she seems to be stronger
but what they want her to be is weak
she could just pretend
she could play the game
she could be another clone
why go home?
Why Go, Pearl Jam
It was like watching a train wreck or so it seemed to Blair. He realized this wasn't a very original analogy, but it did fit the situation. They had been in the interrogation room for what felt like hours. He was stiff all over, and his butt was seriously starting to go numb. The city really ought to be able to spring for better furniture than the uncomfortable metal fold-up chairs the PD had somehow been stuck with. He squirmed in his seat, hoping this would all be over soon, hoping there'd be a positive outcome. He watched the young girl they were questioning, Stacey Walters. He could practically feel the resistance emanating off her. He glanced over at his partner and saw the telltale twitching of his jaw. Blair sighed quietly to himself, knowing there wasn't a chance in hell that the questioning was going to proceed smoothly or conclude any time soon.
"I asked you a question, Miss Walters. I'd appreciate an answer," Jim said, in his sternest voice.
"Sorry," the girl murmured, scared but resolute.
Blair shook his head. Stacey does not belong in police custody. He would have had the same opinion of her even if she hadn't been a straight A student in his Anthro 101/102 class a couple of years back. But since she was one of his past students, he felt especially protective of her. He clearly remembered her final paper, an earnest, impassioned look at the lives of the Kalahari bushwomen, a good, strong analysis, her feminist leanings clearly spelled out in the introduction, to be completely aboveboard with the reader. That was his overwhelming impression of her: honest, straightforward, sincere. She was among the last people he could imagine committing a crime.
And why would anyone break in to a mental hospital. Out, I can understand. But in? It made no sense, and Stacey Walters was nothing if not sensible. She wouldn't have done something like that without a reason, and maybe the explanation would help her out of some of the really hot water she was in. If only she would tell them, if only she would say something.
But she wouldn't. She just sat there, looking like she wanted to cry.
"Miss Walters, if you don't help us, there's no way we can help you," Jim told her. "Maybe you're not aware that breaking and entering is a felony. A conviction could carry serious prison time, and you'd have a record for the rest of your life. Every time you applied for a job or tried to get into graduate school, pretty much anything you wanted to do, you'd have to put it down, admit that you'd spent time behind bars, that you'd committed a serious crime. Is that really what you want?"
Stacey just stared at him, petrified, as defenseless as any deer caught in headlights. Blair was pretty sure the girl had never had so much as a parking ticket or a bad grade, let alone been in trouble with the law. He watched her curl in upon herself a little more, although still determined not to answer their questions.
"Miss Walters, I feel certain you have no idea what the prison system is like or you'd be a hell of a lot more eager to cooperate. I can promise you that the Washington Correctional Center for Women is not a nice place. People don't come out of there the same as they went in. If you tell us what we want to know, maybe we can get the charges reduced down to a misdemeanor. In that case, you'd probably get a fine and community service, maybe probation. We know you've never been in trouble before, so we'd like to help you. All you have to do is give us an explanation."
The girl stared down at her hands, obviously scared, but stubbornly silent. Blair could see Jim beginning to lose his patience.
The detective pulled out the chair next to Stacey, scraping it loudly against the linoleum floor, making the girl start. He sat down beside her and leaned in to say, "You look like a nice girl, so I'm going to tell it to you straight, for your own good. You don't want to go to prison. Between the other inmates who aren't going to like a young, white, financially well-to-do college girl and the male guards who think getting laid is a fringe benefit of the job whether the woman is willing or not, it's really not anywhere you want to end up. I don't know who you're trying to protect, but believe me, it's not worth going to prison. So do you want to tell me something that could help you or not?"
The poor girl shrank back in her chair, her eyes wide with shock and fear. Now even if she had wanted to speak, Blair doubted she had the presence of mind to string together a sentence. He shook his head. Jim's tough guy routine could intimidate even hardened criminals. It was enough to completely incapacitate an innocent young kid like Stacey.
"Jim? Could I talk to you outside a minute?"
Jim gave him the look, the one that said he wasn't particularly happy about being interrupted, but he followed him out of the interrogation room just the same.
"What is it, Sandburg?" he demanded.
"I don't think this approach is working. You're scaring her to death."
"Well, she ought to be scared. She's in some serious damned trouble here, Chief. The hospital wants to prosecute. "
"Look, man, I know Stacey. She's a good kid. There's got to be some explanation here. She wouldn't just try to break into a mental hospital for kicks."
"I'm sure you're right. I get the feeling she's covering for someone, but she needs to start thinking about herself. If she's such a good kid, then she needs to cooperate."
"Why not let me try talking to her? We had a pretty good rapport when she was in my class. I really think I can reach her."
Jim regarded him skeptically.
"Really, man," Blair insisted. "I mean, threatening hard cases with the ugly realities of prison life may work, but it's just going to make Stacey too terrified to say anything."
"Well..." Jim finally said, a little grudgingly. "I guess there's no harm in trying. Okay, Chief. Give it a shot."
They went back into the room, only this time Blair sat down beside Stacey, while Jim leaned against the wall and watched.
"Stacey, look, we know that if you broke into Larchmore, then you must have had some reason. You need to trust us. We're really looking for some way to make this come out better for you. So please help us, huh?" Blair said, making his voice as gentle and soothing as possible.
He watched Stacey carefully, and he noticed when her eyes shifted slightly, stealing a glance at him out of the corner of her eye. Yes! She wants to tell me. She just needs a little more convincing.
"I know you're scared," he said, reassuringly. "But I promise you don't need to be frightened of me. I'm a good listener. Whatever it is, you can tell me. I'll really try to help."
"That's what I was doing," she said, very softly. "Trying to help."
Jim joined them at the conference table. "Trying to help? You mean, someone who's a patient at Larchmore?"
The girl nodded. "My friend Jennifer. Her family had her put away, but there's nothing wrong with her. I swear."
"How do you know that, Miss Walters? Are you a psychiatrist?"
"Nooooo!" Stacey said, frustrated, obviously at the end of her rope. "But I don't have to be a mental health care worker to know this has nothing to do with Jennifer's well-being."
Jim crossed his arms over his chest. "Why would her family take such drastic measures if they weren't honestly concerned for her safety and welfare, if it weren't absolutely necessary?"
Stacey stared down at the table, stricken.
Blair rested a hand lightly on her shoulder. "It's okay, Stacey. Whatever it is, you can trust us. We'll do our best to understand."
Tears sprang to the girl's eyes, and her voice caught in her throat. "They put her in that horrible place because they can't accept that the heir to the Ross shipping fortune is a lesbian."
Jim and Blair looked at each other, both surprised.
"So you and Jennifer..." Blair ventured.
Stacey nodded. "We were assigned as roommates our first year. We fell in love. We've been together ever since, three years now. At first, we tried to be very careful, really discreet. I mean, Jennifer's family is in the society column and stuff. We knew they'd be pissed if it got out about us. But after a while, we settled into our relationship, and I guess it just stopped being something we thought about. I mean, it was so natural for us to be together. Why would we hide it? But God, we should have. We should have been so much more careful than we were."
Stacey trailed off, tears beginning to run down her cheeks.
"Can you tell us what happened?" Blair asked, gently prompting her.
"One night, these people just burst into the apartment, saying they had a commitment order for Jennifer. We tried to talk to them, ask them what the hell they were talking about, but they wouldn't tell us anything. They just dragged her away, before I could even get to the phone to call 911. They wouldn't even let her get dressed. When they took her away, she was still wearing her pajamas. That's the last time I saw her. When I went to the hospital, they wouldn't let me in. Apparently they don't allow visitors, at least not anyone who isn't family. And I was the last person they were ever going to let in."
"Wasn't there" Jim started to ask.
"I tried to find a lawyer," she said. "But I don't have any money. Not that it would have mattered much anyway. Every time they heard who they'd be going up against, they bailed on me. The Rosses...they pretty much own this town. Nobody wants to cross them. My parents don't know about me and Jennifer. They're very strict, very Christian. So I couldn't go to them. I couldn't find anyone who would help me. That's when I decided to break in. I know it was wrongand stupid. But I was really, really desperate. Jennifer doesn't belong in that place. God knows what they're doing to her in there."
Blair looked over at his partner, and he could tell that Jim was as stunned as he was. He knew this kind of thing had taken place in the past, but he found it difficult to believe that it still went on. Stacey broke down in tears and sat sobbing into her hands, her back heaving, leaving him no doubt at all that she was telling the truth. He could tell by the expression on Jim's face that he also believed her.
"I can't understand how her parents could do that just because..." Jim began to say.
Stacey shook her head. "Not her parents. They died in a car accident five years ago. It's her uncle. He's the trustee of the estate, in control of Jennifer's inheritance. All he cares about is money and appearances. With Jennifer in a mental hospital, he has complete power over her trust fund and nobody to ask any questions. And the person he considers to be the family embarrassment is conveniently out of the way."
"We'll look into your allegations, Miss Walters," Jim promised, his voice gentle now, filled with compassion. "We'll also see what we can do about talking the hospital out of pressing charges. Maybe we can persuade them it would be bad publicity for people to think their security measures were lax enough to allow a college student to break in."
Stacey's face brightened a little. "Do you really think so? Oh, thank you, detective. Thank you so much. And you'll see what you can do for Jennifer?"
Blair said, "We'll do everything we can. I promise."
"I'd appreciate that so much. I know I should never have tried breaking in, but I couldn't think of anything else to do. It's just so wrong what they're doing. Loving someone of your own gender doesn't make you insane," Stacey said, a little tremulously.
Jim nodded, very solemnly. "No, Miss Walters, it certainly doesn't."
"Are you sure about this?" Simon asked, leaning back in his chair, puffing on a cigar. "I mean, it sounds like something out of the dark ages, or at least the 1950s. I'm pretty sure we don't put people away in this day and age simply for being homosexual."
Blair shifted in his seat. "It's not supposed to happen, but I've read enough articles to know there's a lot of abuse of the mental health care system. All it takes is a doctor's signature to have someone committed. One doctor, man, and poof!...you're crazy. Well, you can see how easy it would be to have someone who's sane wrongly locked away, especially if the family has money, or there's a big fat insurance policy as an incentive. Doctors are as prone to temptation as anybody else."
"What do you think, Jim?" Simon asked.
"I have to agree with Sandburg. I guess it's possible that the girl is just wrong about it, but she definitely wasn't lying. From what she told us, she knows Jennifer Ross better than anyone else does. If she says there's nothing wrong with her, I'd tend to believe her."
"So any thoughts on what to do about this? It's all supposition so far. We don't even have enough evidence for a search warrant."
"We should get some evidence then," Blair said.
"That's brilliant, Sandburg. How would you suggest we go about doing that?" Simon asked.
"I could go in undercover as a patient again, like I did at Conover."
"No way, Chief! Absolutely not," Jim protested.
"I can do this," Blair said, with quiet determination.
"That doesn't mean it's a good idea," Jim answered.
Simon held up a hand. "Okay, guys. Look, Jim, Blair has a point here."
"I do?" Blair asked, surprised by his captain's reaction.
Simon sighed heavily, arched his eyebrows and gave him the "don't try my patience" look.
"Sir" Jim began to protest.
"Blair's got experience in this kind of thing, Jim, and he looks young enough to fit in at Larchmore. We don't have anyone else available at the moment who fits the bill. Just as long as you're sure you're up for it, kid?"
Blair swallowed hard, but he held Simon's gaze. "Yes, sir. I'm ready. I want to do this."
"Simon, you can't..." Jim started to say.
"Actually, I can, detective. If you're so concerned, then you can go in with Sandburg for the initial consultation, work your Sentinel magic, make sure everything seems okay before he goes in."
"You want me to have him committed?"
Blair couldn't help smiling. "Hey, man, I would have thought this was just the opportunity you'd been waiting for."
Jim shook his head. "Not funny, Chief. This is serious stuff here."
"I know, man, and I'm seriously ready, willing and able to do this."
"I don't like it."
"I never expected you would."
Jim turned to Simon. "So what? I'm supposed to be his father or something?"
"How about brother?" Simon suggested.
"Make it half brother," Blair said. "That'll help explain away the difference in appearance. Yeah, and my parents died in a car accident a year or so ago. You're my only remaining relative, Jim. That's why you're the one having me committed."
"You know, Sandburg, I should be used to your storytelling abilities by now, but somehow you still manage to surprise me," Simon said.
Blair grinned. "Glad I can keep you on your toes."
"So, Chief, do you really think you can pass for a minor?" Jim asked.
"Probably not. But then, Jennifer's of age, so that doesn't really seem to stop them from institutionalizing people who don't need it. I should be able to pass for an undergrad pretty easily. Say twenty-two?"
"Sounds good," Simon said, nodding approvingly.
"What do we tell the doctors is wrong with you?" Jim asked.
"I don't think we should be too obvious about it. They might not bite if you go in saying your brother needs hospitalization because he's gay. So what then...I'm depressed, not handling the parents' death too well. You're concerned about some of my lifestyle choices..."
"I got it, Chief. I drop references about your experimenting with guys, and see if they go for it."
"Yeah, man. I think it'll work."
"I still don't like it."
"I know, but I really can do this."
"That's what you said about Conover."
"Yeah, well, that was dealing with a crazed psychopath. This is just trying to get some evidence on greedy hospital administrators."
"That's another thing. Since we're investigating the people in charge, you won't have anyone on your side in there. For all intents and purposes, you'll be a patient, as vulnerable as any of the rest of them. It'll be hard to contact us if anything goes wrong, and we're not going to be able to protect you. Think about what that really means, Chief. Are you sure you still want to do this?"
Blair paused, thinking it over. "Yeah, man. I do."
Jim looked skeptical, but he stopped protesting.
"Sandburg, as Ellison points out, a cell phone or wire is out," Simon told him. "I'm sure they'll put you through a thorough search."
"Oh, good," Blair said, making a face, understanding exactly what the captain meant by that.
"If something happens, you're going to have to find a way to get to a phone. I know that's not much back up, but it's all we have. I'd prefer to try to get a trained officer in there posing as a staff member, but we don't want to waste any time with this on Miss Ross' account. Who knows how long it could take to get them to hire on one of our people."
"I understand, Simon. You know me. I'm resourceful. If I get in a bind, I'll figure something out."
"As I understand it, when someone's committed, they're initially held three days for observation," Simon said. "So that's how long you've got to find out what's going on in there. Don't go out on any limbs. Just watch and listen. No Rambo stuff. You got it?"
"I got it. I'm eyes and ears. That's it. But three days isn't very long to find out anything. At the end of the three days, the doctors can decide to release a patient or keep them on for further evaluation. If they go for option two, I'd like to stay a little longer."
"That's out of the question, Chief," Jim said.
"Ellison, who's the captain here?" Simon asked, exasperated, and then turned to Blair. "Sandburg, that's out of the question."
"Oh, come on, sir. If I'm just there to observe, what can it hurt to leave me in place two more days? It'll give me more time to find stuff we can use to get Jennifer Ross out of there."
"We're there to find out the facts, Sandburg," Simon said. "We can't just presume that Ms. Ross is the victim of a crime here. You need to go in with an open mind."
"Yes, sir. I understand," Blair said.
"All right, Sandburg. You've got five daysif they continue to hold you after the observation period. And that's only if it's still safe, and nobody suspects you. Got it?"
"Yes, sir," Blair said.
"Ellison, if they do want to keep him past the three days, I want you to arrange a visit, check up on Blair, make sure everything's okay. Work out a sign between you. If there's anythingand I can't stress this enough, Sandburganything that doesn't seem right, that makes you nervous, you give Jim the signal. And Ellison, you flash the badge and get him out of there. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," Blair said.
"Understood," Jim said, still not sounding very happy.
"So what's our high sign gonna be?" Blair asked.
"Whatever you want."
"I could wink at you or rub my nose."
"Either one. Just pick."
"Or I could cough three times."
"Or you could just whisper something for my Sentinel hearing."
"That's true. Okay, so if I don't rub my nose with my thumb or do that subliminal message thing, you'll know everything's okay, and I can stay the extra two days."
"Okay, Sandburg, Ellison, that's the plan. First thing tomorrow morning, Blair starts getting the professional help we've always suspected he needed."
"Funny, Simon," Blair said, rolling his eyes.
Jim said nothing, his jaw set, not even remotely amused.
Things were quiet and tense on the way home.
Blair sighed. "So are we going to talk about it? Or are you just going to give me the silent treatment?"
Jim kept his eyes on the road. "I didn't think you were all that interested in what I had to say."
"Don't do that, Jim."
"Who's the cop here, Blair?" he asked. "You're always telling me I need to listen to you on the Sentinel stuff. So why can't you listen to me on the cop stuff? I really don't think this is a good idea."
"Why? Is it because you have no confidence in me or what?"
"You know that's not it. I'm just remembering what happened the last time you went undercover in a place like that. It wasn't exactly a piece of cake, Chief. You got kind of spooked."
"Because a psychopathic killer had my number and wanted me dead."
"Are you sure that's all?"
"Isn't that enough?"
Jim watched his partner for a long moment. "It's just that I kind of got the idea going into that institution brought up some old stuff for you."
"Yeah, well, I told you I spent a semester doing research at Conover when I was an undergrad, and I worked at another mental hospital after that to make a little extra money. You see stuff in places like that. Serious shit, man."
"If you say so, Chief."
Blair lost his temper. "Yeah, I say so. But if that's not good enough for you, check it out. I did just work there. I know I'm kind of high strung, but I've managed not to crack up yet. If you need proof, I'm sure they still have my employment records at Hill Crest. Check it out for yourself. If you don't trust me."
"Hold up there, Darwin. Who's talking about proof here? I said I believe you."
"I'm glad to hear that," Blair said. "Because people who don't trust each other shouldn't be partners. Or friends, for that matter."
"Your word is always good enough for me, Chief," Jim said softly.
"Good," he said, not quite meeting Jim's eye, crossing his hands over his chest, turning to look out the window.
Jim could hear his heart fluttering and smell the sharp scent of his anxiety. It was a cheap ploy, he knew that. But he'd needed confirmation from his senses of what his intuition screamed at him, and now he had it. Blair might not be telling an outright lie, but he wasn't telling the entire truth either. His Guide knew his abilities too well not to realize he would sense something, and he'd decided to keep whatever it was to himself anyway. That just wasn't like him, and tomorrow, Jim was sending him into an unprotected and potentially dangerous situation. He set his jaw and stared grimly out the windshield, turning that thought over in his mind, liking the plan less and less with each passing moment.
Blair slouched low in his chair, a sullen expression plastered
all over his face, perfectly mimicking the demeanor of a pissed
off younger sibling. Jim couldn't help wishing his partner was
a bit less adept at this little masquerade. It was making him
feel like a shit, even though he knew he wasn't really
having Blair committed. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and
clenched his jaw even harder, grinding his teeth. At this rate,
he was going to need a fortune in dental repair.
When he and Blair had arrived at the facility, he had filled out some papers and answered a few questions asked by the nurse at the main desk. Jim had given them the story they'd all agreed on, including the fake insurance information Simon had arranged for them, a policy with a generous allowance for inpatient psychiatric care. It had not been long before they'd been shown into the director's office for the mandatory evaluation.
Dr. Thompson, the hospital's director, had seen Jim first, while Blair stayed out in the reception area. Jim had followed the agreed upon script, saying that Blair had seemed depressed and was having some trouble with school, also mentioning that he'd caught him having sex with another man. Then Blair had gone in by himself, and he'd been forced to wait outside. It would have driven him crazy if he hadn't enjoyed the advantage of Sentinel hearing. He'd listened in on the conversation, monitoring his partner's vitals all the while. Blair had been naturally nervous, but nothing to be too concerned about. Jim had also tuned in to the doctor and found nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to suggest that he didn't buy their story. That had been some comfort at least.
Finally, the doctor had finished up the interview and called him back in. Now they were both waiting to hear whether the man had taken the bait or not. Let him be an ethical professional, who's not just looking to make a buck. Let him say that there's nothing wrong with Blair, certainly no need for hospitalization. Just for once, let this all be a false alarm or some kind of misunderstanding. A part of him felt guilty for hoping that Jennifer Ross really did have problems that required institutionalization. The rest of him cared only about taking his partner home with him.
"Mr. Ellis, now that I've had a chance to examine Blair, I do have some qualms about his state of mind. I see a significantly depressed young man, trapped in his grief, acting out in some...shall we say...less than wholesome ways."
"I cannot believe this shit!" Blair cursed, looking very angry, an act worthy of an Academy award.
"I'm afraid I do find cause to believe you may be a danger to yourself, Blair."
"That's fucking bullshit, and you know it!"
"Blair, the doctor's just trying to help," Jim said, trying to sound like an older brother attempting to mollify a kid brother.
"Don't even speak to me, you asshole. I cannot believe you'd do this to me. What? You after my share of the inheritance?" Blair asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"You know this isn't about money," Jim said, gently.
"No, it's about my not being the kind of man you think I ought to be. And you can just fucking go to hell."
"I'm concerned about you, about your future," Jim offered, sounding lame even to himself. He and Steven had been estranged so long that he'd missed all these brotherly moments. He had no real clue what to do.
"You just don't want people talking about how one of the Ellis boys is a faggot."
"You're wrong. I care about you. I don't want anything bad to happen to you," Jim insisted and then turned back to the doctor. "So what do we do now?"
"I'm going to sign a temporary order of commitment. That gives us the legal right to hold him for three days, pending further evaluation."
"Jim, don't do this to me," Blair begged, sounding like he was on the verge of tears.
Jim's gut wrenched. It's all an act. It's all an act. It's all an act. He tried to remind himself of that, but the sight of unshed tears shimmering in his partner's eyes made him feel all twisted up inside. He'd always been extraordinarily susceptible to Blair, and now was no exception.
"I have to. I'm sorry," he whispered to him.
Blair's expression turned to fury. "Well, fuck you! I will not be forgetting this anytime soon, man. Count on it."
"Blair, Blair," the doctor said, in a modulated, professional voice, trying to calm him down. "I'm sure you don't really mean to threaten your brother. But this does point out why you need to spend some time with us here at Larchmore. Things have really gotten to be too much for you, haven't they, Blair? Wouldn't it feel good to get rid of some of that anger, some of that pain?"
Blair's face turned red with fury. Jim couldn't help wondering what was running through his mind, how he could generate such a realistic display of emotions. I mean, I know he obfuscates on occasion, but I never realized he was such a good actor. Why does this worry me so much?
"I'm telling you, man. Don't leave me in this snake pit," Blair said to him.
"I'm sorry," Jim offered, hoping Blair would understand that he really couldn't stand deserting him there.
Dr. Thompson picked up the phone and punched in an extension number. "Ralph? Could you come to my office? We have a new patient to be admitted for evaluation. Thanks." He hung up the phone. "One of our orderlies is on his way to take Blair for admission."
Blair became very agitated and leaped up from his chair, beginning to pace. "No, no, no," he chanted, sounding truly desperate. "Jim, please, please."
Jim's hands shook. He eyed his friend helplessly.
"Blair, it's not up to Jim," Dr. Thompson told him. "I'm the one who thinks you need to be here. If you need to blame someone, then blame me."
"But why?" Blair asked, his voice shaking with fear and upset.
"I'd be acting extremely negligently if I didn't at least check you out a little more thoroughly. I have a professional responsibility here."
Blair trembled from head to toe, wild-eyed with terror. Jim could see every tremor that ran through his body. Blair had really worked himself into a panic, and Jim wasn't at all sure it was part of the act. He balanced for a moment on the fine edge of calling the whole thing off, flashing his badge, apologizing, beating a hasty retreat.
It doesn't make you insane to love someone of your own gender. Stacey Walter's words echoed in his head, her voice filled with despair. It was the only thing that kept him from taking his partner by the arm and dragging him the hell out of there.
The orderly, dressed in medical white, appeared at the door. Jim eyed him warily. He was a big guy, not especially tall, but sturdy, muscular, like he worked out regularly, exuding that particular sort of physicality that came from being a gym rat. This was the person who would hold his friend's safety and well-being in his hands. Jim instantly disliked him, although he knew he had no grounds for his reaction. He realized he was being more than a little irrational. He just really didn't want to be doing this.
"Blair, this is Ralph, one of our attendants. He's going to take you down the hall to another office, so you can be processed and then admitted."
Blair shook his head wildly. "No!"
Ralph took a step toward him, and Blair retreated into the far corner of the room, trying to hold onto the wall so Ralph couldn't take him, sinking down to the floor, becoming a dead weight.
"Come on now, Blair," Ralph said. "The doc here's just trying to help you. I promise nobody's going to hurt you. I'm just going to walk with you down to the admissions office. Nothing bad will happen."
"Jim!" Blair screamed, sounding frantic and terrified.
"Everything's going to be all right, Blair," the doctor said, soothingly.
"Help me, Jim! Please! Oh God, please don't let them do this to me. I don't want to stay here, Jim. Please. I'll do whatever you want, but please don't let them keep me."
Tears trickled down his friend's cheeks, and those bright blue eyes pleaded with him. God damn fucking hell! Why does he have to be so good at this.
"I have to let them, Blair. I'm sorry. I really am."
Blair started to cry in earnest, shaking his head frantically. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no..." he chanted over and again.
"Come on now, Blair," Ralph said, taking him by both wrists, pulling him to his feet, even as Blair resisted.
Jim's sensitive eyes could see bruises forming on Blair's arms, invisible to anyone else, so minute even Blair would never see or feel them.
"Don't hurt him!" he screamed at the orderly, out of his chair and taking a step toward them before he could even stop to think, instantly protective of Blair.
"I'm really trying not to, Mr. Ellis. But I do need to get him down the hall, and as you can see, he's not exactly cooperating."
"Mr. Ellis, I really think it would be better if you left now. We'll take care of Blair. My secretary will call you to arrange a time when we can meet to go over the results of the evaluation period."
"Three days, right?"
"And I'll be able to take him home then?"
"That's certainly a possibility. It all depends on what we find."
"I want to be kept informed. I mean, I want to know absolutely everything."
"My secretary will call you. I promise. But for now, Mr. Ellis, let us do our job. For Blair's sake. Please."
Jim hesitated. Blair had pulled away from the orderly and sat huddled once more in the corner, sobbing, calling his name in a steady stream, begging him for help.
"I know it looks bad," Dr. Thompson said to him quietly. "But I promise it will only get better from here. And he will be so much healthier when he leaves us. You're doing the right thing. I promise you."
"Well, I guess..."
"I'll see you in three days, Mr. Ellis."
Jim was still not convinced, and he knew his face showed it. But he forced himself to say, "Blair, I'll see you soon. Take care, okay, buddy?"
"Bye, Blair," he said and hurried out of Dr. Thompson's office.
"Jim, don't leave me!" He heard Blair screaming as he headed down the long hall.
"JIM! JIM!" He could still hear his partner's loud, desperate wailing as he passed the nurse at the front desk.
It's just an act. It's just an act. It's just an act. He tried to reassure himself.
"JIM! Come back! Come back!" His Sentinel hearing picked up Blair's pitiful cries even outside the building.
He got into the truck and started the engine.
"Don't leave me here, Jim. Oh God, please, don't leave me."
He had tears in his eyes as he pulled out of the parking lot and headed back to the station to give Simon his report.
Dr. Christine Hannigan reviewed the file on Blair Ellis, a
growing wrinkle forming between her eyes. It just didn't add up,
not to hospitalization at least, not in her opinion. The boy showed
signs of anger and depression, but his parents had been tragically
killed at the hands of a drunk driver only a little more than
a year ago. Grief often caused people to do bizarre things, to
act out of character. It could be difficult, troubling, but sadness
was not mental illnesses. It was a natural, if painful, part of
The only way she could picture Blair Ellis needing a psychiatric intervention was if his grief had mutated into a suicidal impulse. His very anger suggested that this wasn't the case. People were often terrified of anger, thought of it as dangerous and destructive, but it could actually be a remarkably healthy response depending upon the circumstances. It was unutterable sadness, depression, despair that led people to take their own lives, not the kind of justified anger that Blair Ellis seemed to feel. She saw no indication that his anger was disordered, that he was particularly vengeful, no sign that he might be a danger to others.
For the life of her, Christine couldn't figure out why Dr. Thompson had ordered a three-day commitment for the boy. Sometimes, she had the sinking feeling that things were not exactly as they should be at Larchmore. It was nothing especially blatant, just a patient here or there whose diagnosis she couldn't fathom, never any more than a shadowy doubt, a vague suspicion that the patients weren't getting all the care they needed and deserved.
She hadn't spoken up about it yet. She had only just finished her residency at Cascade Memorial, and this was her first staff position. Dr. Thompson enjoyed a national reputation, and honestly, she often found him a little intimidating. He had a way of speaking to her, slowly and distinctly, as if she were a young child or cognitively impaired, that made her question her ability to do the job. Every time she noticed some inconsistency in the care at Larchmore she would end up persuading herself that Dr. Thompson's understanding simply exceeded her own. But still, a nagging voice inside her continued to question, refused to let her completely buy into her own rationalizations.
It was this voice that prompted her to take Blair Ellis' file into Dr. Thompson's office to discuss the case with him and hopefully to have the boy released.
She knocked at the director's door. "Dr. Thompson? Do you have a minute?"
"Christine, of course. Please come in," he said, motioning her to one of the chairs facing his desk.
She sat down and opened the file, sliding it across the desk to him. "I'm sorry to bother you, Dr. Thompson, but I just have some questions about this patient, Blair Ellis. I was a little confused about why a three-day evaluation would be ordered. In my opinion, the patient appears to be experiencing a normal reaction to a significant loss, the death of his parents. I couldn't find any evidence to suggest that he's a danger to himself or others. I really do have serious hesitations about whether he belongs here. It seems to me that he'd be better served by grief counseling or a support group, even individual therapy, but definitely as an outpatient."
Dr. Thompson took the file and leaned back in his chair, perusing it, along with the notes Christine had made. "Mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm, mmm-hmm," he murmured as he flipped pages, reviewing the material.
Christine shifted uncomfortably in her chair. I'm a trained psychiatrist. I know what I'm doing. I have a valid point here, and I owe it to this patient to voice my doubts. Still, she couldn't quite help feeling like a lowly student, waiting for her professor to tell her whether she'd passed or failed.
"Well, I can definitely see why you're confused," he finally said.
She instantly brightened. "Oh...well, great. I'm glad I brought it to your attention then. Should we contact Mr. Ellis' brother and have him come pick the boy up."
Dr. Thompson stared off into the distance, considering. "No," he said. "I really struggled over this one, Christine. I realize there's not necessarily a case on paper for keeping...what's his name again?...ah yes, Blair, for keeping him. I just have this gut feeling. Call it the benefit of thirty years experience. I really believe we need to dig a little deeper on this one. After all, we do have a professional responsibility, and it's always better to err on the side of caution. Let's keep him for the three days, and then if we find there really isn't any cause for concern, we'll release him, no harm done."
Christine flushed sharply. She'd misunderstood him completely. For a moment, she really had thought he was going to agree with her. Well, he does have a lot more experience than I do, and he's right that we have to make every effort to protect the patient. But... A part of her just wasn't satisfied.
"Dr. Thompson, I really think..." she began to say, in her firmest voice.
"Trust me on this one, please, Christine. Humor me. I already explained to the elder Mr. Ellis that his brother's homosexual behavior is not an indication of mental illness. If we find nothing else wrong, I'll call him in three days' time to come pick him up."
The doctor nodded. "I didn't include that in the file, not really appropriate."
"No, of course not," Christine agreed.
It shouldn't matter. She knew it shouldn't matter. Dr. Thompson was right. The official word from the hallowed halls of psychiatry was that homosexuality wasn't a mental disease or defect. Her logical mind calmly informed her that Blair Ellis' sexual orientation should have no bearing on her professional opinion about his need for treatment. She had come in here to fight for him, and fight for him she should.
But some other part of her...emotions, religious sensibility, a deeply held value system, something...quietly whispered that here was another opportunity to turn around a young person's life, to help this boy choose a more acceptable, a more salutary lifestyle, just as she'd tried to help so many others.
The two viewpoints balanced her on the fine edge of indecision for a brief moment, before the weighty pull of gut reaction toppled over her carefully schooled objectivity.
"Perhaps an evaluation is in order after all," she conceded.
Dr. Thompson smiled at her encouragingly, still as if she were a student, but a favorite student, who'd just given the prize-winning answer.
"After all, as you said, we do have a professional responsibility to look out for the patient's safety and welfare," she added.
"Then we're agreed. I'm glad you brought this matter to my attention, Christine. That's the kind of vigilance we always owe the people under our care."
She blushed, pleased with the compliment. "If you don't mind, I'd like to take on Mr. Ellis for his individual therapy. I feel a special interest in the case."
"Of course," the director said. "He'll be lucky to have you on his side."
"Thank you, Dr. Thompson," she said and headed back to her office.
As she sat down at her own desk again, sifting through Blair Ellis' file once more, planning her strategy for his therapy, she felt mostly pleased with how things had turned out and ambitious for how she could improve his life. It was only in the very dim recesses of her mind, the farthest corners of her awareness, that she had the uneasy sense that she'd just been royally duped.
No one ever seemed to speak, and it freaked Blair out, more than the lock on the door to the ward, more than the orderlies in their white uniforms patrolling the halls and common areas, even more than the sedative they had injected him with last night, apparently standard procedure for a patient's first night in the hospital. More than any of these things, as disquieting as they were, it was the unnatural quiet that disturbed him the most. The kids were all like faded ghosts, trailing dispiritedly from the cafeteria to the day room to their group therapy sessions, some drugged, the rest simply drained of life and animation. Even during the recreation periods, they watched television, stared out the window, with hardly a word, as if there simply were nothing to say in such a place, no words to express their desolation.
Blair sat alone at one of the cafeteria tables, picking at his lunch half-heartedly, trying to make himself eat the pale, unappetizing mess on his plate. Leaving the food untouched wasn't an option, he knew that from experience. As a new patient, he would be especially closely monitored, the staff on the lookout for suicidal impulses, rebellion, any sort of deviant behavior. Not eating would certainly qualify. These places were all the same. Docility and compliance were the measures of mental health. Everything the patients did was watched and evaluated in those terms, rewards and punishment meted out depending on how well the rules were followed.
Larchmore's complicated code of conduct made Jim's house rules seem free and easy in comparison. Here someone else dictated every last detail of his day. There was a specific time to get up and go to bed, to have meals, to shower, to socialize or what passed for it. What he felt like doing at any given moment meant nothing. He had no control over his life or his body; he was allowed to make no decisions for himself. If he had a headache, he could have an aspirin only if a doctor prescribed it. If he wanted to watch something else on television, he had to see if an orderly would change the channel for him. Hell, he had to ask permission to go to the bathroom. It wasn't exactly the life Naomi Sandburg's son had been designed for.
Blair struggled through his meal, keeping his eyes down, concentrating on the tray in front of him. He'd been so vehement about wanting to do this, pushing aside all Jim's protests and concerns, even his warning about not having backup. From the moment Stacey Walters told them about Jennifer Ross, he'd had the idea to go undercover, so determined to do this, to get the evidence they'd need, to help the girl, to make those people pay, the ones who'd wrongly committed her. But now that he was here, he couldn't pretend he wasn't scared. Mental patients had absolutely no power and few rights, completely at the mercy of the doctors and attendants who cared for them. Anything could happen to him here, and there would be no one to help him, not even his Blessed Protector. He'd never felt more alone.
Blair took a deep, calming breath and closed his eyes, trying to center himself. It's not going to help anything to get freaked out. It's only five days, at the most. Only three, if they suddenly turn decent and let me go after the evaluation period. I can do this. Just get the evidence and get out. No problem. He tried to look on the positive side. It wasn't Conover, and there was no Chappel. As mental institutions went, Larchmore was fairly decent, relatively new, not really scary. With all the young people, it struck him a little bit like a suburban high school, tiled floors and beige walls, the big cafeteria with all the tables, the long corridors with row after row of doors. The difference, of course, was the atmosphere, the feeling in the air, not the lighthearted, rollicking energy of school kids, but a jagged, desperate quality that set Blair on edge, that made him wish he were anywhere else.
He finally finished his lunch and took his tray back to the cafeteria lady, just the way he was supposed to. He smiled at the matronly woman, but she didn't respond. She just took the tray without so much as a glance in his direction. In a place like this, you really are invisible.
He sat back down at the table. As a new patient, he wasn't allowed to go anywhere without an orderly, and his appointment with his individual therapist wasn't for another half an hour. He'd have to wait until they came to get him. He just hoped it would be someone other than that guy Ralph. He'd spent all day yesterday being led around by him, and he hadn't remotely appreciated the way the creep kept looking him over. It had given him the heebie-jeebies in a serious way.
Blair looked around the room, checking out his fellow inmates. There seemed to be about an equal number of boys and girls, most of them in their mid to late teens. Many sat alone, although there were also pairs and small groups here and there, talking quietly. None of the kids seemed especially out of it; most seemed more sad than crazy. Of course, the most troubled patients were kept locked in solitary rooms, constantly medicated, strapped down if necessary. Anyone allowed to take their meals in the cafeteria was pretty high functioning. Still, Blair couldn't help wondering how many really needed psychiatric care and how many more were simply being warehoused because their families couldn't deal with them for one reason or another.
It took a while before Blair recognized Jennifer. She looked so different than in the picture Stacey had given them. The two months at Larchmore had apparently taken their toll. He was sad to see that the youthful bloom, so evident in the photograph, was gone. Instead, she was pale and a little drawn, as if she hadn't been sleeping. Blair also thought she'd lost weight. Well, who can blame her? A healthy, sane person trapped in a place like this. She sat with a boy who looked like he was several years younger than she, and the two of them talked back and forth. The boy was slightly built and had a warm, pleasant face, with large, almost black eyes and light brown skin. Occasionally, he smiled, one of the few smiles Blair had seen so far, and it lit up his whole face. At least someone seems to be surviving this relatively intact.
Blair hadn't meant to stare, but Jennifer caught his eye. She smiled, a little tentatively, and he smiled back at her. He watched her bend closer to the boy and whisper something to him, and then the boy also looked in his direction. After a little whispering back and forth, they both got up and crossed the room to where he was sitting.
"Hey," Blair said.
"Hey. So you're the new kid, huh?," Jennifer asked.
Blair nodded. "Got here last night," he told them. "I'm Blair."
"Jennifer," she said. "This is Ritchie."
"Nice to meet ya," Ritchie said, taking a seat across from him, while Jennifer sat down beside him.
"So we were discussing it, and we're guessin' you got on the wrong side of the gender patrol," Ritchie said.
Jennifer smiled. "Ritchie sometimes has a colorful way of putting things. What he's trying to say is that we're guessing you're here because you're gay."
"Yeah," Ritchie chimed in. "You got it together too much to actually be a head case. You look too clean for drugs, and somehow you just don't strike me as a discipline problem. That pretty much leaves the gay thing."
Blair nodded, twisting his face into a bitter expression. "My brother thinks I need help, so I'll make better life choices. Asshole. Like his uptight, soulless excuse for a life is something to be proud of."
Jennifer covered his hand with hers, very briefly. "I'm sorry. I know how tough it is. We're here for the same reason, Ritchie and me. Actually, a lot of the kids are. But be careful. Don't let anyone on staff hear you talk like that. They'll use it against you. Believe me."
"That's why we dropped by," Ritchie explained. "Princess and I like to get with the new recruits and give 'em the lay of the land. You know, keep them from getting into too much trouble right off the bat."
"We have to make it quick though. It makes them nervous for us to spend too much time with the new kids. In a day or two we should be okay to hang out," Jennifer said, keeping her eye on the orderly who was monitoring the room.
"So keep a low profile until then, Curly. Do whatever they tell you."
"But never volunteer information," Jennifer said. "Who do you have for individual?"
"Oh, that's not so bad," she said. "She's a complete 'phobe, but she does have basically good intentions. She's just a little misguided about how to help. Still, don't trust her, just try to look like you're cooperating. It's a big old mindfuck otherwise, and you'll start believing all that bullshit about homosexuality being some kind of disease."
"Hang on to your soul, Curly. That's the name of the game in here," Ritchie added.
Blair nodded. "Thanks for the advice."
"Our pleasure. Now let's go, Princess, before Nurse Ratchett over there gets his panties in a twist," Ritchie said, nodding his head in the direction of Ralph the orderly.
"We'll see you later, Blair, when the coast is clear," Jennifer said.
"Oh, and try to act butch, Curly. They like that around here," Ritchie said, winking at him in a decidedly unbutch way, before putting the mask back on, resuming his faux macho demeanor.
It was the first time Blair had smiled since he'd arrived at Larchmore.