Tommy Harrison was late. He hated being late under ordinary circumstances, but on a day like today, it was intolerable. No excuse he could think of, no matter how valid, justified making his clients wait. He should have left earlier. He should have checked the traffic report. He definitely should not have stopped at the coffeeshop on his way in. But there was nothing he could do about it now besides beat himself up as he spun around the back of the back parking lot. He knew his clients were waiting, and he hated that. When he finally did find a spot, he didn’t even bother to lock his car. Hell, he barely even stopped it and turned it off. If someone stole something from him, well, he deserved it, he thought.
Walt didn’t recognise him, but that was because whenever Tommy went over to his house on the weekend, he didn’t run there full-tilt. He stopped when Walt told him to stop, and he had his ID clipped between his sweaty fingers before the man recognized him.
“Tommy! Everything okay? Put that away.”
“Was s’posed to be here twenty minutes ago.”
Walt picked up Tommy’s ID once it finally slipped out of his hand and handed it back.
“Why didn’t you park in a staff emergency spot? There were a couple free, last I checked.”
“Well, that would have made sense.” He sighed, wiped his hands and ID off on his slacks, and tried to rearrange himself. “I shouldn’t be more than an hour, Walt. I’ll see you then.”
“Do what you gotta do, Tommy.”
Normally, he would check in downstairs, but he didn’t want to waste the time for them to tell him that his guy was on 5th Floor Psych. On the off-chance he wasn’t, it would take Admin longer to find him than it would for a 5th Floor nurse to point him in the right direction. While he waited for the elevator, he realized he couldn’t feel his pulse in his neck any more. He still wouldn’t look as professional as he liked, but at least his flushed cheeks wouldn’t look like they were ready to fuse metal. That wasn’t how he liked to meet people.
The doors slid open on the atrium of the Psych Ward. He didn’t necessarily mind the other floors of the hospital, but this one did smell a little less like a sterile mix of a medicine cabinet and a janitor’s closet than the other floors did. The guard here wasn’t half as loquacious or a third as friendly as Walt, but today he did nothing more to Tommy than make him sign in. He expected Mr Christopher to say something brutal about how late he was, since on any other day he liked to remind him that they used to do the same job, and still should be, as far as he was concerned. But he did nothing more than slap the log shut. By this time, Nurse MacKaye was waiting at the head of the hallway, though she didn’t stop looking at her watch until he was right in front of her.
“I’m sorry I’m late.”
“I’m not the one to apologize to, Mr Harrison.”
She spun on her heel, but the squeal of her shoe wasn’t enough to drown out her glare; he could feel it slamming into his face.
“He’s at the back end of the hall, Mr Harrison. You want to see him first, right?”
“So is arriving on time.”
“Traffic was worse than I expected.”
“It’s 5:00 o’clock in Atlanta. What, exactly, did you expect?”
“I’ve never been late before.”
“You picked a wonderful day to start.”
“Who are we going to see?” he asked, hoping he could at least start to do his job.
“Jay Siege. 26. Caucasian male. In and out of institutions for ten years. This last course of treatment was quite effective, fortunately.” She permitted herself one-quarter of a smile, a bittersweet smile.
“Are we discharging him tomorrow?”
“Friday, most likely. They want to observe him for at least another full day, but we think he’s out of the woods.”
They stopped in front of the door, last on the left next to a freight elevator and a storage closet. Normally, an orderly was on hand, but Nurse MacKaye had the keys this time. Tommy took a deep breath. This was easily the hardest part of his job.
The door swung open to what looked like a dorm room. If one knew where to look, one could see the restraints tucked away under the bed frame, and the tracks countless IV stands had pressed into the carpet. There was a TV over the foot of the bed, and next to it sat a small bookshelf and a recliner. Jay sat straight-backed in it, and looked like he never wanted to leave. He glanced at Tommy over the edge of his book and smiled, but he didn’t set it down.
“Are you feeling better?”
“Better than I have in years.” His pale face and baggy eyes said that he must have felt bad indeed if this was ‘better,’ but Tommy thought he looked like a survivor. Or a refugee, maybe.
“Are you ready to go home?”
“Maybe. I’ll miss Nurse MacKaye, though.”
Tommy turned to leave and saw her face say it would be mutual. He liked that. It made his job a lot easier when the patient had a good relationship with the staff. He wanted to stay and hear more of Jay’s story, maybe encourage him a little, but that wasn’t part of his job. His patient was in another room. Without a backward glance, he stepped out and closed the door.
The first door of the storage closet had a normal keyhole, but past the long shelves of toilet paper and neoprene gloves (none of which had been moved from their artfully chosen spot since he’d started this job) there was another door identical to the first save there was no keyhole. On the end of his keychain, he had a small, innocent-looking fob, and when he held it underneath the handle, it clicked. He twisted the handle quietly and let himself in.
This room was nearly identical to the dorm-style rooms on the rest of the floor, though the carpet was a little more plush and the recliner looked like something Tommy would buy if he wanted to spoil himself. Only after he closed the door behind him did he look at the figure… check that, the three figures seated stiff and nervous on the bed. He’d never had three before.
They looked like a family, father and mother and a young teenage girl, going by height and posture. All three were dressed in grey cloaks and plain clothing, and all three had identical plain ivory masks covering their faces. The youngest jumped a little when he walked in, but when she saw that he wasn’t Jay, she sat back down.
“He’s not coming for us, is he?”
“Hi,” he said, speaking to all three of them. “My name is Tom Harrison. I know you’ve had a rough week or two, but if you’ll come with me, I’ll make sure you’re comfortable while the hospital finds you a new place to live. My job is to make sure you get there and to your new lives safe and healthy.”
“He can’t come and see us off, can he?” the father said, and Tommy could tell that he wasn’t talking about a matter of permission or choice. When Tommy politely shook his head, he stood up and gestured to the others. They got up, their bodies swaying a little improbably beneath the cloaks.
“Let’s get on with it, then,” he said, voice hollow behind the empty ivory.
Tommy opened the door for them and waved them into the closet-shaped waiting room. As the mother walked by him, her mask slipped, and for one dark second, he saw smooth featureless skin before she pulled it back into place. Once he shut the door, he checked the hallway monitor, nestled behind a box of paper towels, and finally let them out into the passageway.
This was perhaps the most treacherous part of the job, but he had the five-step walk to the elevator down to a science. The elevator was on this floor, of course; if it wasn’t being used, it always was. Once he had everyone inside, he punched floor buttons ‘1’ and ‘3.’ An error buzzer sounded, and instead of picking one or the other the way a normal person would, he used the rest of the buttons to enter a five-digit PIN. The floor jerked, and they were on their way up, two and a half floors above 5th Floor Psych.
“Why can’t Jay come with us?” the girl asked. “We didn’t do anything wrong. We’re his friends.”
“You didn’t,” Tommy said. “Don’t think that you did. Jay needs time to heal right now, that’s all.” He would have explained more, but then the doors slid open, just as a day-glo rainbow colored monkey slid by them on a skateboard.
He rarely had to walk onto the floor when he brought his clients, since they could already tell that they were amongst their own kind. He still liked to lock the doors open and fill out his paperwork, though. There were no official records in the rest of the hospital, so this was the only time he could see which of his clients were still here, and which had been allowed to move on from this, their little happy halfway home. Then, with a wave to the unicorn and a smile at the… well, the whatever-they-were that ran this annex, he slid the doors shut and went home.