s desk. She was glad this time the seat was free from cracker crumbs. Styling in a red Liz Claiborne dress with matching two-inch pumps, Rachel realized she was overdressed compared to her new supervisor and Doctor Benny. Tomorrow I’ll wear something more casual.
Sitting like a soldier, erect and straight, Rachel clasped her hands in her lap. Noticing her posture, Beth slyly teased, “Are you okay? You seem stiff.”
“Yes,” Rachel answered, her cheeks warm with embarrassment. She softened her shoulders and crossed her legs. George stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame, looking fierce.
Beth zeroed in on him. “Doctor Benny, have you heard from your patient, Susan Cole? It’s been two weeks since she disappeared from this unit.”
George scowled, curling his lips, snarling at Beth, “Don’t you start with me! I haven’t seen that patient nor heard from her!”
“Huh, huh, I bet.” Beth rolled her eyes heavenward, not convinced. She sucked her teeth as she mockingly looked him up and down.
George jerked his head back. “What do you mean, you bet?”
“Come on! Susan Cole didn’t leave this unit by herself. She had help, and I think you had something to do with it.”
“Hell, you’re speculating as usual!” he growled. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Beth hissed at the doctor with narrowed green eyes, “The ethics committee is looking into this…”
“The ethics committee can kiss my ass!” George retorted with his face red and contorted.
Beth stood up. “How dare you speak to me like that! Do you know how serious this is?”
George stepped inside and slammed the door. Beth and Rachel drew back, startled. His nostrils flared, and the sparkle in his deep blue eyes disappeared, replaced with a fiery, steely gaze. George gritted his yellow teeth and sneered, “Get off my case! I’ve no idea how that woman got off this unit. So, again, you and that ethics committee can kiss my royal ass!”
Beth flung her hands on her hips. “There’s nothing royal about your pasty ass!”
Rachel snickered, slapping her hand over her mouth. George looked wolfish, kicking the trashcan against the wall. He swung the door open with such force it hit the wall and a screw popped from the hinges. George stormed out with Beth yelling, “You damaged my door, you big pasty turkey!”
Beth stared at the doorway as if she expected him to return. When he didn’t, she wobbled over and closed the door. She sat in her chair and reached for her half-spent cigarette. She puffed out several drags, and Rachel held her breath.
Beth spoke a minute later. “I know he’s got something to do with that woman’s disappearance! I know it! He’s too damn defensive.”
Shrugging her shoulders, Rachel had no idea what to say, so she said nothing. She found it odd that Beth suspected Doctor Benny. After all, he seemed professional enough. Why would he risk his career to help a patient escape? What’s in it for him?
Beth interrupted her thoughts as she peered over her bifocals, snuffing out her cigarette. “How much do you know about Susan Cole’s disappearance?”
“I heard it on the news,” Rachel answered as she fidgeted in her seat. “I never knew her name until now.”
Beth’s gaze was stern. “What goes on in this hospital, you need to keep it in this hospital. Do you understand?”
Rachel felt her stomach knot up. “Yes, I understand.”
Beth’s demeanor softened and she changed the subject. “Today, you’re going to hang out with Jamie Lee. She works with that asshole Doctor Benny, but she knows the rules and will show you the ropes.”
“Okay,” said Rachel, forcing a smile. She was stunned by Beth’s choice of words. This woman has got some screws loose!Rachel wondered if she could deal with Beth over the long haul.
“Are you still with me? You seem preoccupied.” Beth’s gaze was heated.
“Yes, ma’am, sorry,” Rachel apologized with her face hot with embarrassment.
“Then pay attention!”
Rachel sank in her seat, even more embarrassed.
Beth continued. “First, I’m going to take you to your new office so you can settle in. Then I’ll take you to meet Jamie Lee.”
“Okay,” Rachel murmured.
Beth bolted from her seat and gestured for Rachel to follow. She opened her office door and took off. Rachel followed the supervisor out and walked alongside her as they made their way down the hall. Oodles of black eyes stared back at them from a sea of thick, white smoke. The patients’ morning smoke break was underway, and Rachel gagged and coughed until they entered the dining room. A smoke-free area, Rachel reveled in the fresh air, taking deep breaths.
A woman dressed in a puffy, high collar red dress with a paper crown on her head came up to them and curtsied, with a big, cheesy smile on her face. Her eyes drifted to Rachel.
“Hi, my name is Mary, Queen of Scots.” She sounded like a squeaky mouse. “Madam, what’s your name?”
Rachel pursed her lips, stifling a laugh. “Rachel Thomas, your new social worker,” she managed to say.
“Pleased to meet you.” The woman curtsied and cocked her head to the side. “Did you know honeybees hum in the key of F?”
“No,” Rachel replied.
“Well, they do.” The woman curtsied three times and spun in a circle. Facing Rachel again, she giggled. “And did you know flies have x-ray vision?”
Beth stepped in, rescuing Rachel. “Ellen, that’s enough, you need to eat your breakfast before it gets cold.”
“Sure,” Ellen beamed as she hurried away, turning around once to glance back at Rachel. Beth leaned in close to whisper in Rachel’s ear. Her breath smelled like stale cigarette smoke and chocolate candy. Rachel cringed, backing up a little.
Unfazed, Beth explained, “Ellen dresses in seventeen-century clothing because she’s delusional. Her mother makes her costumes. Last week she thought she was Marie Antoinette.”
Rachel chuckled. “I see.”
They watched Ellen struggled with her big puffy dress as she attempted to sit at the table, knocking several breakfast trays onto the floor. Patients sitting at the table groaned with frustration as nursing staff ran over to clean up the mess. Laughing, Beth and Rachel exited the dining room. They passed Doctor Louis’ office, and Rachel’s was next to his. Doctor Louis’ door was closed, and Rachel wondered if he was in there.
Beth read her mind. “Doctor Louis is out this morning. You’ll meet him this afternoon.”
“Good, I look forward to it.” Rachel felt uneasy that the supervisor could read her thoughts.
Beth reached in her pocket, taking out two gold keys. One had green plastic trim around the top. “Here’s the keys to your office. The one with the green trim around it is your office key. Now open the door,” she commanded.
Rachel took the keys and inserted the green one in the lock, turning it clockwise. The door clicked opened, and Rachel stepped inside. It was dark, so she left the door open so the light from the hall could shine through. She patted the wall for the light switch, discovering it on the right side, and flipped it on. Her eyes widen as she gave her new office the once over. Surprised to find it half-empty, the only furniture was a cherry wood desk and a high-back swivel chair. The space looked dreary because the office lacked windows. I guess I’ll need to spruce this place up with some wall paintings.
Rachel stepped to her desk and sat in the chair. She spun it around, visualizing decorating her new space. Loud tapping came from behind her and Rachel swung around. Her mouth flew open when she saw Beth in the doorway with both hands on her hips.
Beth glared at her, tapping her right foot. “Are you finished?”
Rachel scrambled out of her chair. “I’m sorry…I was just…”
Beth whipped around and left, cutting her off. Embarrassed, Rachel ran to the door. She shut the door behind her, and in two minutes, she was walking alongside Beth. They walked together in silence, and Rachel welcomed it. Relieved she wasn’t going to be scolded, she pondered what lay ahead. Soon they stop at an office door with a placard scripted with the name Jamie Lee, MSW on it. Beth knocks and enters at the same time, and Rachel sees a woman with her feet propped up on the desk reading the Seattle Times Newspaper. Dressed in black, the woman was plain-looking with no make-up and she had a salt and peppered, jazzy pixie haircut. Rachel noticed her sad light-brown eyes reflected a life of pain.
The woman dropped her newspaper and flashed them a crooked smile. “Good Morning, my people, what’s up? “As she slid her feet to the floor and stood up. Her eyes drifted to Rachel. “So, who do we have here?”
“This is Rachel Thomas, our new social worker. She will be working with you here on the admissions unit,” Beth said.
Jamie offered her hand and Rachel grabbed it. Jamie jerked her forward, gripping her hand so tight, Rachel winced in pain. Jamie didn’t seem to notice. “Hi there, and welcome. I’m Jamie Lee.”
“I’m Rachel. Nice to meet you, too,” Rachel squeaked as intense pain jolted through her hand and arm.
Jamie let go and Rachel took a deep breath, rubbing her sore hand and arm as she glanced around the room for a place to sit. Every seat in Jamie’s office was stacked with books, magazines, and newspapers. Rachel had no choice, so she remained standing. Beth wobbled over and handed Jamie a sheet of paper.
Squishing her face up, Jamie looked annoyed. “What’s this?”
“Instructions. Show Miss Thomas the ropes, and see to it she gets a picture ID.”
“Will do.” Jamie sighed, rolling her eyes. “Is there anything else besides what’s on this paper?”
“No, just show her how things are done around here.”
“Okay,” Jamie said. Satisfied, Beth wobbled out of Jamie’s office, slamming the door behind her. Jamie made a face. “I can’t stand that woman. She gets on my damn nerves.”
Jamie saw Rachel looking around the room and pointed to the sofa. “Shove those papers on the floor and have a seat.”
“Thank you.” Rachel gathered the stack of newspapers and set them on the floor, then sat on the sofa, making herself comfortable. Suddenly her eyes teared up, and she felt a tickling sensation in her nose. Rachel sneezed repeatedly, unable to stop as she inspected the sofa she was sitting on. Black fur covered the cushion where she sat, and the place reeked of stale alcohol and musty newspapers. The combination of cat hair and odors was wreaking havoc on Rachel’s allergies. After five minutes, she was able to stop sneezing, but she sniffled, rubbing her nose hard.
“Are you all right?” Jamie asked, looking concerned.
“Do you…do you…aaaaachooo! Do you have a cat?”
“Yeah, why?” Jamie wrinkled her brow.
“I’m allergic to cats,” Rachel squeaked.
Jamie grabbed a Kleenex box off her desk and gave it to Rachel. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know…”
“I know…” Rachel sneezed again. She snatched a tissue from the box and blew her nose hard. It sounded like a foghorn.
“Damn!” Jamie said. “Are you trying to blow your damn brains out, girl?”
Rachel’s laugh was weak. “I’m trying to make sure I get all the snot out.”
Jamie shook her head. “Believe me when I say, there is no more snot in that nose!”
They both laughed out loud. Rachel liked Jamie immediately.
Jamie pointed to a wood chair by the door. “Move those books and sit in that chair. There’s no cat hair there.”
Rachel got up and moved the books to the floor. She sat, crossing her legs with both hands clasped around her knees. Jamie returned to her desk, looking apologetic. “I’m so sorry about your allergies, but the cat is my pet. I bring him to work with me sometimes.”
“I understand,” Rachel said. She blew her nose again and threw the soiled tissue in a nearby wastebasket. Feeling a little better, Rachel peppered Jamie with questions. “What’s the deal with Beth? What’s her story? How is she as a supervisor?”
“Whoa, girl, one question at a time,” Jamie chuckled.
“Sorry, I’m just curious.” Rachel fell back in her seat.
“No problem. Let me tell you, Beth is basically bitchy and controlling, arrogant and rude. Slamming my door like she just did earlier is definitely her typical behavior.”
“Yeah, she thinks she knows everything, likes to have it her way. When she came to Salter’s Point Regional ten years ago, it was rumored she tried to kill her psychiatrist husband for running off with some scrawny young thing in his office!”
“You’re kidding me? Is it really true? How old was she when this happened?” Rachel sniffled, wrinkling her nose. The tickling sensation still bothered her.
“In her forties, not really sure. When I asked her about it, she denied it, cursing me out.”
Rachel leaned forward, wide-eyed. “She really cursed you out?”
“Yup!” Thrilled she had a captive audience, Jamie ramped up the gossip. “It’s also rumored instead of shooting him, and risking going to jail, she fought back another way.”
“What did she do?” Rachel scooted to the edge of her seat, mesmerized.
“She drained his bank account, left town with their two teenage boys, got a job and later went back to school to become a social worker.”
“Well, she triumphed at the end. She got her revenge,” Rachel sniffled.
“Yep,” Jamie agreed.
“So, where are her two sons? Do they live here in Washington State?”
“Yes, they do. She helped them get through law school and now they have families of their own.”
Rachel uncrossed her legs and folded her arms across her chest. “Beth’s weird, but you got to admire her tenacity and determination. How old is she now?”
“Um, I think she’s about sixty-three years old.” Jamie paused, rubbing her forehead. “She’s been a social worker for twenty-some years, so age sixty-three is about right.”
“Wow,” Rachel answered, impressed.
“Girl, did you know she has a crush on Doctor Louis?” Jamie laughed tilting her head back. “She tries to seduce him by wearing low-cut dresses, but he pays her no mind.”
“Nooo…” Rachel’s eyes were as big as an owl.
“Now listen, girl, that Doctor Louis likes young pussy. He’s married to a woman twenty years his junior.”
Rachel squealed with laughter, slapping her hand over her mouth. “That’s freaking hilarious,” she replied with a muffled voice.
Jamie laughed, checking her watch. “I’ve got a meeting with Doctor Benny in an hour. Let’s get started.”
“You’re assigned to Doctor Benny?”
“Yep, Beth didn’t tell you?”
“No, she didn’t. What’s Doctor Benny like?” As far as she could tell from Doctor Benny’s and Beth’s disturbing interaction earlier, his reputation around the hospital was murky. She wanted to learn more about his alleged involvement with Susan Cole’s disappearance.
“He’s all right. He can be a bit eccentric at times.” Jamie’s face turned solemn. “When he gets angry, he becomes extremely passive-aggressive. Did you hear one of his patients took off from the unit two weeks ago?”
Bingo! She walked right into it! “Yes, I heard on the news that a patient escaped, but I didn’t know the patient was his,” Rachel fibbed with her eyes peeled on Jamie.
“Yep the patient is his, and her name is Susan Cole. The woman is diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder and her escape is shaping up to be quite a mystery,” Jamie said, lowering her voice.
“From what I read in the literature about patients with borderline personality disorder, they can be difficult to managed,” Rachel whispered back.
“You’re right. Between their attention-getting suicide attempts and sabotaging their own treatment plan, they can be quite a challenge.”
“Do you have any idea how she managed to escape?” Rachel scooted to the edge of her seat.
Jamie shook her head. “No ma’am, but it’s rumored she and Doctor Benny were lovers and he may have helped her escape.”
Rachel fell back in her chair, floored. “Oh, my goodness!” she gasped. Beth’s rude behavior toward Doctor Benny now made sense. Surely the doctor isn’t really capable of committing such an act, messing around with a patient. That’s unethical.
Jamie changed the subject. “So, I hear you’re going to be working with the colonel,” she said.
“The colonel?” Rachel raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah, the infamous Doctor Louis,” she declared.
“Why do you call him the colonel?”
“Because he’s a retired Army colonel and he runs the admissions unit like a damn boot camp!”
Rachel giggled. Suddenly the hinges on the door rattled like a bag of old bones. Someone was pounding on the door, and Jamie stood up, frowning. “Who in the hell is banging on my door like a damn lunatic?”
The door swung open and hit the wall with a thud. A man burst in and stood in the middle of Jamie’s office scowling. Rachel immediately recognized the scruffy-looking man who had attacked the wig heads two weeks earlier. She popped out of her seat and parked herself behind Jamie Lee, spooked. Jamie twisted slightly around to glanced back at Rachel. “I’m okay. I was trying to get out of the way.”
Jamie shook her head and focused her attention on the scruffy man. She folded her arms across her chest. The man stood in front of her, posing, with his hands on his hips, blinking his long eyelashes.
“Dude, what is it?”
“Hiram wants your list of patients for court tomorrow,” he growled. He reached back and scratched his behind.
“What?” Jamie’s face contorted into a shape of a pretzel.
“Hiram wants your list of patients,” the man demanded again.
Seething with rage, Jamie handed the man her list. With the list between his right index finger and thumb, he stared at the paper, dropping it on Jamie’s desk. “The patients on this list are nothing but flies in the wrong soup!” the man said flipping his blond locks to one side. Pissed, Jamie shook her finger at the man and Rachel jumped back with her eyes big as saucers.
“Damn it, Hiram! Stop acting like a nitwit and talking in the third person! You’re so ridiculous! Where are your manners? Don’t you see our new social worker standing here? Introduce yourself!”
Hiram looked at Rachel and gave her a big silly grin. “Miss…”
“It’s Rachel Thomas, sir,” Rachel politely blurted.
“Well, hello, missy. My name is Hiram Gottschalks. I’m the attorney for the poor souls unjustly locked up in this hell hole,” he calmly replied.
Rachel fell out laughing. She couldn’t help herself. The man was a spectacle and hilarious. “You can’t be serious,” she muttered pursing her lips.
“What? Hiram didn’t hear you.” He reached up, flipping his earlobe forward. Rachel regrouped.
“Did you say you’re an attorney?” she politely asked.
“Yeah, missy, and what’s it to you?”
“Forgive me, I don’t mean to offend you.” Rachel struggled not to laugh. She kept her eyes fixed on the floor to avoid eye contact.
“No problem,” Hiram said with his eyes drifting back to Jamie. He poked his chest out, staring at her as if she had horns on her head. With a cunning expression on his face, Hiram told Jamie. “Please forgive me for my rude manners, my sweet sugar tits, but you, my little witch, are as rude as they come!”
Jamie lunged at him. “Get the hell out of my office you weasel of a troll! I’ve had enough of your shenanigans!”
“My, aren’t we bitchy this morning?” he teased with a wicked gleam in his eye. He sniffed the air like a dog as he backed up toward the door. “You smell like a pissy bottle of liquor! Have you been drinking again, Miss Lee?”
Chili-pepper red, Jamie grabbed her empty coffee cup and threw it at Hiram. He ducked and the cup sailed over his head. It hit the floor, breaking into a million pieces. Hiram laughed like a hyena. “Sugar tits, you missed!”
“You son of a bitch!” Jamie screamed. Red-faced, Jamie grabbed another cup and charged the crazy attorney. Hiram bolted out the door, almost falling on his behind as he turned the corner and dashed down the hall. Jamie twisted her face as she stood at the door. She threw the cup at him and missed, and it landed on the floor in big chunky pieces.
“If you come to my office again, you little shit, I’ll kill you!” she screamed. “Do you hear me, you little shit? I’ll kill you!”
Hiram made it to the exit and stopped. He spun around and flipped Jamie the finger. Jamie lurched forward with her hands on her knees, breathing heavily. “Your shitty little troll!” she gasped under her breath.
“Not as shitty as you, sugar tits!” Hiram unlocked the steel gray door to the admissions unit and ran out. It slammed hard behind him.
Rachel stood over Jamie rubbing her back trying to comfort her. “Are you okay?” she asked, feeling worried.
Jamie was silent, still stooped over, her breathing ragged. She stood up and looked at Rachel with her face etched in pain.
“My lungs are shot. I stopped smoking a few months ago, but I still get short of breath.” Jamie took a step and stumbled. Rachel grabbed her before she fell to the floor. Jamie leaned on Rachel for a few seconds until she regained her composure. Still unsteady, Jamie held onto Rachel’s arm as the two women trudged back to Jamie’s office. Once they were safely inside, Jamie separated herself from Rachel, stumbled to her desk, and plopped down in her chair. Rachel returned to her chair and remained quiet, waiting for Jamie to speak first.
As Jamie ducked underneath her desk, Rachel heard rustling papers and wondered what she was looking for. To her bewilderment, when Jamie sat up, she held a half- full bottle of Jack Daniels. “I need a little nip. It’s been a stressful morning.”
Jamie twisted the cap off, and put the bottle to her lips, turning it up. She gulped down the brown liquor with her throat pulsating violently. Jamie stopped a minute and took a breath. She winced and wiggled her nose. “Ahhhh,” she moaned. She finished the bottle and tossed it in the wastebasket.
Rachel was stunned. She wondered what she’d gotten herself into by accepting a job at Salter’s Point Regional. Not only was the hospital’s attorney a full-blown maniac, but her social worker colleague was a drunk. How did these two crazy people land a job in a psychiatric hospital? Can I work with these people? She shook her head in amazement, resigned to her predicament. I’m here now. I guess I can make it work. Rachel glanced at her watch. She was already exhausted, and it was only eleven-thirty in the morning. Is it time for a break? Boy, did she need a break!
“Are you all right, sweetie?” Jamie asked with glassy eyes, interrupting Rachel’s thoughts.
“Just tired,” Rachel sighed. Jamie left her seat and walked to the coffee pot sitting on an end table. She grabbed a cup and poured herself some coffee. “My dear, would you like some coffee?”
“No, thank you,” Rachel calmly replied. She twirled her thumbs. “What’s the deal with Hiram? He seems a little weird.”
Jamie walked back to her desk and sat, sipping on her coffee. “He’s more than a little weird. That weasel of a troll isn’t normal. He’s simply out of his damn tree!”
Rachel laughed. “Well, he’s quite an interesting character, so tell me about him.”
“To be truthful,” Jamie sighed. “Hiram is quite intelligent. He graduated from Harvard at the top of his class and instead of going into corporate law, he decided to be a defender for the little man.”
“How compassionate, I’m impressed.” Intrigued by the unusual attorney, Rachel then asked. “How old is he and has he ever been married?”
“Boy you sure are nosey!” Jamie laughed.
“Social Workers are trained to be nosey.”
“Well, if you must know, nosey girl, Hiram is manic, forty-five years old and divorced.”
“Manic how?” Rachel giggled.
“The man is a nut! Always talking in the third person. It gets on my damn nerves.”
“I noticed that. Why does Hiram do that?”
“Who knows. Two weeks ago, he went to a beauty supply store and bought a bunch of wig heads. He painted their faces, put witches’ hats on their heads and lined them all up on the counter in the lobby.”
“I saw those wig heads when I came for my interview. I wondered why they were there. What possessed Hiram to do such a thing?”
“Crazy,” Jamie chuckled. “He thought the lobby needed sprucing up. He threatened to sue Joyce if she tried to take them down.”
“Well, the lobby is very drab. It could use a makeover.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“The first time I saw Hiram, I thought he was a patient,” Rachel recalled. “He was having a hissy fit in the lobby. He punched the wig heads onto the floor and stomped on them. He… scared the holy shit out of me!”
Jamie laughed. “The man is a knucklehead, but I feel bad for him. I think he suffers from manic depressive disorder.”
“How do you know?”
“Just the way he behaves.”
“Has he ever been diagnosed?”
“No, not as far as I can tell.”
“How does he get away with being so crazy?”
“I don’t know,” Jamie wearily groaned. “He just does.”
Rachel wanted to know more. “Why does he look so dirty? He reminds me of a homeless man.”
Jamie howled. “Hiram has money, but he chooses to live like a pauper. He lives in a garage in an old auto shop near the beach.”
“I see. What did he mean when he made the comment, about flies in the wrong soup?”
“Let me explain something to you.” Jamie leaned forward folding her arms on the desk. “Hiram believes the patients in this hospital don’t belong here. He believes psychiatric institutions don’t help them. He thinks patients fare better in the community with outpatient mental health than institutionalized and held against their will. So, he fights for them in court by getting their cases dismissed. Most of the time he’s unsuccessful, but sometimes he’s not.”
“So, he works for the system, but he doesn’t believe in it. The man sounds conflicted.”
“You got it”
Satisfied for now, Rachel changed the subject. “I’m hungry. When is lunch?”
“Let’s take a break. Meet me back here at one and we’ll go to personnel for your photo ID,” Jamie suggested.
“Cool.” Rachel stood on her feet and left Jamie’s office. Within minutes she was back in her office. She sat in her swivel chair, opened her desk drawer, and took out her lunch bag. Rachel tore into it, took out her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and took a bite, savoring the thick, nutty taste. She thought about Hiram and Jamie and how insane they seemed to be, amused by the craziness of it all. Rachel took another bite of her sandwich, chewing hard. She swallowed and muttered to herself, shaking her head, “Damn, this is one crazy place! I sure hope I can do this.”
Thank-you For Reading, comments welcome!
Categories: Short Stories