THE PHONE, THE THIEF, HIS NURSE AND HER SECRET

By
Updated: March 9, 2013

Part One: The Phone

He tiptoed down the long sloping hallway of the Men’s Ward toward the Staff Room. His bare feet seemed to make the cement floor moan, his every breath screamed in the night.The Phone, The Thief, His Nurse, and Her Secret

A mental hospital at the darkest hour of the night is no place for a subplot to emerge. But here it is, and there was nothing he could do about it.

No sleeping tonight, he’d told himself as he palmed the sleeping pill earlier in the evening. No sleeping tonight.

His door had been left unlocked— “He’s made measurable progress,” Nurse Peters had said— and someone had snuck him the key to the Staff Room. Who had done that? He must remember, and thank him. Or her. Maybe his flirtations with the day nurse had paid off. He doubted it, but an old man could always dream, couldn’t he?

A cry cut the night open and it bled terror.

 

He held his breath. Only someone waking from a dream, he told himself. This hospital is the home for bad dreams. A low plaintive moan filled the wounded night, and he tiptoed closer to the Staff Room, slid the key into the lock, and slipped inside. He waited.

He could see the staff phone on a table across the room. It was calling him, entreating him, begging him, to get back in the game. From somewhere in the recesses of his brain, somewhere deeper than memory, deeper than thought, somewhere so deep that electricity couldn’t reach it, he knew the phone would connect him back to the game.

But how?

He knew there was a number, a special number, a magical number, that would unlock the puzzle.

But what number?

He couldn’t remember it, oh no, it had been buried, burned or banished from his brain by the electricity. No, he had to trick the number into revealing itself.

His left hand reached for the phone out of habit, his right index finger pointed at the numbers. The finger seemed to know where to go without him having to decide, so he let his fingers do the choosing. Each number he touched evoked a moan or a cry from a patient somewhere in the hospital, and he winced, but he persisted. That is, he allowed his fingers to persist, and when 11 cabalistic numbers had been tapped out, and eleven different screams had sliced the night air, his fingers rested.

He waited.

In a moment, he heard a faint ringing in the phone and he listened. Where was it ringing? he wondered. What remote corner of the universe would answer his call? Then a voice answered, a voice he hadn’t heard for years, a voice he would never forget, and he knew why he was making this phone call.Think ballads. Think bad bat. Think twelve million dollars.

“Who the hell is this?” the voice asked.

“It’s me,” he said.

There was a long pause, then, “They let you out?”

“Nope, I snuck in. To call.”

“You okay?”

“I need your help.”

“I owe you.”

“Have her call me. Here. In the afternoon. I need her to do something for me.”

“They’ll let you take a call?”

“One nurse will, in the afternoons. But she’s gotta call soon.”

“I’ll try but—”

“I need this. I’m dying here.”

There was no response. After a moment he put the phone down. His heart was racing. He was wide awake. He’d remembered the number!

His hand clutched the key so tightly it left an impression. He had to return the key. And wait for a phone call. But he was back.

He was back in the game!