Nighthawks – Chapter Six: Secret of the Sawbones

Nurse Hansen suddenly felt a chill run up and down her spine.  Her back was to the door, replacing a few patient files in the large cabinet, and did not see or hear him enter, but she knew he was there.  She turned to see him seated in the chair opposite her desk.  His appointment was not for another fifteen minutes, but as usual, he was early.  The nurse was convinced it was to torture her.  She hated the crum and was relieved she only had to deal with him for such a short time each week.  She hated Wednesdays, nonetheless.

“You’re early, doctor.”  She uttered, trying not to let her disgust show through.

“It is quite alright, I will wait.”  He responded as he stared at her intently.

She knew, as she worked, he was staring at her with those cold, dark eyes of his.  They reminded her of a crab’s eyes on the end of a stalk.  She would not let herself look up at him.  The doctor knew he made her uncomfortable and he thrived on that knowledge.  He watched her breasts rise and fall as her nervous breath quickened under his leer.  He flashed a small, sardonic smile, I am easily old enough to be her father.  She was no more than twenty-two years old and looked considerably younger, especially when compared to his grizzled fifty-three years.

“How is the beau?”  Doctor Smith asked with a slight hiss, thoroughly enjoying the affect he was having on her.

“You know very well that I have no beau, doctor.” She lied after an involuntary shudder.  His reptilian utterances nauseated her.

“My mistake…I must have been misinformed.  You know how unreliable hospital grape-vines can be…my apologies.”

At that moment, the intercom buzzed to life, “Ms. Hansen?”

The nurse sat behind her desk and pushed the button to respond, “Yes, Doctor Swann?”

The tiny box came back, “Please send in Dr. Smith when he arrives.”

“He is waiting now and will be right in.”  She answered, with a wash of relief rushing over her every fiber.  At least she would now be free of his perverse gaze for another week.

The doctor rose and silently glided past her desk, with his gaze never leaving her.  He entered the administrator’s office and Amanda Hansen could finally relax.

 

The administrator’s office showed absolutely no signs of the depression that presently gripped the nation.  It was lavishly decorated with historically priceless antiques from forgotten times.  The mustachioed, fat administrator was seated comfortably in a George II walnut Chippendale armchair with an interlaced carved back splat, standing on cabriole legs with finely carved knees ending in ball and claw feet.  If Smith had to guess, he would date it at 1740, maybe 1750.  Behind the man, sat a Georgian mahogany secretary desk with classic swan neck style solid brass pulls and an exquisite gold-tooled green leather desktop.  That particular desk was rarely, if ever used.  Instead, the administrator was seated behind the gateleg middle section of a George II mahogany three-piece dining table with extensive satinwood string and rosewood inlays.  The two end tables flanked the door to the immense office.  Dr. Swann’s rather limited medical and psychological library was housed in a Victorian breakfront library bookcase featuring a moulded cornice above a deep flamed mahogany frieze, which was above two glazed central doors and stunning barley twist column supports.  Dr. Swann’s ability to purchase such antiques, when he himself could not, infuriated Dr. Smith.

“Have a seat, Emile,” the portly bureaucrat said in his normal good-natured tone, while motioning to a beautiful early Regency period hall chair with saddle-shaped seat supported by tapering octagonal front legs and sabre back legs.  Dr. Smith may not have respected the man as a scientist or doctor, but he admired his taste.  The two men despised each other, but managed to keep their mutual disdain at bay, for the good of each man’s self-interest.  That was, as long as Dr. Swann didn’t take too much of an interest in the day-to-day operations of the sanitarium, allowing Dr. Smith to run the facility without drawing prying eyes.  It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.  Dr. Swann was able to concentrate on the few cases that interested him and Dr. Smith was able to run the hospital as he saw fit.

Dr. Swann continued, “There have been rumors.  Rumors concerning the treatment of patients at this facility.  These rumors have started leaking to the public.”

“What are these rumors, specifically?”  Asked the ever-collected Dr. Smith, somewhat skeptical.

“Rumors that the board of directors cannot ignore.  I cannot tolerate anything that gets the board agitated.”

“I can assure you that these rumors are just that…rumors.”  Dr. Smith replied calmly, sensing the need for some serious damage-control.

“Well, I can’t have these rumors, real or imagined, to threaten my position here,” Dr. Swann said cautiously.

Dr. Smith hated putting his lot in with the fat man across the desk from him, but saw no other way, for the moment, “What are we to do?”

“There will be daily inspections of patients and interviews of the staff, so I can make reports to the board.”  Dr. Swann said before picking up the morning edition of the City Star newspaper.  After perusing for a moment, he looked up, “That’s all, good day.”

Dr. Smith kept his temper in check and rose.  He walked to the door and as he was leaving, muttered rhetorically, so the administrator could hear, “I wonder where these rumors came from.”

Dr. Swann set aside the newspaper and stared blankly at the closed door.

 

Dr. Smith quickly walked by Nurse Hansen’s desk and out into the office corridor.  The nurse had heard the entire exchange over the intercom and could not help but smile.  She enjoyed seeing the doctor lose his cool demeanor, if only for the briefest of instants.  She was, however, concerned about this latest development.  She may have hated Dr. Smith, but she fondly regarded her boss, Dr. Swann.

The infuriated doctor punched a wall as he walked down the long corridor separating the administration wing from the hospital.  He winced in pain as he met Don Kruk, his most trusted orderly.

“Is everything alright, doctor?”  The enormous orderly asked.

The doctor smirked, “Somebody has been talking to someone on the outside and that fat moron is starting daily inspections, instead of monthly.  We have a problem.  Just when I was so close…”

“Dr. Swann will do his inspections for a week, maybe two, then everything will go back to normal.  He’s far too self-involved to really run this place.”  Kruk said, trying to reassure his boss.

“He’s not the problem I was talking about.  We need to find this rat and drown him.  Where is Nurse Packard?”

“I think she is prepping the EST for Mr. Simpson’s treatment, why?”  Answered and asked the orderly.

“I need her; I’ve just broken my hand.”  Muttered the doctor as he grimaced.

The two men walked briskly toward the electro-shock treatment room.

 

*

 

The doctors told him it was all in his head; his mind playing tricks on him.  They’d been telling him that most of his adult life.  The demons didn’t exist, according to them.  It was a chemical imbalance in his brain, they said.  It was all very neat and scientific, the way they explained the manifestations away.  The pain was real, though.  The pain deep in his guts was real; the searing pain that worked its way up his throat into his mouth was real.  No matter what the doctors told him, he knew they existed – the demons.  They controlled his world…the demons and the doctors.  He wasn’t sure which was worse.

The demons first came to him when he was twenty-eight; the doctors soon followed.  The doctors told him little could be done for him.  By his thirty-second birthday, he had been institutionalized – that’s what they called it.  His mother visited every week; his father never did.  The shame was too much for the proud old man.  His sister visited at first.  Soon those visits became less frequent.  Now, he only saw his sister on his birthday.  He believed he was thirty-eight, but he wasn’t certain.  In truth, he was forty-seven.

He could feel them coming again, the bastards.  The demons were welling up in his organs, swarming up his throat.  The searing pain was excruciating.  He knew the only way to appease the demons was to scream.  Screaming was not an option, at that moment.  He could hear the gorillas in the Birdman’s room, giving him his meds.  He had to hold the demons down.  They were gaining momentum…he couldn’t hold them…there was too much pain…

Then came the scream that would’ve rocked the foundations of the hospital had the demons wanted.  He knew what would follow and quickly hid the only place he could in the tiny cell…under the bed.  More demons wanted out, but he didn’t have a chance to unleash them.  He could already hear the gorilla’s key in the lock of the door.  The light flickered on.  Whiter than white.  They were in his room and instinctively knew where he would be.  One of the gorillas threw the wrought-iron bed across the tiny room, exposing the cowering man to the bright white light.  The other gorilla was on him in an instant, throwing him into the wall.  His weak frame crumpled…all went black.

At last, peaceful darkness was enveloping him.  No eye-searing bright white light.  No white walls.  No white uniforms.  Only plain, comforting darkness.

 

The comforting blackness did not last long.  He awoke to a soft, nasally monotone voice hissing to him, “Are you with us?  Can you hear me, Mr. Simpson?”

Dr. Smith…  He thought.  The man’s voice sickened him.

“This will calm you right down, Mr. Simpson,” the doctor continued as he prepared a hypodermic needle, “Take him to the room.”

That could mean only one thing…the Cross

The electro-shock therapy room consisted of an experimental therapy apparatus involving electricity.  The table was in the shape of a large cross, and the electrodes made a crown of thorns.  Christ did not die for our sins; this place was punishment for those transgressions.

The two orderlies roughly grabbed the weakened man and dragged him out into the corridor.  They maneuvered quickly along a labyrinth of hallways to their destination.  A room, secret to all but the most devoted of Smith’s staff.  It took a matter of minutes to arrive.  The doctor followed slowly whistling a slow, melancholic dirge.

“Strap him down,” hissed Dr. Smith, showing as much excitement as his cold, monotone voice could muster.

Smith knew this type of treatment had been effective in animals during experiments in Italy, but they were years away from human experimentation.  He hoped to beat Ugo Cerletti by proving electro-shock could be effective in humans as well as animals.  Dr. Smith had the means and the population to go ahead with human lab rats.  He never dreamed anyone would or could care what happened to these creatures.  Now he had a problem; someone knew something.  He needed to find the source of the information and cut off the flow before someone added it all up.  He had come too far to be interrupted.

 

*

 

Travis was finally satisfied he had interviewed all the neighbors of his victim.  He hadn’t gotten a lot of information, but he hadn’t expected to.  These types of wealthy people were too self-absorbed to notice much of anything.  He decided it was time to call it a night and head home to get some much-needed sleep.  Home. He huffed at the thought of that dump he was living in was home.  He exited Burris’ apartment building at took a deep breath of the city night air.

Travis happened to catch sight of a man seemingly watching the building, or him from across the street.  The man, in an overcoat and thick black glasses noticed the detective studying him and began to walk away.  Travis had to make a quick decision: let the man go or follow him and risk falling into a trap with his only piece of evidence in his pocket.  He decided to follow the bespectacled man, but decided to keep his distance.

Travis knew he had seem the man previously, but where?  He tried to focus on the suspect’s route, but kept getting drawn into his own head, trying to place the man.  He kept about a half block behind the man as they walked.  They walked by a bus-stop bench, with a man sleeping under newspapers on the bench and it hit Travis like a ton of bricks.  It was the same man he had seen waiting for the bus near the crime scene.  What did this man know…why was he lurking around?

The man sped his pace and it registered in Travis’ mind that the unknown man was leading him toward Oldtown.  Travis knew he couldn’t take the journal into Oldtown.  Too many things could happen to him there…all bad.

He yelled to the man he was pursuing, “Hey you! Stop!  Metropolitan Police, Stop!”

The man looked over his shoulder and darted down an alleyway.  Travis broke into a run and rounded the same corner as the man, but found himself in a dead-end alley all alone.  The man was gone…vanished.  The detective caught his breath and began searching the alley.  It was not long, and had only a few places the man could’ve hidden.  He drew his trusty forty-four and began his search.

It didn’t take long for the detective to determine he was, in fact, alone in the alley.  A few rats were the only signs of life he could find.  It was a real head-scratcher.  The confused detective retraced his steps back to the apartment building where the whole, odd chase began.  He lost the stranger, but still had the journal in his pocket, so he was still happy to call this day a win as he set out for his bed.

It wasn’t a long cab ride back to his apartment, but he used the time to study the journal.  It was still a mess of incomprehensible gibberish to the detective.  He slammed the book closed and turned his attention to the buildings as they passed by his window.  He knew he had to take the book to Charles.  He would keep the original, but make a copy to give to his old friend.  It wasn’t what one would call procedure to share evidence with citizens, but Charles was the most intelligent man he knew and he was a specialist in the inner workings of the human mind.

 

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