Peter leaned back in his chair, suddenly listless. “That’s what scares me most.”

Teddy, whose migraines gave him a bit of insight into the lack of control one had over one’s mind, would cede a point to Peter on the general concept, but mostly he just wanted to pick the little shit up by his throat, slam him against one of the ovens in the back of the cafeteria, and ask him about that poor nurse he’d carved up.

Do you even remember her name, Pete? What do you think she feared? Huh? You. That’s what. Trying to do an honest day’s work, make a living. Maybe she had kids, a husband. Maybe they were trying to save enough to put one of those kids through college someday, give him a better life. A small dream.

But, no, some rich prick’s fucked-up mama’s boy of a son decides she can’t have that dream. Sorry, but no. No normal life for you, miss.  Not ever again.

Teddy looked across the table at Peter Breene, and he wanted to punch him in the face so hard that doctors would never find all the bones in his nose. Hit him so hard the sound would never leave his head.

Instead, he closed the file and said, “You were in group therapy the night before last with Rachel Solando. Correct?”

“Yes, I sure was, sir.”

“You see her go up to her room?”

“No. The men left first. She was still sitting there with Bridget Kearns and Leonora Grant and that nurse.”

“That nurse?”

Peter nodded. “The redhead. Sometimes I like her. She seems genuine.

But other times, you know?”

“No,” Teddy said, keeping hisvoice as smooth as Chuck’s had been, “I don’t.”

“Well, you’ve seen her, right?”

“Sure. What’s her name again?”

“She doesn’t need a name,” Peter said. “Woman like that? No name for her. Dirty Girl. That’s her name.”

“But, Peter,” Chuck said, “I thought you said you liked her.”

“When did I say that?”

“Just a minute ago.”

“Uh-uh. She’s trash. She’s squishy-squishy.”

“Let me ask you something else.”

“Dirty, dirty, dirty.”


Peter looked up at Teddy.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Oh,. sure.”

“Did anything unusual happen in group that night? Did Rachel Solando say anything or do anything out of the ordinary?” “She didn’t say a word. She’s a mouse. She just sat there. She killed her kids, you know. Three of them. You believe that? What kind of person does that sort of thing? Sick fucking people in this world, sirs, if you don’t mind me mentioning.”

“People have problems,” Chuck said. “Some are deeper than others.

Sick, like you said. They need help.”

“They need gas,” Peter said.

“Excuse me?”

“Gas,” Peter said to Teddy. “Gas the retards. Gas the killers. Killed her own kids? Gas the bitch.”

They sat silent, Peter glowing as if he’d illuminated the world for them. After a while, he patted the table and stood.

“Good to meet you, gents. I’ll be getting back.”

Teddy used a pencil to doodle on the file cover, and Peter stopped, looked back at him.

“Peter,” Teddy said.


“Could you stop that?”

Teddy scratched his initials into the cardboard in long, slow strokes. “I was wondering if—“ “Could you please, please... ?”

Teddy looked up, still pulling the pencil down the file cover.


“ stop toat.

“What?” Teddy looked at him, looked down at the file. He lifted the pencil, cocked an eyebrow.

“Yes. Please. That.”

Teddy dropped the pencil on the cover. “Better?”

“Thank you.”

“Do you know a patient, Peter, by the name of Andrew Laeddis?”


“No? No one here by that name?”

Peter shrugged. “Not in Ward A. He could be in C. We don’t mingle with them. They’re fucking nuts.”

“Well, thank you, Peter,” Teddy said, and picked up the pencil and went back to doodling.

AFTER PETER BREENE, they interviewed Leonora Grant. Leonora was convinced that she was Mary Pickford and Chuck was Douglas Fairbanks and Teddy was Charlie Chaplin. She thought that the cafeteria was an office on Sunset Boulevard and they were here to discuss a public stock offering in United Artists. She kept caressing the back of Chuck’s hand and asking who was going to record the minutes.  In the end, the orderlies had to pull her hand from Chuck’s wrist while Leonora cried, “Adieu, mon ch&i. Adieu.”

Halfway across the cafeteria, she broke free of the orderlies, Vame charging back across the floor toward them, and grabbed Chuck’s h .and.  She said, “Don’t forget to feed the cat.”

Chuck looked in her eyes and said, “Noted.”

After that, they met Arthur Toomey, who kept insisting they call him Joe. Joe had slept through group therapy that night. Joe, it turned out, was a narcoleptic. He fell asleep twice on them, the second time for the day, more or less.

Teddy was feeling the place in the back of his skull by that point. It was making his hair itch, and while he felt sympathy for all the patients except for Breene, he couldn’t help wonder how anyone could stand working here.

Trey.came ambling back in with a small woman with blond hair and a face shaped like a pendant. Her eyes pulsed with clarity. And not the clarity of the insane, but the everyday clarity of an intelligent woman in a less-than-intelligent world. She smiled and gave them each a small, shy wave as she sat.

Teddy checked Cawley’s notes—Bridget Kearns.

“I’ll never get out of here,” she said after they’d been sitting there for a few minutes. She smoked her cigarettes only halfway before stubbing them out, and she had a soft, confident voice, and a little over a decade ago she’d killed her husband with an ax.

“I’m not sure I should,” she said.

“Why’s that?” Chuck said. “I mean, excuse me for saying it, Miss Kearns—“ “Mrs.”

“Mrs. Kearns. Excuse me, but you seem, well, normal to me.” She leaned back in her chair, as at ease as anyone they’d met in this place, and gave a soft chuckle. “I suppose. I wasn’t when I first came here. Oh my god. I’m glad they didn’t take pictures. I’ve been diagnosed as a manic-depressive, and I have no reason to doubt that. I do have my dark days. I suppose everyone does. The difference is that most people don’t kill their htsbands with an ax. I’ve been told I have deep, unresolved conflicts with my father, and I’ll agree to that too. I doubt I’d go out and kill someone again, but you can never tell.” She pointed the tip of her cigarette in their direction. “I think if a man beats you and fucks half the women he sees and no one will help you, axing him isn’t the least understandable thing you can do.” She met Teddy’s eyes and something in her pupils—a schoolgirl’s shy giddiness, perhaps—made him laugh. Copyright 2016 - 2024