The secure psychiatric ward of the Los Angeles VA Hospital was hectic on the best of days. On April 1st, it was pure chaos. One of the orderlies found a rubber snake coiled around his ankles. Three of the patients were treated for minor abrasions received while trying to hide in the drop ceilings. Someone strung Ace bandages between the light fixtures. So when the head nurse called everyone together for an announcement, they all assumed it was to talk about the whoopee cushion that had inexplicably made its way onto her chair that morning.
Nurse Green cleared her throat louder than was strictly necessary. “This,” she raised her voice over the light buzz of the gathered patients, “is Nurse Sayers. She is the new nurse in charge of the third shift. I want you all to treat her with the same dignity and respect that you treat me.”
Captain HM Murdock rolled his eyes. The whoopee cushion on her seat was proof enough of the dignity and respect she was treated with on a regular basis. He ran his eyes over the new nurse. She had dark hair, dark eyes, and a clear complexion with little roses of color in her cheeks. Her age was impossible to guess, but if he had to, she was no more than thirty-two. She was the picture perfect nurse; the one that most men dreamed about. Nurse Green’s voice snapped him back to the present.
“Why don’t you introduce yourself to the patients?”
Nurse Sayers took a step forward, the sensible heel of her shoe clicking against the linoleum tiles. “Good evening, gentlemen,” her voice was soft and she spoke with a certain lilting cadence that was pleasing to the ear. “My name is Agatha Sayers and as Nurse Green said, I am going to be in charge of the third shift from now on. I did my internship at LA General in 198- and I’ve worked at two wards specializing in mental heath since then. Do any of you have any questions?”
The silence from the patients was deafening.
Murdock raised his hand.
“Yes,” she greeted his interest with a bright smile.
“HM Murdock, Captain, retired. You clearly have good prospects, nurse. What are you doing here?”
Nurse Green made an uncomfortable noise in the back of her throat.
The smile faltered for an unmistakable second. “I became a nurse to help those in need, Captain Murdock. I can’t do that in a fancy sanitarium for ladies with nervous disorders brought on by too much housework. When this position became available, I jumped at the chance to transfer. Is there anything else?”
He shook his head.
“Good,” Nurse Green exclaimed. “Now, Nurse Sayers, I’d like to show you the lounge.” Her voice trailed off as she and Nurse Sayers made their way down the hallway.
The April Fool’s festivities came to an abrupt halt after Nurse Green’s announcement. No one was quite sure how the new nurse would react to their shenanigans. Murdock spent the rest of the evening trying to pick out the new nurse’s mannerisms.
All the nurses had their little quirks. Nurse McDowell never smiled, not even once. Nurse Khan always thought over her words before she spoke them. Nurse Trout, despite her watery name, had a dry sense of humor. After a few hours of careful observation, he finally figured it out. Nurse Sayers always called everyone by their proper rank, no matter how long ago they earned it.
As he waited in line for his nightly dose of pills, he noticed another, more annoying, quirk. She always counted the pills twice when she administered them. This also meant that the wait was twice as long.
The man standing in front of him turned and spoke. “Every time we get a new nurse the wait time for pills always goes up.”
Murdock shrugged. “She wants to make sure that everyone gets the right ones.”
The man sighed into his mustache. “I should not have to wait for a half hour for two pills.”
“Then I’d get movin’ if I were you ‒ it’s your turn.”
“Name please?” Nurse Sayers smiled at the man, her eyes crinkling at the sides.
He squared his shoulders and faced her. “Dietrich, Captain Hans Maximilian.”
She shuffled the little paper cups sitting in front of her and made a discreet mark on her clipboard. “Here you are, Herr Hauptmann, Gute Nacht.”
He paused. “Du sprichst Deutsch?”
“Ja,” she continued on in German for a few moments and Murdock lost track of the words as they spilled off her tongue. He watched in wonder as Captain Dietrich smiled. He’d never seen the captain so much as smirk. But there he was, grinning at the nurse like a lovestruck kid.
“Gute Nacht, Nurse Sayers,” he paused for a moment before continuing in English, “I would like to speak with you again soon if it is agreeable. I haven’t had much opportunity to use my German since I came to this place.”
“Of course! I’ll be here tomorrow night if you want to talk.”
Captain Dietrich took his pills and shuffled off, still smiling.
Murdock stepped forward for his pills. “I’ve never seen him smile before,” he commented, taking his them with a little sip of water.
She glanced at the captain’s retreating figure. “I’m glad I could bring him joy.”
He watched her start counting pills for the person behind him. One, two, three, four, etc. As she counted them the second time, he knew she was the right person for their ward.
What finally clinched his conviction was the way she dealt with Face.
The first time Face tried to run a con past her was magnificent. It was just after midnight and it was raining. He rushed into the ward, dripping wet and clearly in a hurry. “Excuse me,” he pointed at her name tag as he read it, “Nurse Sayers, who’s in charge here?”
“I am,” she raised her eyebrows and looked him over. “Can I help you with something, Mr…”
He held out his hand. “It’s doctor‒Dr. Martinez.”
“Are we expecting you?”
Face was used to minor interference when running cons. He didn’t miss a beat. “Didn’t my secretary call you?” He sighed expressively. “The help these days just keeps getting worse and worse,” he removed his sopping wet coat and let it drip on the spotless floor.
Nurse Sayers’ eyes drifted to one of the other nurses on duty. “I do. Now, how may I help you?”
“All business, I like you. I’m here for Captain HM Murdock,” he reached into the pocket of his coat and removed a dripping piece of paper. “Oh,” he groaned. “Will you look at that,” he held the paper at arm’s length. “Those were my transfer orders for Captain Murdock,” he made an exasperated noise. “He’s supposed to stay at the hospital in San Diego for the next two weeks! What am I supposed to do now?”
At this point, Murdock made his scheduled appearance. He strode up to Face, hands in his pockets. “Good t’ see you, Doc. I’m all packed and ready for my two weeks at the good ol’ San Diego Funny Farm.”
Face gave Nurse Sayers a pleading look. “Just listen to him. So excited, so optimistic.”
She took the still dripping paperwork from his hands and eyed the bleeding ink. “From what I can see everything is in order,” she silenced Face’s celebratory exclamation with a withering look. “However, I cannot release this man into your custody, Mr. Peck.”
The blood drained from his face. “W-What did you call me?”
Murdock had never heard Face stutter before.
“It’s no use, Mr. Peck. Did you think all the nurses here were silly young things? Or that we were all weak-willed pushovers who never watched the news? Your face, and your friends’ faces, have been plastered all over the papers and the newscasts for weeks. It seems that your last escape was just a little too daring to be ignored by the press. While I appreciate your desire to the help Captain Murdock escape, I cannot let you interfere with his treatment.”
Murdock cleared his throat. “Nurse Sayers?”
“It’s not like that. I’m not trying to escape. See, there’s this little girl down in Texas. Her name is Maria,” he paused. Was it his imagination, or did Nurse Sayers’ mouth twitched at the mention of the little girl? “We helped her and her mama out of some trouble down in Mexico a few years back ’n we sponsored the both of them through the whole naturalization process. Well, she’s in trouble again. Some men are trying to take advantage of her. Without me, the team has to drive. They’d never make it in time.”
She chewed her lower lip. “How serious is this?”
Murdock glanced at Face.
“They’re threatening to burn down the shop and kidnap the little girl,” Face put his coat back on. “We don’t have much time.”
She sighed, looking at the sodden paperwork. “You promise you’ll be back in two weeks?”
Murdock nodded. “Promise.”
Nurse Sayers turned and took a folder out of the nearby cabinet. She rifled through the pages until she found the correct one. “Sign this, Mr. Peck.”
“If Captain Murdock isn’t back within two weeks, I will raise every alarm imaginable. And if you ever try this stunt again, I will not hesitate to turn you into the army. Is that clear?”
Face swallowed. “Crystal.”
“Good,” she signed the paperwork. “Don’t get caught.”