~ the raven chronicles ~ 42

30 Jul

(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES)

Dr. Sylvester Agnostica, MD.
Sterns-Carson Sanitarium
Green Pines, Ohio

November 22, 1932

I shut my office, turned toward the hospital entrance, and saw the Drummond group clustered inside the foyer. One of the interior doors swung open; Mr. Cannon entered the hallway, stepped aside, and held the door for Jacob Drummond, who swept into Sterns-Carson like a feudal lord entering his manor house.

Cannon let the door go and fell in step to the right of Drummond; daughter Eliza held forth on the left; while the other four members of the party formed a phalanx in the rear. Arrested by the scene, I merely stood and watched the procession head toward me.

My first impression was that Jacob Drummond ran against the type I had imagined him to be. Instead of  some stodgy-looking businessman, overweight and pasty from long days spent in the  corridors of industry or hovered over ledger books, the figure who strode purposefully toward me had the sheen of a matinee idol; suave, sophisticated, and very much at ease in his own skin. He so much resembled the recent Plain Dealer picture of Kendree Sinclair as to render him a doppelganger. To complete that uncanny replication, not only did Eliza Drummond walk in lockstep, just like the sleek dame who accompanied Mr. Sinclair in that photograph, she clung to the arm of her master like an intimate familiar.

Something about this mobile tableaux sent a chill down my spine, and a warning shot reverberating through my mind; there would be nothing cut-and-dried about this meeting with Jacob Drummond, nor could I hope to overcome the force of personality that headed towards me like a hurricane; my best hope would be to lash myself to the mast and pray that I would come out of the storm all in one piece.

As the party landed in front of me and I gazed around at them like a stupefied halfwit, a voice cut through my mental fog.

Dr. Agnostica, Cannon said, grasping my hand, a pleasure to see you again; Let me introduce you to Mr. Drummond.

Then Drummond took my hand in a vigorous grip and shook it.

A pleasure, Doctor, he said, I have heard good things about your work; Allow me to introduce my youngest daughter, Eliza.

Miss Drummond did not relinquish the grip on her father’s arm, but merely raised her left hand, palm down, in an aristocratic gesture; as if I should take her hand and kiss it.

I looked at her, she tilted her head, and gave me a faint smile that I could not quite interpret, due to her icy blue eyes being hidden behind dark glasses.

I flame ignited in my chest as I was seized by the notion to put my lips on her outstretched hand, and enjoy a small taste of the skin she had offered to me so seductively in that snowy nocturnal vision; but a warning bell inside my head told me to forgo the indulgence, now and ever more.

I took her left hand in my right and said, A pleasure to meet you.

That thin upper lip of hers curled as I had seen on her first clandestine visit, and with a nod and another faint smile, she removed her hand from mine.

Now, Doctor, Jacob Drummond said, we will retire to your office for a few moments, before you show me to my elder daughter.

With that simple statement, the great man had seized my reins and indicated that he considered me merely another draught horse among the band of steeds dedicated to fulfilling his wishes. Rather than chafe at his presumption, I took the bit firmly in my teeth.

Certainly, Sir, I said, then reopened my office door; Step right this way, if you would, please.

*****

Jacob Drummond, and the mysterious Eliza entered the office, followed by Mr. Cannon; I closed the door behind them. Miss Drummond detached herself from her father and nestled into the Morris chair with coquettish ceremony. Cannon stood near the door with hands joined at his waist. Drummond surveyed the surroundings as he strode the length of the room, over to the front windows.

He stopped, unbuttoned his topcoat, and removed his kid gloves, then stood and stared outside for some moments before I asked him if he would care to sit down.

Sitting is for hens, and imbeciles possessed of little motivation, he said, before turning to face me; I have come to Sterns-Carson to discover what has become of my daughter; My daughter who has been in your care for well over a fortnight.

I swallowed hard, exchanged glances with Cannon, and replied, I’ve compiled a report; It’s all right here if you would care to have a look.

I don’t give a damn about reading reports, Doctor, I have Mr. Cannon to deal with that sort of tedium, he said, as he walked toward me; What I want, Doctor Agnostica, is for you to tell me, in your own words, just what the deuce you have done to affect a cure for my mentally deficient and morally wayward progeny.

Though conversational, his tone still carried the force of a driving wheel, and left no doubt that in Jacob Drummond’s world, suggestions are followed, commands are obeyed, and replies made without qualification or hesitation.

Your daughter’s case is a unique one, I said; She seems to have suffered a trauma that shook her to the very core of her being; She has not responded well to treatment, I can tell you that.

You mean, she has not responded, so far; Isn’t that correct, sir; You intend to continue to minister to her until you have affected a cure; Isn’t that correct, sir.

A wave of relief washed over me as I understood just why Jacob Drummond had come here; there would be no inquiry on his part that would necessitate review of the documents I had prepared; he merely wanted a statement from the headmaster of Sterns-Carson Sanitarium, as to the ongoing debilitated state of his daughter, Rhea Sinclair, in order to insure the legality and legitimacy of her forced commitment.

That is correct, Mr. Drummond; I will continue my work, and search for a cure that will restore your daughter to health so she may rejoin the bosom of her loving family.

A look of knowing satisfaction crossed Drummond’s face. That is exactly what I wanted to hear, Doctor; I can see that you are a man who understands that results are not achieved by reading reports.

Drummond looked toward Cannon and gave him a little sneer of condescension; I looked down at Eliza who gazed up at me with the same mocking little smile that decorated the lips of her sire.

liza beckoningsPeering into her dark lenses once again, I saw my reflection there.
I broke a cold sweat recalling the afternoon of her first visit.
And the way she had looked in that cloche hat.
And her lithe figure accented by her slim-fitting skirt.
And that night in the snow.
And the moonlit sheen of her naked body.
And how she had called for me to come into her arms.
And I closed my eyes and looked away.

So, Doctor, Jacob Drummond said with the satisfaction of one objective of his visit accomplished, take me to my dear Rhea; I want to look at her.

Very well, I replied, I will take you to her.

*****

In the hall outside my office, two of the henchmen sat lounging on the wooden waiting bench while the other two leaned against the wall, talking; they all came to attention as Drummond exited the office. Mr. Cannon instructed the two on the bench to wait for our return; the other two should fall in with our party.

Jacob Drummond set the pace for our long walk to the Isolate Wing, and it was obvious that he was in a hurry to get there and get the business done. Our entourage swept through the corridors of Sterns-Carson, leaving the staff and even the most feeble minded inmates impressed in its wake.

As we passed into the hallway of the second ward, Jenkins approached and asked for a word; I stopped to speak briefly SC hallwith him while the Drummond party continued onward without pause. I spotted Nurse Wallace just ahead, standing in the doorway of the Dayroom, with the mysterious Zeke firmly in hand. The child was clean, dressed, and wearing shoes—something I had not seen for weeks. The woman’s grip on the young imp said that now that she had him, she would not readily let go.

As the head of the party neared the child and nurse, a strange and singular event occurred; Zeke emitted a low growl in his throat that could be plainly heard from where I stood; then he tore away from Nurse Wallace and lunged at Eliza Drummond. The scamp went to his knees, wrapped his arms around the gamine’s legs and emitted some type of song that was a cross between a hymn and a lamentation.

Jacob Drummond let loose a volley of indignant profanity upon the child’s head; Nurse Wallace knelt and attempted to extricate her young charge; I hurried away from Jenkins to intervene.The gunsels at the rear quickly moved in and hovered close; one with hand inside topcoat, obviously on the grip of a firearm.

As a fog of panic filled the air, I noticed that the one person who remained unfazed by it all, was Eliza Drummond; she just stood motionless, and regarded the prostrate youth at her feet as one would look down on a faithful and loving pet.

I elbowed my way past the bodyguards in an attempt to lay hands on the boy, and witnessed a most uncanny, and unnerving sight; Liza Drummond dipped gracefully, stroked the boys indocile head of hair, and voiced a murmur that seemed to be heard only by the child and myself.

Quiet little one, she said; The time soon comes.

Her words instantly calmed the child, and he allowed himself to be taken by Nurse Wallace.

The aftermath of the hubbub took a few moments to subside. As Eliza Drummond smoothed her stockings, I drew close to her and said, Miss Drummond, I do apologize; Are you quite alright.

She looked up at me, then stood erect and replied, Of course; Why wouldn’t I be.

As I stared into her impenetrable dark glasses, that same rueful sneer crossed her upper lip, and she took her father’s arm once again.

Shall we continue, she said, I am anxious to see my beloved sister.

Yes, let’s get on with it, Agnostica, Jacob Drummond said, with a growl of his own; The day is wasting.

Very well, I replied; Please, follow me.

*****

Though the remainder of the trek to the isolate wing proved uneventful, the incident with the feral child did serve to unmask Jacob Drummond; gone was the facade of congeniality, a scowl of contempt had replaced it. Liza Drummond seemed to be in a state of amusement over that fact, as she would glance up at her father on occasion, then look ahead once again, and smirk at his discomfort.

Cannon remained silent until we reached the entryway to the desolate corridor of our destination; he tapped me on the shoulder and questioned in a hush, We’re almost there, aren’t we. I glanced back at him; his expression was a blend of anticipation and dread.

SC passagewayThe memory of the reality of the bleak accommodations that he had personally inspected and approved for Mrs. Sinclair here at Sterns-Carson had obviously spun his mind into a vortex of doubt; the dark cell with the iron slab door; the barred single high window; the dingy cot and rustic nightstand; all about to be inspected by her father, Jacob Drummond. Would he declare this loathsome nest to be ‘perfect’, just as Cannon had done on his first visit; if not, the wrath of the master would come done hardest on Drummond’s head; I would see to that, if necessary.

I opened the  door to the isolate wing; after Jacob and Eliza Drummond entered, Cannon took hold of the door and said in a somewhat tremulous voice, After you, Doctor.

As the door closed behind the last man, it seemed to seal our party off from the rest of the world; an oppressive silence engulfed us, broken only by the snap of heel and leather on the hard linoleum.

I stared up the long corridor,  and realized that Hargest was absent from his station outside Mrs. Sinclair’s room. Though I felt relief in the knowledge that he would not be there to confront and antagonize the hospital’s newfound benefactor, I feared his absence could be a portent, and a creeping sense of unease rippled up my spine.

We arrived at the cell; I was shocked to find the door not only unlocked, but standing slightly open. My mind raced forward into a dreadful scenario where Hargest had fallen under the spell of Mrs. Sinclair and was inside, lost in a mental abyss as I had been on that one terrible occasion that she had seized hold of my consciousness; or even worse, I feared that he had somehow affected her escape.

What is this, then, Drummond gestured at the door; She comes and goes as she pleases; That’s what got her here in the first place, her willful nature.

No, Mr. Drummond, I assure you that she is under guard at all times, I quickly replied, attesting contrary to  the evidence before us; The orderly must be inside with her.

I pushed the door open, we stepped inside, and found Mrs. Sinclair in her usual spot, sitting on the cot, gazing up at the high window on the rear wall, looking wan and decidedly tragic.

I knew better than to mistake her posture and lethargy for anything other than a costume I believe she puts on for her own convenient purposes; but Jacob Drummond was struck otherwise.

Rhea, he said, in a choked whisper, then stood there with his mouth open, wearing the look of one suddenly weakened by a neural trauma.

Eliza Drummond looked at me and said, You will leave us alone now, Doctor.

She reached around and ejected me from the room by slowly closing the door against me. I was surprised to suddenly find myself in the hallway with Cannon and the two gunsels, who immediately after the cell door clicked shut, flanked and guarded the entryway.

Cannon strolled to the opposite wall, and I followed. He reached inside his overcoat and retrieved a copper, silver-toned cannon's ightercigarette case. He flipped it open and offered one to me, then took one for himself when I declined. The case had a lighter built-in with which he ignited the tobacco, inhaled deeply, and then exhaled a great cloud upward. I had not seen an accessory quite like it and he took note of my curiosity.

Picked this up on a recent trip to New York, he said, holding the case in his palm and presenting it for my inspection; Don’t know what they’ll come up with next. Then he returned the case to his coat and added, I hope you have followed the Hippocratic dictum of ‘do no harm’, Doctor Agnostica; Mr. Drummond will not be pleased if his favorite daughter has suffered under your care.

I was stunned by both parts of his statement; Rhea Sinclair referred to as the favorite daughter’, and the veiled threat Cannon had chosen to lay upon me; the latter, an affront that added to the already tense situation. It was all I could do to restrain myself from striking him.

But now, the lawyer too was unmasked; by intent or by accident, he had shown me the tip of the iceberg of betrayal submerged beneath his affable exterior.

I knew full well that Cannon was under threat of double jeopardy; from the judgment of Jacob Drummond as to the disposition of his older daughter and, as Eliza Drummond had told me, the threatened revelation of the untoward, lewd advances he had made against Drummond’s younger daughter if he failed to accommodate Liza in anything that she requested.

I decided that if Cannon moved to place blame on me in any way, I would use the knowledge acquired from Eliza Drummond against him.

You had better pray that Mr. Drummond is satisfied with the condition of Mrs. Sinclair, I replied; For you are the one who marched into my hospital with the whip hand and delivered instructions to me in the name of Mr. Drummond; You are the one who insisted she be put in isolation, and personally inspected and approved the very cell which we stand outside of now; You’ll not scapegoat me, Mr. Cannon.

He inhaled once again on his cigarette and then spoke as the smoke slowly drifted from his lips.

And the beast shall carry the sins of the people into the desert, as an offering to Azazel, servant of Lucifer; Have you ever looked around at your little kingdom here, Doctor, and asked yourself how it is you arrived in such a place, burdened as you are with what we might call the sins of its denizens; Perhaps it was your destiny, perhaps it was ordained that you should be that goat.

I glared at Cannon, trying mightily to tamp my anger. Just the sort of talk I would expect from a lawyer, I replied, the  muddled hissing of a reprehensible snake out of Eden who’s only objective in life is to snare the unwary in a tangle of legalese.

A crooked smile stole across his lips and he replied, Touche, Doctor; Just remember, we are not so different after all, you and I; It will serve us both to maintain a united front in this affair; Keep that in mind when push comes to shove.

Then he casually dropped the cigarette to the floor and quashed it with a heel.

Before I could object to his words, or his disregard for hospital hygiene, the door to Rhea Sinclair’s cell came open and out swept Jacob Drummond with young Eliza at heel. He looked toward Cannon and myself and said, Everything seems to be in order here, Doctor; Just keep Mr. Cannon apprised of any developments that might warrant my attention; Now, I must get back to Cleveland, I have a late meeting with the Mayor.

And with that, he strode off up the hallway, Eliza Drummond attached to his arm once again, and the two gunsels in close pursuit.

That’s it then, Doctor, Cannon said; We’ve both dodged a bullet today; Keep up the good work; I’ll be in touch.

Then Cannon turned heel and hurried off to catch up with the master. The group quickly reached the end of the hall and passed through the doors.

I turned and walked to the open cell and looked inside. Rhea Sinclair sat on the bedstead, studying her hands in her lap. Sensing my presence, she looked up at me with a glint of malevolence in her pale blue eyes so powerful, that I reflexively stepped back into the hall. The cruel subtle smile that played on her lips signaled her delight in my trepidation.

I grasped the door and slammed it shut, retrieved the master keys that I keep on my belt, and turned the lock.

I backed away and stood in the hall and stared at the closed door, thinking that any moment, the she devil inside would conclude that she would rather be somewhere else, and that there would be nothing I could do to stop her from yanking the iron door from its hinges if she so desired.

After long moments, I regained my sense of proportion and reality and an indignation arose in me. I am the Director of Sterns-Carson Sanitarium, a well-educated and licensed physician; not a lackey or sychophant chained to some cult of personality; And certainly not some superstitious country fool; I will not be treated as such, by anyone.

I felt like a child for even thinking that Rhea Sinclair’s so-called powers were anything more than parlor tricks she had acquired by spending time with high-society charlatans and dilettantes.

Then I wondered what had become of Hargest; though I’d never liked or trusted him, he was still an employee of this hospital, bound to fulfill his duties in a timely manner if he wished to maintain that status. Sterns-Carson was still under my quarantine, and if Hargest  had chosen to breach that edict, it would be good-riddance.

I walked back across the hall to the barred portal and spoke to Rhea Sinclair.

Your family has gone, Mrs. Scott, and completely entrusted you to my care; At what date you rejoin them is of no import to me, or to them; But I swear, If you choose to remain unresponsive and uncooperative, you will stay in that cell, bitch, until Hell freezes over, if needs be.

Then I turned, and with a renewed sense of purpose, made my way up the hall, headed to the confines of my office, where I intended to finally put to rest a few thorny problems here at Sterns-Carson.

©2013 j.edwardfitzgerald  all rights reserved

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2 Responses to “~ the raven chronicles ~ 42”

  1. Teresa Blackburn August 7, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    This chapter is a nail biter Ed…I awake the next eerie encounter with your sinister Sterns-Carson family!

    • JEF August 9, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

      …the wheel is turning, Teresa…

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