Untitled for now
Posted: Friday, July 09, 2010
Word Count: 1732
Summary: This is the opening scene of my novel, a suspense/thriller set around a secure psychiatric hospital in the West Midlands.
A glimpse of Gabriel Hurst is all it takes to wake the disgrace of my youth and it stings my cheeks for the first time in thirteen years. He’s smaller than in my memory: more garden gnome than ultimate nemesis but his presence tilts my universe and I throw up on my best shoes. Heavy hands pull back my hair. Adam’s face, kind but bemused appears beside mine, just like in the early days minus the alcoholic blur. I steady my body against his and dare another glance across the car park. No matter how many times I blink, Gabriel is still there, smoothing the creases from his trousers and laughing with the taxi driver as he waits for his change. I watch his smile wane as the boorish voice and cackle of Pam Harris, the hospital manager, is heard before her sturdy form appears through the double doors. She greets him with her best impression of a bitch in season and he looks even more afraid than I feel. Adam helps me straighten up. “Sit here a minute and take some deep breaths,” he guides me to a low wall that encircles large flowerbeds that are designed to take the eye away from the fifteen meter high perimeter fence that keeps our patients safely contained. “Once you’ve got yourself together we’re going home, your investigation will have to wait.” He follows my line of vision and stares squarely at Pat; eleven years of marriage have taught me a twitch at his cheek is a sign of trouble. On cue but without saying a word he starts towards her. “No. Please don’t! Having a go will only make things worse. They have to follow procedure it’s not personal.” I say this with as much conviction I can muster and grab the bottom of his shirt. He has no idea my desperate reaction has nothing to do with the ‘informal enquiry’ and everything about my scandalous past. He relents. “Look, I do know how serious this is and I’ve heard what you’ve said about procedure,” he launches into his best imitation of me complete with whiney tone, ‘when a psychotic patient has been released and commits murder someone has to be held accountable’ blah blah.” I want to kick him but don’t have the energy for anything more than a smile. He ignores me and continues his speech, “you’re not to blame just because you’re in charge of the ward. Other people were involved with the decision to discharge the dangerous Mr Federer…” “Yes, I know and they’re under investigation too. This is a medium secure hospital, part off our job is to protect the public and we’ve failed” my tone is unintentionally sharp. “I don’t think I’ve done nothing wrong and I’m not ill, just nervous.” I give my knees a hug and stand slowly. “I do hope it’s all dealt with today though.” The quicker it’s over the quicker Gabriel Heart is on the next train out of here. Adam says nothing but instead of going to bully a bully he kicks grit over my pool of vomit instead. “Who’s the little guy?” he asks. “I don’t know.” I bite my lip, and silently curse the first lie I’ve ever had to tell my husband, “I’m guessing he’s another one of the disciplinary panel, I’ve not met all of them before.” I will never tell how he is part of a past I thought I could forget; not if it means I have to confess my most murky secret. My adversaries walk inside together and confirm Gabriel’s involvement in the homicide enquiry. I don’t have time to think about what his visit will bring; I have sick on my shoes and I need to get it off. But that’s not so bad, and my mind soon drifts back to feelings of shame, being struck off the professional register and divorce. My early crimes could not yet have been chewed over in the staff canteen; the smear campaign not set in motion, but my head feels heavy and the only thing I can face is my stained footwear. I drive one foot in front of the other rather than yielding to the urge to turn back towards the car. I pull my security belt around my middle aware of the need for obvious protocol. It fastens a notch smaller than usual but I’m unable to register the pleasure. Eventually we arrive at the two storey glass atrium that is the hospital entrance. “Honey, I think it might be better if you wait in the car.” I say as casually as possible. “I need to visit the ladies.” I kiss him, “there’ll be no time for a hug before I have to go justify my existence.” Adam gathers me into his arms, and smiles with concern. There’s no hint of suspicion in his eyes. “We’d better have that hug now then hadn’t we?” He squeezes me tight. I feel sick again, a mixture of guilt and fear produces a sour taste in my mouth. My body is unable to soften into the contours of his chest. He stands back and holds me at arms length and nods in the direction of the disappearing duo. “Don’t let that pair get to you; paper pushers like them are nothing more than nerds with an axe to grind. Remember you’re a good nurse and they’re lucky to have you.” “I’m going to need a large Malt once this is over.” I hug him again. “I’ll be here waiting to treat you. I’ll even stretch to something to eat if you can face it.” He says into my hair. I want to thank him but tears nip my eyes when I think about how he’s rescheduled his day off to support me; and how he wouldn’t have bothered if he knew the real me. I kiss his neck and turn away without meeting his gaze. “Morning.” My greeting is directed, without the usual eye contact, at the receptionist behind the thick security glass. My voice echoes off the walls of the deserted foyer and back at me. A mist of rose air freshener finds its way to the back of my throat and robs me of breath. I swipe my way into the vacuum of the air locked metal doors where I can breathe again. Bolts click inviting me to enter my personal code before I can access the secure area beyond. My hand is too faint to punch the pads properly and a loud buzz denies me. If only my life was as secure. Confused eyes bore into my head from the reception window; I take a deep breath and try again, this time relying on my hands to recall the routine they have played out every working day for more than eight years. Finally the door buzzes and I dash to the staff toilet block twenty feet along the corridor. My reflection is pale and clammy and the fluorescent light does nothing but highlight my bags and shadows. My foundation is ready to slide off and stain the collar of my white blouse. I grab some toilet roll and blot the sweat from my nose as I kick off my shoes and throw them in the sink. “Rachael, are you okay?” the receptionist appears in the mirror. I jolt at the sight but still notice how her makeup is unaffected by the blue hue. “It’s the start of the investigation into Nils Federer’s release this morning and I’m the first person to go in and explain myself.” I shake my head at the injustice. “For what it’s worth everyone who knows Nils Federer is shocked by what he’s done. He certainly never struck me as the murdering type.” Angela shakes her head then instantly checks her reflection. “Not that I’m qualified to say so, but you know what I mean don’t you - some things just don’t add up. You taking the rap is just one of them.” She starts to fluff her already gigantic hair. “I really don’t think Nils has done anything, we’ve had no violence from him in years.” I spray my shoes with Valentino’s Rock and Rose and slip them back on. “But I thought the police have DNA evidence against him.” “They do, but it only connects him to the scene, they can’t prove he’s murdered anyone until they find a body.” I try Angela’s fluffing technique but my hair falls instantly back into its usual flaccid shape. “I hope you’re right, but do you think they’ll even try to connect anyone else? DNA evidence against a mad man who’s safely back under lock and key screams case closed to me.” “Thanks for that Angie, but I need to stay positive.” And keep focus on the investigation; I’ve thought of nothing else for days, until now. Now my thoughts are flooded with Gabriel Heart and the damage he can do. “I’d better get back before I’m missed. Good luck, everyone’s routing for you.” She winks and disappears. I can’t help but wonder how long my popularity will last. This time tomorrow my life might be a demolition site, the investigation the least of my worries. As I open the door the crackle of walkie-talkie cuts through the air with a warning of patient movement as a group leave the exercise arena and are escorted back to Arlington ward. I can’t face patients or other staff at the moment, with or without their support, and wait for silence before I leave. My watch says one minute to ten, so I hurry through the network of corridors towards the back of the building. I have prepared myself for the obvious questions, rehearsing my answers diligently like I’m going for a job interview. It won’t be enough. I approach the door that conceals the ‘Gods’ and take a deep breath before I knock. Perhaps Angela is right, like the police, once the management identify a credible scapegoat, the truth is an academic exercise. Even before I enter I’m aware nothing will be resolved today; to save my job and to protect the liberty of a man who has no credible means of defence, I will have to do some investigating of my own. But that will be a secondary battle, right now I have to concentrate on keeping my past where it belongs.