He has to sip his coffee this time. As a doctor, he knows massive amounts of caffeine are detrimental to his system, and he always has to be in top shape. When he told people this, they often scoffed, asked him if his job was all that tough, and what was he doing? Brain surgery?
He always got a kick out of saying yes. Yes, it is brain surgery.
Of course, while a great deal of pleasure was gained from people’s expressions from getting to use that line, it wasn’t all fun and games. This month had been hell. Hospital was going under. Turned out it wasn’t the patients or the doctors at fault. Dr. Skerritt, former director, had a particularly bad habit of embezzling money and a few other nasty practices that had the entirety of the Bad Rock police department looking for him. Bad Rock wasn’t a big city, but few people could boast that they had several hundred police officers combing the streets looking for them.
Russel Morrison had just given him the news. He was to be keeping an eye on all departments, not just his own. Russ was an old friend, had been retired from his position of head of diagnostics for four years.
Brought back by the panicked phone calls of the board of directors.
Before Dr. Skerritt had left, he had hired on dozens of new staff-the old ones had felt the change in weather, abandoned ship. He was sorry he didn’t leave with them, but his pride had forced him to stay. He wasn’t ready to stop fighting for his job. This hospital. His home.
The hospital boasted five floors and two basement levels. It was big for Bad Rock. The builders were sure that it would be a matter of time before the city caught up to the complex, but time hadn’t caught up yet. The top two floors were storage. The second basement the same. First floor was diagnostics. Second was surgery and labs. The third was patient care.
The basement level held the morgue and the psyche ward. In his opinion, that was a bad pair, but after the incident where the patients got out and destroyed a lab and caused numerous small fires, the second floor psyche ward had been abolished. The directors didn’t want to mix patients. And the basement could be secured to make sure there were no escapes.
It held merit, but he still would have preferred to keep mentally fragile people away from the dead bodies. It wasn’t really safe.
Though, the same could be said about the new staff.
He could only guess that Dr. Skerritt had hired them on as a last gesture to the hospital he was ruining. Many were probably convicts, others of questionable morality, and some so shifty he would have fired them on the spot if the board of directors hadn’t put a hiring and firing freeze on them.
‘Make do with what you have until we can straighten things out,’ they said.
Which proved none of them knew a damn thing about running a hospital. He had spent his morning scaring the hell out of a pair of doctors he caught rummaging the pharmacy for recreational purposes and another one stealing personal belongings from Dmitri Shastovich, a patient that came in regularly for checkups on his heart.
Everything was going downhill. And he had no support base. Half the nursing staff was terrified of the newcomers. The other half either part of the problem or too ambivalent to care.
And he hadn’t even gotten halfway through the list yet.
He sighed, downed the rest of his coffee in a few gulps. He needed to head up to the surgical ward. He had two newcomers specializing in plastic surgery. He didn’t want to think of the implications of that.
He took the elevator, waited as it took him to the second floor. As he got off, a giant man with a Mohawk stepped on, holding several files that looked comically small in his hands. He did not catch the man’s nametag on his scrubs, but the man was courteous.
He hoped that if that was one of the doctor’s on his list, he was a keeper. He would freely admit that he wouldn’t want to fire that one. At least, not without back up.
The two surgeons he was assessing today were in their office. They were both sitting in a totally relaxed pose, smiling and nodding, getting along well.
Obviously, they hated each other. This may turn ugly. He made a note of this while he introduced himself.
“Good morning, gentlemen. I am Doctor John Smith. I am the chief surgeon here. From here on out, you answer to me. Which one of you is Dr. Thomas Angel?”
“I am.” Blonde. Very photogenic. A big smile and blue eyes with absolutely no hint of malice.
Yeah. This was going to get ugly.
“I’m putting you on rotations with Dr. Sullivan. You learn from her what our procedures and rules are. I take it you are Dr. Templeton Peck?”
Caramel hair. Innocent smile. Hint of challenge. Also very photogenic.
“You’re with me today. I will be teaching you rules and regulations. Both of you will be expected to pull your own weight. I will not tolerate laziness from my surgeons. You will do your jobs and you will do them well, or so help me I will make your lives a living hell. Do I make myself clear?”
Two compliant, understanding nods.
He didn’t trust them one bit.
Two fights between orderlies and having to ‘discuss’ the meaning of patient care to a nurse later, he was beginning to regret staying, home or no.
“Is it usually this peaceful and understanding, here?” Dr. Peck said, dodging a medical cart as it rattled past.
“No. This is a recent development. I assume you already know about what happened with Dr. Skerritt?”
“Messed up stuff.”
“We’re in a hiring and firing freeze. We have to make do with what we have.”
“Being kind of forthcoming with me here, John.”
“I believe in letting people know where they stand. And until we know each other better kid, I’m Dr. Smith.”
He could feel the kid roll his eyes behind him. “And don’t roll your eyes. This is the Nurse’s station, talk to Rosalita if you need supplies. We don’t get too many plastic surgery jobs up here, you may have to help out. You have a problem with that?”
“With the nurses? Absolutely not.” a hint of laughter in the younger man’s voice.
“What you do on your own time is none of my concern. But if you cause waves here with the nursing staff, I will put you on the most busy, mind numbingly boring shifts I can think up. Clear?” He waited a moment, then turned to face the other doctor. “I said, are we clear?”
Rebellion was peering out under that calm façade. But he just smiled, flashing perfect white teeth. “Crystal, John.”
He waited patiently, fixing his subordinate with a calm gaze. After a moment, Dr. Peck’s face colored slightly.
“I understand, Dr. Smith.”
“Good. I’m leaving you with Casper, he’ll show you the rest of the hospital.” He nodded to the male nurse manhandling supplies onto a cart.
“Always leave your new hires with the nurses, Dr. Smith?”
“I do today.” He turned to leave, heading towards pediatrics. A voice shouts after him.
“Are you always this much of a jerk?”
“Prerequisite for head of surgery, Dr. Peck.” He just keeps walking, making a note next to Peck’s name.
The first doctor he checks in on is Dr. Bartholomew. The older man was congenially handing out lollipops to the kids. His conversation with the man was brief, and he seemed to be a genuinely good choice for the pediatrics ward. But his eyes were bloodshot and there was a copious amount of peppermint scent on his breath.
Possible drinking problem. Not good.
He made a note of that as he went down the list, stopping in with Dr. Stewart. Dr. Emily Stewart had braved the change like he did, and seemed to be taking it in stride. Her blonde hair was pinned neatly back, and she was smiling as she took a young boy’s temperature.
“Now remember, no playing outside anymore unless you have a coat! I have to see Dr. Smith. You stay right there!”
She steps out of the exam room, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.
“This place is going to the dogs.” She wipes her brow with the back of her hand. “My supplies haven’t gotten here and I asked that orderly three hours ago.”
“I’ll check in on it. How are your new hires?”
“Dr. Bartholomew may be a keeper, but I think he’s on the juice. I saw him sneak off into a supply closet with a flask of something. He came back out pretty unsteady. I like Dr. Martins. He’s good with kids, but he’s a little too patient, I’m worried there’s something going on there. And Dr. Baracus, hell, I don’t know what to think.”
“He a trouble maker?”
“No…do you have a minute? Let me take care of my patient, and I’ll show you.”
After twenty minutes and one relieved parent later, she ushers him down a few doors.
Inside the waiting room, there were several very apprehensive parents watching wide eyed as their children surround a giant black man with a Mohawk, poking at his tattoos and touching his hair.
The same man he had walked by on the second floor earlier that day.
The children appear to have no fear whatsoever of him, and the big man seems happy just to talk to them about how they were feeling and what they hoped to have happen and a few dozen other things.
John has to admit, the sight was pretty mind-boggling.
“The kids love him, the parents are terrified of him…he’s competent, but unless they get to see that in action, none of the parents will want to have him see their children.”
He nods, still fascinated by the fact that several of the children were so comfortable with the big man that they were now climbing on top of him, which he allowed.
“Well, set him up on rotation. That way, they’ll get to see.”
“What if they immediately ask for another doctor?”
“Think they’d say that to his face? Just don’t be in the area when they figure it out.”
“You are an evil, sneaky man John.” She shakes her petite head.
“I just plan ahead. I have to go down to the basement next. Have you talked with Jonathon?”
“Yeah, He’s got two new doctors, but apparently they don’t like each other and there’s some trouble with their neighbors.”
“The morgue?!” He hated that place. And the man that worked there.
“Keep your voice down! There are children here. And yes, they are having problems with the coroner and his autopsy ghouls. The directors should have fired that man before Skerritt took the money and ran.”
He sighs. Just another item to add to his long running list-a feud between departments.
“Well, I might as well get it over with. What have you heard about Dr. Reed’s new staff?”
“Not too much. He picked up three autopsy assistants, which is way too much for the amount of traffic that goes through there. One of them is a big burly one with black hair and an anchor on his arm, there a woman with a bad attitude, and I’ve only seen the tall one a couple of times. He doesn’t like to look at people and he stays in the shadows a lot. Maybe he thinks he’s a vampire.”
“I’ll check the bank. Thanks for your help. Let me know if there’s any trouble.”
“No problem. Oh, and, John?”
“Be careful down there. Reed is leech.”
He just nods and continues on.
As soon as he walks through the door to the psyche ward, he is set upon by a crazed man.
“Come with me! We have to fight the invasion! The ducks can’t win this time!”
The man, though shorter and slender, manages to drag him behind a table where a patient has set a make shift barrier.
“You saved him just in time!”
“I know! These crazy new guys don’t even know what they’re getting into! That’s why they live upstairs!”
He’s speechless, watching the two men perform some bizarre ritual. They seemed to be playing make believe complete with imaginary guns and bombs.
“Quick! Lob a grenade! There’s a mallard!”
“No!” The man in scrubs waves his hands animatedly, excitement bringing out an unmistakable country accent. “We hafta save those for the actual ducks! The females are by far the more dangerous of the species!”
“Dr. Murdock? Dr.-For god’s sakes, what are you doing?!” A blonde woman had just appeared around the corner.
The patient let out a scream. “They’re impersonating human females!”
He began pelting her with the cushions from a chair. She tries to block, then retreats, yelling.
“I’ll be telling Dr. Richter about this!”
“Yeah, well, he knows the differences between ducks and humans, so I should be safe!” The man in scrubs (Dr. Murdock?) yells back cheekily.
The patient turns, wide eyed. “I did it! The ducks are retreating! I did it, H.M.!”
“Good job man! I knew you could do it! Remember this victory!”
He knows that his mouth must be wide open by now because this has to be the most bizarre visit he’s ever had to the psyche ward.
“It’s time for lunch. Why don’t you go join the others, I’ll help this newbie get over the shellshock.”
“What about the bodies? What if they come back to life?” the patient gestures to an empty spot on the floor.
“I’ll take care of them. Morgue is right next door, we’ll freeze the bastards. Newbie’s gotta do something.”
Apparently pleased with the plan, the patient walks away happily.
The man in scrubs grins at him, offers him a hand up. He takes it warily.
“Nice to see some other brave soul enter the battlefield. Name’s H.M. Murdock. My friends call me H.M or Murdock. Pleased to meet you.” Dr. Murdock shakes his hand, then sets about clearing the barrier and setting the tables back upright.
“I’m Doctor John Smith. May I ask what that was all about?”
“Oh…jus’ a little role-playing. He sees ducks coming after him, I told him we should mount an assault against them, it ended up over here somehow. Anyway, got other patients. Can I help you?”
“No…I came down to see Dr. Richter.”
“Yeah well, you just follow the angry harpy, you’ll find him.” The doctor strode off, whistling.
His clipboard of names with spaces to write notes seems a little inadequate all of a sudden.
He shakes his head, walks down the hall to Jonathon’s office. As he gets closer, he can hear the angry, raised voice of a woman. When he knocks on the door and is admitted in despite protests from the woman inside, he finds himself face to face with the blonde that had taken seat cushions to the head earlier. She glares at him frostily before turning back to Jonathon.
“He’s disrupting the patients! I demand that you discipline him!”
“I’ll take it into consideration, Dr. Warren.”
“Consideration?! The man is a menace!” She drew herself up. “If you don’t do something about him, I will take it up to the directors.” She turned and stormed out.
Jonathon Richter looked at the open office door moodily and sighed. “This is not what I was hoping for when they told me I’d be running the psyche ward.”
“Sorry. It’s tough all around.”
“So I’ve heard. Apparently Morrison gave you reign over the entire hospital. Figures he’d go with his A-game. How bad is it?”
“Morgue might be full of crooks. My nursing staff is equal numbers scared and unsavory. My new plastic surgeons hate each other and one’s a pain in my ass. Pediatrics is sitting on a knife’s edge. Diagnostics is in shambles. The psyche ward appears to have a patient for a doctor.”
“Oh, so you’ve met Murdock, then?” Jonathon smiles.
“He dragged me behind a table where he and a patient role-played. Against ducks.”
“He’s very unorthodox. But the patients love him and his methods are incredibly effective.”
“And Dr. Warren?”
“A more practical side of medicine. She believes in by the book. Both have their place. I just wish their place wasn’t to drive each other up the wall.” He sighs, rubs his temples. “And I wish we weren’t right next to the morgue. Can you fix that anytime soon?”
“I’ll try. They been giving you trouble?”
“The big one with the tattoo, yes. I caught him and one of my new orderlies menacing a patient. I forbid them from contacting that patient again, and threw the big one back to autopsy. But Reed doesn’t do anything.”
“I’m going there next.”
“Godspeed. And while you’re there, watch Dr. Reed. He’s been acting strange ever since Dr. Skerritt left. I have my suspicions about him.”
“What do you mean?”
“He may be a duck.”
Dr. Elijah Reed is not a duck. It might be easier if he was.
Dr. Reed was older than himself, but where long shifts of constant walking and working had kept him thin and trim, nights sitting in the autopsy had done the opposite. Dr. Reed was heavyset, soft around the middle, with a perpetual cough and a quickly receding hairline.
“What do you want, Dr. Smith?” He spat, shuffling some files from one place to another.
“I wanted to come down and check on your new assistants. I’ve been given the responsibility of making sure the hospital runs smoothly.”
“Well, isn’t that an honor. They’re fine. I run a tight ship.”
“Not what I hear from the psyche ward.”
“What, from Richter? Well, tell him I already disciplined Mr. Hammonds, so he has nothing to worry about.”
“Even so, I want to meet your new assistants.” His tone was as even as he could possibly make it.
Dr. Reed scowled at him. He returned with a calm stare of his own.
Dr. Reed jerked, like he was a horse with an annoying fly. “Hammonds! Ariel! Jackson!”
From the shadows, autopsy and morgue workers begin to appear. The first was a young woman with a cigarette tucked behind a bejeweled ear. She had a scowl on her face and chewed her gum loudly. She was wearing jeans far too tight for the workplace, and a shirt that did much the same.
The second was a tall, shuffling man in about his thirties. He fixed John with a gaze for a moment, assessing, before turning his eyes to look boredly at a point in the middle of nowhere. He kept his left side angled away from the others, keeping to the darker shadows in the dimly lit room.
The last was a giant man with black hair and an anchor on his arm. He stood totally calm, with a respectful nod towards John as he stood beside the woman. He was easily the size of Dr. Baracus. Everything he did was controlled and careful, and had he not talked with Dr. Richter, he might have considered the large man to be the best one out of three.
“Dr. John Smith is here to talk to you. He’s a big wig from upstairs, so mind your manners. Jackson, try not to stutter.”
Jackson said nothing.
He decided to start with the giant man. “You are?”
“Eric Hammonds, sir.”
“How are you doing here, son?”
“Best job I ever had.”
The woman, Ariel, laughed.
He chose to ignore them both. “I have talked to Dr. Richter. There was apparently a disturbance with you, a patient, and an orderly?”
“Just stepped in to give a hand. I’m not familiar with the policies dealing with that type of patient. I may have gone too far. Dr. Reed has already spoken to me about it.”
He makes a note on his clipboard. “In the future, you will stay out of the psyche ward. Understood?”
“Yes sir.” The man nodded eagerly.
He turned to the next assistant. “You are?”
“Ariel Dominguez.” Snap. The gum was popping in her mouth.
“You realize that eating food in a place where dead bodies are kept is ill-advised?”
She just stared at him, uncomprehending.
“How are you doing here?”
“Good. Great. So great I wanna go back to work. Can I go now?” She snapped her gum loudly. He wrote a note down.
“Yes. You two can go back to work. What exactly do you two do down here?”
“I assist the Doctor with the deceased.”
He nods, and they melt back into the darkness. They really needed to put up more lights in this place.
He walk to the third assistant. “And who are you?”
“Answer the man, Jackson!” Dr. Reed ordered. John thought about turning and telling him to leave with his other ghouls, but the man seemed to shift out of his silence.
“Sabrenn Jackson.” His voice was low and quiet.
“Sabrenn? That’s an interesting name.”
A few more questions were asked, and John found himself getting frustrated. Mr. Jackson seemed content with one word answers or silence.
He finally gave up and dismissed the man back to the darkness. Jackson nodded to him, and then had to turn back into the shadows, exposing the side he kept angled away. The burn scars on his face were old, but time had not eased them enough to stop John’s knee-jerk reaction of sympathy. The man shuffled away and disappeared into the darkness after his companions.
“That one isn’t great, but we do our job well. Always a learning curve. Wouldn’t trade one of them. “ Reed said sardonically.
“I’m glad to see everything’s going well. How is the storage? Everything working correctly?”
“Fine.” The answer was quick and curt. “Anything else?”
John could feel his welcome disappearing fast. Time to go. “Not today. Let me know if you have any trouble.”
“Not a problem. We’ll call. Do lunch.” Reed smiles at him, teeth badly yellowed.
He leaves after that.
On his way back upstairs, he has to stop and take a breath. The smell of the morgue is overpowering, and the lack of light is crippling.
And he’d bet money Jonathon was right.
Ariel shouldn’t have even passed the interview. Hammonds was worrying. He said all the right things, but Jonathon would have told him if the man had ‘gone too far’. He knew the difference between ignorance and sadism. And Jackson seemed to have no personality whatsoever. Reed ruled them with an iron fist.
Take that into account with how quickly he was dismissed when he mentioned the cold storage, he’d bet his pension that Reed was hiding something. He and Skerritt had been close before this unpleasant business got started.
There was a lot of worrisome additions to this hospital. He could only hope that he could get them straightened out before things got ugly.