The First Chapter
The old woman cackled wildly and lifted her bony wrists as far as the restraints would allow. She felt a feather that wasn’t there tickle her face. She saw her husband Robbie, dead for the past two years, looming above her.
“Don’t Robbie,” she said, puckering her lips and attempting to blow some wispy hair off her forehead.
These were the patients Simon hated the most. It wasn’t because they were nuts, that he could deal with. Low murmurs or inane chatter were one thing, but he hated when the patients were loud. He couldn’t deal with loud. He also couldn’t deal with the looks people shot his way; the silent sorries and sad smirks.
He thanked the nurse who helped him load the patient onto the stretcher. She gave him one of those looks and walked away. Simon tilted his head to watch her go. After a good look, he pushed the patient down the quiet, dim hallway toward the elevators. They rode the elevator down two stories with the old woman’s voice rebounded around the steel box the whole time. He hoped no one was waiting when the doors opened.
No one was.
He pushed the stretcher through the eighth floor of the medical wing with the old woman yammering the whole way. She was answered more than once from the other geriatric patients that populated it; nonsense speaks to nonsense. They traversed the floor and entered a glass-enclosed connecting bridge. He hit the stainless steel button on his right and the doors opened onto the surgical wing. Right away, even in the dim moonlight, he noted how much cleaner the surgical side was. Where the medical side was dull and leaking grey, here the floors shone with a high buff, reflecting whatever light penetrated the glass. He thought of these things absently. Mostly, his mind was on what The Doctor wanted. It wasn’t the first time these thoughts had surfaced, but they were always, and easily, chased away by the same image; a stubby brown envelope containing a thousand bucks. It was not in Simon’s nature to dwell on things. Also, he’d rationalized that what The Doctor was doing couldn’t be too bad. The patients always came back okay. Always prompt. Always with the proper paperwork. It was no skin off his teeth. He had only to schedule his breaks around these little jaunts. A small price for almost two weeks worth of pay. Still, a certain little thing would gnaw at him if he gave it a chance. Why did The Doctor always choose the ones too far gone? The Doctor didn’t cure them. Some died, but most lingered long after their visits, eventually getting transferred to long-term private care facilities. No one suspected anything about what he or The Doctor were doing.
Still, it was always the old and the far gone.
They exited the surgical wing and walked their way up to the tunnel that led them to The Women’s Pavilion, the old woman laughing maniacally for most of the trip. They encountered no one as they turned into another series of connecting hallways. Simon sighed in relief.
The entrance to the Women’s Pavilion was a steep decline for a hundred meters. When they’d left the surgical wing, they’d been on the eighth floor. Because the Women’s Pavilion was built higher up on the mountain, they were going to be entering it on the third floor. Simon had to use his whole body weight to keep the stretcher from careening down and crashing into the walls, something he’d thought about letting happen on multiple occasions to annoying patients.
At the bottom of the decline, Simon swung the stretcher into a short hallway on his left. It was long enough to hide the stretcher briefly, if only barely. Digging into his pockets, Simon produced a key and unlocked the set of shabby blue doors with a newish-looking lock. The doors opened onto a long, bleak tunnel bending to the right, far away. He pulled the stretcher in and slipped the doors closed. He waited in the blackness until his eyes adjusted to the sliver of light coming from the bottom of the doors. Then, he reached out and flicked on the lamp that rested on the table near him. The sudden light shot spots into his sight. He shut them and rubbed, opening them slowly. His sight centered on a stale wooden table. On it, along with the lamp, lay his stubby, brown envelope and a slip of paper.
The paper held the pick-up time. He was to return in an hour.
Placing both items in his pockets, he slipped back out into the Women’s Pavilion hallway, locking the door behind him. He could hear the old woman making noise on the other side of the door and thought The Doctor had better hurry and shut her up if he didn’t want to be found out. No sooner had he completed this thought then the old woman fell silent. Simon briefly pondered opening the door and finally getting a look at who The Doctor was. It was the weight of the envelope in his back pocket that convinced him otherwise. Instead, he listened to the stillness of the pavilion around him before returning the way he’d come. On his way back up, he checked his SpectraLink. He had no service.
When he reached the top, he turned right and headed towards the transplant ward. Being the highest pavilion on the mountain, he knew he’d get the best reception. He made his call, got back on the clock, and was given a job. He backtracked to the Surgical Pavilion and took the elevators down to the fourth floor.
Simon walked into the Emergency Department and began speaking to the first nurse he saw. She was short, had a large ass, and was currently too busy to be hit on.
“I’m too busy to find where your patient is,” Lindsay told him after lending him her ear for a polite thirty seconds.
“His name is Collins. Barry or Bernie. ‘B’ something.”
“Not mine. Check the board.” She sat down, flicked open a file, and began writing. Simon watched her for a brief moment, debated continuing his flirtation, then wandered away toward the center unit.
He found the patient’s name. He chatted up a P.A.B., a beneficiary attendant who wiped the patient's asses, changed their linen, and did all the unwanted jobs that didn’t fall under anyone else's prerogative. The P.A.B. helped him transfer a Mr. Brandon Collins to a wheelchair. Simon rolled the patient up to the short stay unit on the ninth floor of the surgical wing. He helped place the patient into a bed that he knew had been occupied by a dead man mere hours ago, silently thankful that The Doctor hadn’t asked for the body, especially knowing that the body wouldn’t be coming back.
He greased the next fifteen minutes by sitting in a chair outside the surgical elevators on the eighth floor. This late at night, there was little foot traffic for him to peruse. Simon called his dispatcher and closed out the job. He asked if anything was coming up.
“Nothing scheduled, but that doesn’t mean there ain’t any jobs coming up.”
“I know,” Simon replied and ended the call.
He waited for another twenty minutes, got up, and shuffled back to the Women’s Pavilion. He produced the same key and unlocked the same double blue doors. Stepping inside, he grabbed the finished paperwork off the table and inserted it into the patient’s chart. Then, he pushed the same crazy old lady through the doors and set her into the alcove while he locked up. That done, he waited and listened. He heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Simon pulled out his cellphone and began a hushed argument with a pretend girlfriend, telling her he hated how clingy she’d become. The footsteps approached and passed by without a single glance in his direction. Once the echoes faded away, he began his final journey of the night back up that hallway.
When he reached the top, he saw a portly man pushing an empty cart save for one lone box. It was dull grey plastic with a sharp yellow biohazard logo emblazoned on the side. It struck him as odd that someone would be doing such a run during the waning hours of the night. The housekeeper, because biomedical waste collection fell under their umbrella, gave him a quiet, sharp nod as he passed. It sent a small shiver up Simon’s spine. He watched the housekeeper descend the incline he’d just come up and knew where he was headed; it was the only feasible option open in his mind. Without looking back to verify, Simon continued on with his patient.
Simon’s patient howled constantly on the way back up to her room. He glanced down at her once, wanting to tell her to shut the fuck up. The words dried up in his mouth when he noticed a small incision along her collarbone. It was weeping blood, and he was disgusted by both the sight of it and himself. He grabbed a sani-wipe off one of the wall containers and unceremoniously cleaned the runner of blood that had escaped her tightly sewn wound. Then, he pulled her johnny gown up and tightened it so no one else would see.
After returning the patient to her quarters, he made his way up to the locker room, accepting a job from dispatch along the way. He stood in front of his locker and counted to five. Hearing no one, he opened it and removed the envelope from his back pocket and brought it to his nose; he couldn’t resist a taste. He tucked the envelope into the interior pocket of his coat and reluctantly closed his locker, triple checking the lock.
He wandered into the bathroom and checked himself out in the mirror.
A semi-handsome face looked back at him. Both the top of his skull and his jawline sported the same three-day stubble, the first bits of grey beginning to show through. A night shift always made him lapse into his scruffy look; there were fewer people to impress, after all. His work shirt, a Polo short sleeve, was a crisp white brightly contrasted against his black skin. His black work pants were well ironed. Now, even after four hours of his shift completed, the creases could still cut cardboard. His shoes matched his shirt, for he who accessorized properly was king. Only, looking down now, he noticed something amiss. Above the sole on his heel was a tiny splash of red. A drop of blood. He reached down with a bare hand, then thought better of it.
Scouring the locker room, he found a container of bleach wipes. Neglecting to put on gloves first, he pulled one out and vigorously rubbed his shoe clean with it. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember anyone visibly bleeding on him. It pissed him off slightly.
This place would be great if it wasn’t for all the fucking patients, he reasoned with himself. He chuckled inwardly and dropped the crumpled wipe onto the floor before walking out, in search of his next patient.