She Was A Fly In The Wrong Soup

When young social worker Rachel Thomas accepts her first “real” job at Salter’s Point Regional in Washington State, she expects to be working around crazy people. After all, the hospital was once a notorious insane asylum.

Imagine her surprise when she realizes that many of the crazies at Salter’s Point are the professional misfits who are supposed to be caring for the patients. It seems they are running the hospital and creating mayhem of their own. A manic attorney, a sex-crazed psychiatrist, and a drunk therapist are a few of the many professionals with blurred lines of insanity.

Rachel tries desperately to fit in while still caring for her patients. Despite feeling like “a fly in the wrong soup,” she succeeds in doing her job. Until tragedy strikes and turns her world upside down.

Inspired by true events in a psychiatric hospital in the 1980s. The author, Anita Dixon Thomas,has been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for thirty-seven years.

This book is available in paperback and hardback on the author’s website,

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She Was A Fly In The Wrong Soup: An Excerpt From Chapter Four

Chapter Four

     By mid-week, on Wednesday, a bruising storm-ravaged Salter’s Point forcing the town folks to remain inside. The only time anyone dared to venture out was to go to work or to the grocery store. For two whole days, heavy rain assaulted the town.  Muddy debris mixed with broken branches, paper, and dirt clogged the drains along the roads. Soon water overflowed into the streets, making driving in the area unsafe. Refusing to stay at home, Rachel navigated the treacherous roads taking her chances.  Each day, she witnessed fire personnel dressed in yellow jackets shoveling off twigs and muddy debris off the streets.  By Friday, the rain decimated, and a drier, more cooling front crept in with the sun’s rays warming the area. 

For the first time in a week, Rachel was able to see Mountain Rainier. The snow-capped fourteen-thousand-foot rock wonder looked terrific against the deep blue sky. The mountain stood in Puyallup, a city forty minutes from Salter’s Point. Rachel drove through town on her way to work, admiring the oak trees with their dazzling red and yellow leaves. She chugged up the road to the hospital and noticed pumpkins sitting on the porches of the residents’ homes. With the rain gone and Thanksgiving, only a week and a half away, town residents were looking forward to a festive holiday season. 

 At precisely seven forty-five, Rachel arrived at the hospital, waving at the stoic guard as she passed through the gate. He didn’t smile, but he waved back. A welcomed change from his usual demeanor. The parking lot at South Campus Hospital was almost full. Forcing Rachel to park several yards from the entrance. Once she found a spot and parked, Rachel grabbed her shoulder bag and got out of her car. She locked the door, and the cool breeze whipped around her.   Shivering, Rachel swore the temperature was twenty degrees instead of forty.  Rachel strutted across the parking lot, zipping her black coat to her neck. On her right, she heard soft cooing. She looked and saw pigeons fluttering their wings and hovering over grainy piles of brown mush. 

     Rachel stepped over a pile of mush herself, rubbing her nose when she smelled the rancor odor. She stopped and stooped down to inspect the unusual substance. What is that? She wondered. It sure does stink! Recoiled by the rancor smell, Rachel stood upright and kept going. She reached the entrance and tapped on the button, and the glass doors slid open.  When Rachel strutted into the lobby, she couldn’t believe her eyes. The place had been transformed overnight. 

Strings of paper pilgrims decorated the front of the reception area, and giant pumpkins with rustic glittery wreaths sat on each end of the counter. Orange bright lights hung over the bay window and across the ceiling and over chairs and end tables. The floor was clean and shiny, it smelled like fresh lemons, and Rachel sneezed bothered by the strong scent.  Joyce heard her sneezing, and she came from the back and stood at the counter. Wearing a brown pilgrim dress with a shiny black belt buckled tight around her waist, Joyce’s ample behind appeared two inches larger. “Good Morning, Rachel. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. I’m allergic to wax. Hell, I’m allergic to anything with a strong scent,” Rachel laughed.

“I’m sorry, dear, but the place needed brightening up.”

“I know. It’s about time.” Rachel gave Joyce the side-eye. “Joyce, why are you dress like that? Thanksgiving is still a few days away.”

Joyce frowned. “Does it bother you?”

“Oh, no, I don’t mean to offend you. I was just curious, that’s all.”

“I like dressing up for the holidays. I will be wearing something like this every day.”

Rachel chuckled. “I see. Well, you looked festive.”


Warm perspiration beaded on her forehead, and Rachel unzipped her coat. She opened her bag and grabbed a tissue, dabbing her forehead. “Joyce, do you know when Doctor Louis will be back to work? I would like to meet him.”

Joyce slapped one hand over her mouth, shaking her head.  “Oh, you don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?” Rachel ‘s eyes widened.

“Come here,” Joyce whispered, looking around. “I don’t want to say this too loud.”

Rachel stepped to the counter and leaned over. “Okay, I’m all ears. What’s going on?”

“Doctor Louis…” Joyce paused, scoping out the lobby again.

“Joyce, will you hurry up! I want to hear about Doctor Louis.”

“Okay, I just want to make sure no one overhears me.”

Rachel laughed. “Joyce, it’s just you and me in this lobby.  No one is going to overhear you.”

“You’re right. Doctor Louis is out ill,” she whispered.

“Huh, huh.”

“The poor guy had a heart attack one evening while having vigorous sex with his young wife, Sierra.” 

Rachel’s mouth flew open. “Rigorous sex, you don’t say.”

“No one knows sure,” Joyce whispered. “But he’s home recuperating. His wife, a registered nurse, is looking after him, you know.”

“Very interesting.”

“I’ll say.”  The sliding doors open, and a tall woman with auburn red hair in a bun pranced in from the outside. Plumb, wearing a black raincoat with matching balloon slacks and toeless heels, her long fake eyelashes blinked erratically over her bright green eyes, and Rachel noticed she had a big shiny diamond on the fourth finger of each hand. Who is this?

“Good Morning,” she quipped in an English accent as she checks out the lobby. “It’s about time someone did something to this dreary, awful lobby. Very festive, indeed.” 

“Thank the housekeeping staff for their hard work. How was your vacation?” 

“Marvelous! My hubby and I went to the Oregon Coast and had a grand old time.” The woman zeroed in on Rachel.  “So, who is this young lady?”

“Our new social worker. She started over a week ago,” Joyce said, glancing at Rachel.

Rachel stepped forward and held out her hand. “I’m Rachel Thomas.”

“Sally Dobbins, please to meet you.” As she shook Rachel’s hand. “Where are you going to be working?”

“On the admissions unit with Doctor Louis.”

“Well, I’m the head nurse on that unit, glad to have you.” Sally leaned over, placing her elbow on the counter. “Speaking of Doctor Louis, I hear he almost met his maker the other day.”

Rachel snickered, and Joyce jumped in. “Yeah, I heard that too.”

“Well, at least it will be pleasant around here for a while. That man ‘s personality is despicable.” Sally looked at Rachel. “Is your office on the unit?”

“Yes, mam, it is.”

“Let’s walk.”

Rachel walked alongside Sally as she talked. “Dear, tell me where you’re from?”

“San Francisco.”

“I love San Francisco. It’s just a lovely place.”

“Married? Have any children?” 

Boy, she’s nosey! “No, mam.”

“So far, how you like working here?”

“It’s okay. I’m still settling in.”

Sally stopped in mid-step and looked at Rachel, her brow deeply furrowed. Rachel wondered why the grim expression. “Miss Thomas, most people working here are a little bit touched in the head.” Sally tapped her temple with her index finger. “Some of these workers need to be hospitalized themselves.” 

“Why? What do you mean?” Rachel placed her hand over her chest. Glad to hear someone other than herself thought some of the employees were a little crazy. 

“They’re nuts. Nuttier than your average fruitcake! But don’t fret, dear. A few of us here, like myself, are very sane, indeed,” she softly chuckled.

Rachel giggled. Sally was funny, and she liked her immediately. As the two women headed to the admissions unit, a man in an electric wheelchair whipped by beating them to the door. He stopped and waited for them. Bald with thick black hair around his temples, the man had bushy black eyebrows and a handlebar mustache. Black-framed glasses covered his almond-shaped dark brown eyes, and he wore a candy-striped shirt with a black bow tie. His slacks and shoes were black, and Rachel struggled not to laugh at the man out loud. Man, he’s peculiar looking. He looks like one of the Three Stooges…that dude Carl Marx!

“Good day, ladies.” His voice was pitchy.

“Good Morning Doctor Beebe,” Sally said.  “Have you met Rachel, Thomas, our new social worker?”

“No, but I’m aware she’s here,” he smiled, glancing at Rachel. “Sorry, I haven’t gotten around to meeting you yet. It’s been quite busy lately.”

“Nice to meet you, Doctor Beebe.”

“Have you settled in yet?” Rachel swore he wiggled his eyebrows like Carl Marx used to do on his television show.

“No, not yet. I have a few things to get for the office.”

Doctor Beebe leaned forward. “What do you need? We may have it here.”

“A couch, a rug, and a coffee stand would be nice,” she smiled.

“I have maintenance to bring those items to your office today. We want you to feel at home here.”

Sally raised an eyebrow. “Really, Doctor Beebe, this looney bin is a far cry from feeling like home!”

“Missus Dobbins!”

“I speak nothing but the truth, sir,” she winked at Rachel. Sally unlocked the door and shove it open. Doctor Beebe whipped on through with Sally and Rachel walking in behind him.

“Good day, ladies.” As he took off down the hall.

“I gathered he’s the medical director,” Rachel surmised.

“Yes, he is. Doctor Beebe is a workaholic, committed to his career. He never married or had any children.”

“Why is he in a wheelchair?”

“He had a stroke a few years ago. He whips around the hospital like he’s in a race. It’s a wonder he never runs into anyone.” 

Rachel laughed. “Sally, where’s your office?

“On the ground floor. Every morning, I stop by the nursing station to get a report before going to my office.”  Sally said, glancing at her watch. “And I’m late. Listen, if you have any questions about this looney place, feel free to ask.”

Rachel placed one finger on her lips. “I do have a question.”

“What’s that, dear?”

“That brown mushy stuff on the ground in the parking lot, what is that? It sure does stink.”

Sally cracked up. “My dear, it’s bat poop.”

“Bat poop?”

“Yes, bats hang out in the trees around the hospital, and at night, they like to hang upside down in the clock tower on North Campus.”

Rachel sighed, dropping her shoulders. “This place never ceases to amaze me.”

“Just wait,” Sally laughed. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

Thank-you For Reading, Comments Are Welcome! Have A Great Day!

She Was A Fly In The Wrong Soup-Chapter Three

Chapter Three

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! FumingRachel 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 LeeMSW 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.”

“My goodness!”

“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!

She Was A Fly In The Wrong Soup-Chapter Two

The Next Day

Rachel Thomas tossed and turned in her queen-sized bed. She didn’t get much sleep last night because her anxiety was working overtime. At eleven o’clock she would at last be interviewing for a real, professional job with decent pay. Her social work job at the nursing home barely paid the monthly bills.

Fidgety and wide awake, Rachel laid on her back and stretched her legs. She wiggled her toes and repeatedly yawned, each yawn louder than the last. She drew circles with her index finger around each red dot on her pajamas, a nervous habit she’d had since childhood. 

She rolled over and sat on the side of the bed. Her eyes drifted to the alarm clock on the nightstand glowing in the dark, and the time was five minutes to eight. Rachel never set her alarm. She relied on her internal clock and the grace of God to wake her up on time every morning. Because of her faith, in God’s timing, she was never late for work. Rachel scooted across the bed and switched on the lamp. Her dark brown eyes settled on a photograph of her and Picasso Cooper, her ex-fiancé. They look happy together, hugged up in front of the Golden Gate Bridge with Picasso planting a kiss on her cheek. She could still feel his warm lips and tight embrace. Rachel smiled as she reminisced fondly over the memory. Soon her smile dwarfed into a frown. Sadly, they parted ways because of his infidelity. 

Although he hurt her badly, she kept the photo of them together next to her parent’s picture on the nightstand. An only child, after all, she considered Picasso to be family. She had known him most of her life. They met in high school, and she thought they would be together forever, but it wasn’t in the cards. 

Rachel stood on her feet and trudged over to the window. She opened the blinds, and noticed the clouds were dark and angry, threatening rain. She wondered if the rain would even come because it had been bitterly cold for the past few days. Rachel hated the rain, a common occurrence in Seattle, especially during the winter and spring months. She preferred the dry freezing winter weather of her native California.

When the sun was out, Rachel could see Mountain Rainier from her one-bedroom fourth-floor apartment. Although having the view made her rent more expensive, she had no plans to give up her place. Her bedroom was her favorite refuge, her escape. African art decorated the walls and green ivy plants hung by the bay window. In a corner next to her full-length mirror sat her favorite red velvet chair with fluffy black pillows. 

      Disappointed, she couldn’t see the mountain, Rachel turned away from the window and hopped onto the bed. She grabbed the remote from the nightstand and turned on the television. A reporter on KIRO News was reporting on Salter’s Point Regional. A patient with a history of suicide attempts had escaped from the locked unit. Rachel’s mouth sagged open, and she sat straight up on the side of the bed. She turned the volume up and listened more intently. “My word, this is terrible!” she gasped and shook her head. “I hope they find her before she ends up killing herself.”

Rachel sighed heavily and turned off the television. In preparation for her interview, she’d read about the hospital’s sordid past. In the 1940s, Salter’s Point Regional had a reputation for performing frontal lobotomies and using ice baths and electric shock treatments on their patients. Although in later years the hospital had cleaned up its act, Salter’s Point Regional remained a horrifying place to be admitted. Rachel wasn’t bothered by the hospital’s history and reputation. Her career goal was to add mental health experience to her resume. One day, she hoped to start her own mental health practice. 

Rachel looked at the clock, and she panicked. Time was ticking away. It was eight-thirty, only two and a half hours until her interview. Rachel leaped to her feet and darted around her apartment. She ran to her closet throwing suits, dresses, and sweaters on the floor. Fifteen minutes later, Rachel finally settled on a cream blouse, a red suit, and two-inch brown pumps. She stood there for a minute, admiring her selection, and remembering when she wore red, compliments would follow.

Again, Rachel glanced at the clock. It was now eight forty-five. She ran to the bathroom, turned on the shower, and moved to the sink. She carefully unraveled the rollers from her hair, placing them in the vanity drawer. She slipped out of her pajamas, slid on her shower cap, and stepped into the shower.

Twenty minutes later, Rachel was out of the shower, drying herself off with her fluffy red towel. She wrapped the towel around her slender, curvy body and stood at the sink staring into the mirror. Rachel twisted her long black curly hair into a bun leaving a dangling curl in her face. She later wrapped the curl around her right ear as she hurriedly applied her make-up, being extra light on the foundation. Rachel applied bronze eye shadow and deep blue mascara to bring out the dark brown color in her eyes. She topped off the look with a hint of blush and smiled, admiring herself. 

 Rachel hurried out of the bathroom and down the hall to her bedroom. She looked at the clock again, and it was now nine ten. She hurriedly dressed, slipped on her heels, and gave herself an inspection in the full-length mirror, spinning around three times to make sure every wrinkle was smoothed out. After a close examination, she dashed to the kitchen. Her upcoming interview came to mind, and she felt her stomach getting jittery. “I need a strong cup of coffee to calm my nerves,” she muttered out loud.

Rachel made herself a pot of Starbucks Verona coffee, and she microwaved a Danish cheese roll, her favorite. Within minutes she was sitting at the table, a graduation gift from her parents, enjoying her meager breakfast. By nine-thirty, she had finished eating, so she rose from her chair and placed her dishes in the sink. Rachel dashed to the bathroom and hurriedly brushed her teeth. Once she finished, she applied her red lipstick. A brief glimpse in the mirror made her chuckled to herself. Although she was determined to nail the interview, she was nervous as hell. It felt like her heart was about to burst out of her chest and she stood over the sink, breathing deeply. 

Fifteen minutes later, she felt calmer, checking her watch for the time. It was ten o’clock. Rachel rushed to her closet and opened the door. She snatched her raincoat from a hangar and slipped it on. Next, she grabbed her handbag and umbrella, and satisfied she had everything with her, Rachel opened the door and walked out. 

As Rachel cranked up her red Toyota, the grey sky opened up, and hail the size of mothballs bounced off of her windshield. Backing out of her parking space, she whipped the car around and drove out of the apartment complex. Even with the windshield wipers switching back and forth in full force, the icy slushy maze zigzagged across the front window, hampered her view. The traffic was tight, bumper to bumper as she crept along the highway, taking the Interstate Five exit. As she merged into traffic, the rain and hail assaulted her window.

Rachel kept a steady snail-like pace as she cruised along the freeway. She turned on the radio and Prince’s hit song “When Doves Cry” blasted over the airwaves. Rachel sang along with the song, bopping her head to the music. Soon the freezing rain tapered off into a drizzle, making it easier for Rachel to see. She stepped on the gas and zoomed down the freeway. 

Thirty minutes later, a sign scripted with Salter’s Point appeared on the highway. Rachel exited the freeway and made a quick right. She drove down a long stretch of highway crossing over railroad tracks, and soon the road snaked along Puget Sound. The water’s rough waves splashed up on the rocky beach below. On Rachel’s left, tall evergreen trees lined the road. The trees’ green needles dusted with silver-white dew glistened on the branches. The sky brightened as the sun’s red rays burned through the clouds, chasing huge clusters of grey away. 

Up ahead, a man wearing red sweats, a knit striped hat, and brown-tinted sunglasses rode a ten-speed bicycle. When she whipped by the man, he didn’t seem to notice her, he was too focused on the road ahead. 

It wasn’t long before she was driving up a winding mountainous terrain. Rachel struggled with the stick-shift as her Toyota chugged uphill around the sleek curves. Evergreens were everywhere. Their majestic beauty decorated the mountain embankment, and the sun’s intense warmth dried out their water-logged branches. 

“So beautiful,” Rachel whispered to herself as she took it all in.

After a while, a few yards up the road, Rachel saw the iron gate of Salter’s Point Regional and a guard dressed in black stood in a glass booth  trimmed in black wood with an archway. He caught Rachel’s attention as she near the entrance. Dressed in a black uniform and clunky combat boots, the guard looked like Darth Vader. Rachel smirked to herself, amused by his peculiar, dark look. His bushy gray eyebrows hung over his deep-set blue eyes, and the fixed lines in his face disappeared into his thick gray mustache. The lines on his face reminded Rachel of one of those complicated Atlas road maps back in the day. 

The guard signaled Rachel to stop. She stomped on her brakes, bringing her Toyota to a screeching halt. Rachel turned off the ignition and rolled down the window as the guard approached her vehicle. Rachel smiled, but the guard’s face remained hard as a rock. Tension rumbled in her stomach. 

“Good morning, sir,” she greeted him in a breathy, quavering voice. “I’ve got an eleven o’clock interview with Beth Jones.”

The guard poked his head in the window, and Rachel could smell tobacco on his clothing. She leaned back, shifting in her seat, surprised by his lack of personal space. 

“You here to see who?” he asked in a gruff voice. 

“Beth Jones,” Rachel repeated, wide-eyed.

“Young lady, I need to see your ID!” 

Rachel carefully pulled her wallet out of her handbag, unzipping it and taking out her driver’s license. Her hand trembled as she handed it to the guard. He snatched it from her, flashing her a look of disdain. The guard whirled around and hiked back to his glass booth. Rachel watched him as he made a phone call. As her heart quivered in her chest, she contemplated whether to ask him for directions, scared of what he might say. However, by the time he returned to her vehicle, she had mustered up enough courage. With her voice trembling, she asked, “Sir, do you mind directing me to South Campus?”

Frowning, the guard handed her back her license and turned around, glaring ahead. Pointing his thick crooked finger at the gate, he growled, “Go through this gate and past North Campus Hospital. When you reach the top of the hill, you’ll see a gray building on the right. That building is South Campus Hospital. Now get!” 

 The guard backed away from Rachel’s Toyota, turning around and heading back to the booth. He stood in the archway, flipping a switch and the gate slowly opened. The guard beckoned for Rachel to go through, and with her face twisted up, Rachel muttered, “What an asshole!” 

Once she drove through the gate, Rachel noticed red and black rose bushes blooming on each side of the road. On her left, there were clusters of white cottages scattered on the well-manicured green lawn. On her right sat Salter’s Point Regional, a massive brick building with the words North Campus on the front. Above the roof, a clock tower trimmed in gold loomed over the building. The clock’s huge white face had black hands and large roman numerals. It reminded her of one of the clocks in the olden days. The clock’s impressive architectural design added to the hospital’s mystique. Amazed by the hospital’s glamour and lush landscape, Rachel declared, “What a beautiful campus!”

She drove over the hill, and her eyes rested on South Campus Hospital. It was a large gray stone building, not as pretty as the North Campus building, and it was nestled in a grove of evergreen trees. Two men dressed in blue overalls stood outside in front of the hospital’s entrance smoking cigarettes. Jittery, with her heart pounding in her chest, Rachel carefully checked the men out while she parked her Toyota. She sat there for a moment, fiddling with the dangling curl in her face. She slapped down the sun visor and checked her makeup in the mirror. Satisfied with her appearance, Rachel slapped the sun visor in place. Grabbing her shoulder bag, Rachel opened the car door, eased out, and slammed the door shut. 

Rachel strutted to the entrance in a clipped pace. The two men, quiet as church mice, moved aside without looking at her as she stepped to the sliding glass door. Rachel tapped the button, and the door slid open. Relieved, Rachel hurried inside. Her eyes grew big when she stepped to the reception desk. In front of her on the counter sat six white wig heads wearing black witches’ hats. They were sitting in a perfectly straight line with thick yarn for hair. Each wig head had large black dots for eyes. Below the eyes, someone made a red smudge for a nose and drew two crooked lines creating lewd, sinister grins. Rachel chuckled, amused by the scene. 

On the other side of the counter, a woman with a beehive hairdo sat with her back to Rachel tapping away on an Emerson typewriter. Oblivious to Rachel’s presence, the woman’s stubby little fingers clicked keys on the typewriter in a staccato tempo and her silver hoop earrings jingled with the rhythm. The receptionist wore a plain white blouse and her black polyester pants fit snug on her full behind. Clearing her throat, Rachel took a deep breath. “Um…Madam, hello?”

The receptionist, still consumed with her typing, didn’t hear her, so Rachel snapped her fingers and shouted in a high voice, “Hello there, my name is Rachel Thomas!” 

The receptionist spun her chair around so fast she almost flipped out of it. Her brown eyes darted back and forth like a wild animal as she patted her chest. “Oh, my goodness…I’m sorry, have you been standing there long?”

“No, I just got here,” Rachel smiled warmly. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m here to see Beth Jones.”

“I’m Joyce Smith, I’m the secretary here.” The chair squeaked as she shifted her plump bottom. “Please have a seat. I’ll tell Beth you’re here.”

“Thank you.” Rachel turned away and found a seat on the sofa in front of the bay window. She gave the lobby a once over, deciding the place was as drab as a prison. The white walls were void of pictures and there were black marks on the tiled floor. The lobby was sparsely decorated with four end tables with ashtrays filled with cigarette butts, and a sofa and four fluffy tan chairs sat in a rectangle on the opposite side. Messy! Rachel thought as she scooted back on the sofa.

Three male patients dressed in tee-shirts, jeans and sneakers with no shoelaces came through doubled doors on the left side of the lobby. Mumbling to themselves as they paced back and forth like robots, each soul methodically paraded in front of her, the smiles on their faces permanently wiped away by the drugs they were taking. Rachel cringed, and her stomach bubbled. She wondered if she made the right choice in accepting an interview at such a peculiar place. She decided it was. After all, the job paid well, and the extra income would come in handy.

Rachel glanced to her right and noticed steel gray double doors with the sign Admissions Unit overhead. It wasn’t long before she heard a lock click and a woman came through the doors. She was short and chunky and wore a free-flowing glittered orange dress and flaming green high-heeled shoes. Her thick curly gray hair cradled her round chipmunk face, and round framed bifocals sat on the tip of her pudgy nose. The bifocals magnified her big green eyes, and she looked like a jaybird staring through a window. At first, Rachel thought the woman was a patient, but when the woman wobbled over to her, she wasn’t sure. The keyring on the woman’s belt jingled like a pair of cowbells. 

“Good Morning, I’m Beth Jones. You must be Rachel Thomas,” she grinned.

“Yes, I am.” Rachel offered her hand and smiled. As the two women shook hands, Rachel worried her hand was clammy with perspiration, but Beth didn’t seem to notice.

“Glad to meet you, young lady. Follow me.” Beth took off, waddling like a duck through the lobby and Rachel, two steps behind, followed her. 

Beth stopped in front of the steel gray doubled doors and snatched the keyring from her belt. She flipped through the keys like a deck of cards until she found the one, she wanted. Beth leaned into the door while jamming the key into the lock, turning it until it clicked open. With a slight shove, Beth opened the door and stepped inside the unit. Rachel followed her inside, and Beth allowed the steel door to slammed so hard and loud, the weight of it rattled the walls. 

Thick grey cigarette smoke greeted them in the hallway, and huddles of patients stood nearby staring at them and puffing on cigarettes. With no fresh air to speak of, Rachel gagged and coughed. Beth didn’t seem bothered by the smoke, and Rachel wondered how she could stand it. Beth apparently read her mind. 

“The patients are entitled to four smoke breaks a day,” she explained. “I’m a smoker. The smoke doesn’t bother me.”

“I see,” Rachel coughed. 

Beth’s office was a few feet from the steel doubled doors. Patient bedrooms lined each side of the hallway, and Rachel saw patients moving in and out as she waited in front of Beth’s office. On the door hung a large black sign with words scripted in white ink Enter at Your Own Risk. Amused, Rachel wondered what could be so risky in Beth’s office. Beth quietly unlocked the door and slowly pushed it aside as if unveiling something scary. She stepped inside. “Come in,” she demanded.

Rachel followed Beth in, and her eyes grew big. She slapped her hand over her mouth as she viewed the messy, cluttered scene. Books, papers, and patient charts were stacked high on one side of the desk. Cardboard boxes sat in corners with empty Coca Cola cans scattered on the floor. Anchored on the wall behind Beth’s chair was a dear head with a snide toothy grin. White panties and pink socks hung off the deer’s antlers. And the stench, oh it reeked like of rotten eggs. Stale cigarette smoke took Rachel’s breath away, and she wanted to puke.

“Miss Thomas, have a seat,” Rachel heard Beth say. Speechless and queasy, Rachel found an empty chair and sat. As soon as her bottom hit the seat, Rachel lurched right up. She looked down and noticed fine cracker crumbs all over the seat. “Oh my,” she gasped, but Beth didn’t say a word. Rachel discreetly wiped the crumbs off the chair and sat. With her handbag in her lap, she stared at the supervisor as Beth lit a Marlboro cigarette. Beth reviewed Rachel’s resume, puffing on her cigarette until it was spent. When she was finished, she placed the cigarette on the edge of the ashtray, then opened up her desk drawer and took out a Snickers candy bar. She tore the wrapper off with her teeth and gobbled it up in a matter of seconds. Beth’s fat cheeks bulged like a chipmunk as she chewed, swallowing and licking her thin lips. After the candy was gone, Beth peered over her bifocals, staring at Rachel with intense scrutiny. Bewildered, Rachel held her breath. 

“Honey, why do you want to work here?” Beth asked in a sharp tone.

“Um, um.” Rachel cleared her throat. “I’m very interested in the mental health field. I think this hospital will be a good place to get some experience.”

“You don’t say.” Beth reached for another cigarette and lit it up. “Tell me why you think so.”

Beth puffed smoke rings into the atmosphere while Rachel told her story. Beth’s fiery green gaze in the haze of smoke made Rachel so nervous that she thought her heart was going to jump out of her chest. “After I finished graduate school, I decided to stay in Seattle. I like the area and I thought I could begin my career here.” Rachel ‘s voice trembled. 

“I see you graduated from the University of Washington.” Beth stated in a gritty voice. 

“Yes Mam.”

“What makes you suited for this job?”

              “Well, I worked in a nursing home and I ran a caregiver’s support group while there and I also took psychology classes in college,” Rachel replied.  Beth snuffed her cigarette out in the ashtray and dove out of her seat like a jack in a box. Rachel lurched back, blinking her eyes erratically. 

“Honey, this is no nursing home! These folks are off their rockers! Are you willing to work with a bunch of crazy folks?”

Shocked, every nerve ending in Rachel’s body twitched, and she longed to leave. Too scared to move, Rachel sat there, at a loss for words. Beth cocked her head to the side, looking like a big jaybird with glaring big green eyes. 

“Honey, does the cat got your tongue?”

Rachel fidgeted in her seat, and her face was warm with embarrassment. “I’m sorry…yes, ma’am, I can work with crazy people.”

Beth grinned, clapping her hands. She swayed back and forth, from side to side like an excited fan at a football game. Rachel cringed. Beth’s demeanor scared her as she waited for the woman to stop clapping. Finally, Beth settled in her seat, grabbing Rachel’s application. This time, she studied it. After some minutes, Beth popped out of her chair again, and Rachel patted her chest with her mouth sagged open, frightened. 

“The salary is forty-five thousand a year. Honey, do you accept this salary?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rachel replied. She was burning inside. She resented Beth calling her honey.

“Very well then, you can start in two weeks on Monday morning at eight,” Beth said.

“Thank you.”

“You will work with Doctor Michael Louis on the admissions unit,” Beth clarified.

“Great, I look forward to working with you and Doctor Louis.” Beth’s thin lips parted into a sardonic smile as she stepped to the door. Rachel took this as a clue the interview was over and was relieved. Beth swung the door opened and stepped into the smoky hallway. Rachel followed her out, and Beth locked her office door. When they both reach the unit exit, Beth unlocked the steel doubled doors and shoved it open. 

“See you November 5th, Monday morning, eight o’clock sharp,” she grinned. 

Rachel stepped out into the lobby and smiled at the supervisor. “I look forward to it.” 

Beth released the door, and it slammed shut, rattling the walls. Alone in the lobby, Rachel sighed with relief. She strutted toward the exit, shaking her head at the craziness of it all. Glad to be free from the smoky environment and Beth’s nasty office, Rachel wondered if the second-hand smoke would make her ill. Lord, I don’t want to develop lung cancer. It was an awful thought that she immediately put out of her mind.

Suddenly, Rachel heard a man yelling in the reception area. She stopped in her tracks and whipped around. A hippie-looking, middle-aged man with a red, bloated face was cursing and pounding his fist on the counter. He looked scraggy with his long matted blond hair hanging on his shoulders and a prickly mustache and beard covering his bulldog face. On the tip of his nose, he wore wired framed glasses, and the sleeves on his wrinkled white shirt were rolled up to his elbows. Hanging on his back was a twisted striped tie, and he wore tan high-water pants with black loafers. The man wasn’t wearing any socks.

Joyce, teary-eyed, stood crunched over the counter with the wig heads, tolerating the man spewing obscenities in her face. “Hell, stop crying, woman! What’s wrong with you? Hiram needs his damn patient report!”

Joyce mumbled something that Rachel couldn’t hear. Out of the blue, the man punched each wig head onto the floor. He jumped and stomped on each one as tiny pieces of foam flew in the air. Joyce ducked for cover underneath the counter, and Rachel, who had enough of this unseemly crazy place, made a mad dash to the exit. Two security guards rushed through the main entrance from outside and ran past her. They pounced on the man and wrestled him to the floor. 

“Get the hell off Hiram, you sons of bitches! Get the hell away!”

“Hold down that son of a bitch!” yelled one guard. “Hold him down!”

Rattled and outdone, Rachel made it to her Toyota. She unlocked the car, threw in her handbag, and climbed in. She cranked the ignition, backed up, and whipped her car around. She sped out of the hospital parking lot as fast as she could. Once safe on the main road, Rachel wondered who the looney man was, and why he was so angry. 

As always thank-you for reading, comments are welcomed.