The Open Hand and the Fist
“Excuse me...?” Elizabeth had been standing at the reception desk for a few minutes; the duty nurse hadn’t seemed to notice her yet. She tried to calm her brittle nerves, and tried again. “Excuse me?”
A voice behind her said, “That’s not the way to do it.” On the way in, she had taken note of the tall Hispanic man sitting in one of the waiting area chairs – now there he was, standing behind right her. She backed up, bumping into the desk.
He held up both hands. “Easy there. Sorry for startling you. But you need to be a little more assertive to get their attention.”
Keeping one eye on the man, she turned slightly, and said again, “Excuse me, miss?”
The nurse kept on with her filing.
“Here, let me.” The man leaned past her, over the desk. “Hey – we need some help here!” Elizabeth cringed at the volume of his voice.
The nurse wandered lazily over to the desk. “Yes?”
“We’re here to see Matthew Larkin. Can you tell us which room he’s in?”
Elizabeth’s eyes darted toward the exit, but the man waved something in front of her face and drew her attention back. A badge.
“Mrs. Wright? I’m Special Agent Chavez with the FBI. Shall we go see your brother?”
* * *
“He couldn’t have done it, you have to believe me. He wouldn’t do something like that.”
Chavez examined the empty room where Larkin was supposed to be; he had sent the nurse to find either Harte or his assistant, Breckenridge. Elizabeth Wright was pleading with him.
“We just have to find him, I promise there’s an explanation.”
Oh, and I bet it’s quite a story, thought Chavez. The room was on a floor apart from the other patients, and seemed to be in the midst of construction. It was empty of furniture. The linoleum flooring had been pulled up to reveal the wafer board beneath; Chavez ran his hand over new drywall installed on one side of the room.
“What are you people hiding?” Chavez mused aloud. He walked into the hallway, and pushed open the door into the next room over.
Wright followed him. “Nothing, I swear, I know nothing about this. I came here because they said he was in the hospital and I was scared.”
There was construction in the next room as well; a drywall panel was leaning against the wall, uninstalled. Chavez shifted the panel to one side, and revealed a hole leading into Larkin’s room, blocked by the new wall on the other side. He ran his fingers over smooth edges.
He looked back at Wright, who was standing in the doorway. “Think they’re covering up an escape route here?”
“What?” Wright turned and looked at the door, then darted out into the hallway. She came back a moment later. “N-no...look... there’s no lock. There isn’t one next door either.” She seemed to shrivel as he looked at her. “I mean...he wouldn’t have needed to go through the wall if the door was open, right?” she asked in a small voice.
Chavez watched her for a moment, then nodded. “Absolutely right. Besides, the edges of the hole look melted; I doubt your brother had a flamethrower in there. Ah, Ms. Parsons,” he said, looking over Wright’s shoulder at the nurse, who was peeking into the room behind her. “I trust that Dr. Harte will be here shortly?”
“I’m sorry...neither of them is here today,” the nurse said. “They haven’t been in for a few days now.”
“You don’t say.” He took a last look around the room, and went back out into the hall. “I’m going to need their home addresses, please, and any other contact information you have.”
She just stood there for a moment. “Now, Ms. Parsons, if you please,” he said. He shooed the nurse down the hall, and she bustled away.
Chavez turned to face the nervous woman next to him. “So, what are your plans now, Mrs. Wright?” he asked.
She looked at the floor. “I’ll keep looking for my brother, I guess. He can’t have just disappeared, can he?”
“Happens all the time, I’m afraid. Don’t you want to go home to see your husband?”
She was silent for a moment. When she looked up at him, there was a spark, the tiniest spark, of defiance in her eye. “No. I’m going to look for Matt.”
“Good. Frankly, your husband isn’t worth your time or your concern, and I could use your help. I believe you, by the way. Something very strange is going on here, but I don’t think your brother is necessarily to blame. So, Mrs. Wright, are you willing to assist the FBI?”
Her tone was formal as she said, “Yes, sir.”
* * *
[Go to Chapter 12.2]