Photo by Thomas Wolf via Wikimedia Commons
“Get away from there. That’s very expensive stuff. Expensive,” Tommy said.
“What’s he on morphine for?” Michael asked.
“Can’t tell you.”
Michael raised a hand to his eyes, getting as far as looking between the middle and ring finger before he remembered that he couldn’t scan Tommy’s thoughts.
Tommy scowled. “That some kind of fancy way of flipping me the bird? You flipping me the bird?”
“It’s a nervous tic he has,” Corncob said. “We’re Erasmus’ nephews. Can’t you tell the family why he’s on this stuff?”
“You got a POA?”
Corncob looked at Michael, who seemed as perplexed as Corncob felt.
“No you don’t,” Tommy said. “If you did, you’d know.”
“What’s a POA?” Corncob said.
“It’s a medical power of attorney,” Thora’s voice said as she entered the room. “It’s a document that lets you make medical decisions for another person.” She smiled at them. “Without one, I’m afraid we can’t discuss your uncle’s medical treatment for confidentiality reasons.” Wilhelm padded in behind her, and wedged himself between Corncob and the IV stand, forcing Corncob to take a step back. Wilhelm sat on his haunches and looked to Thora.
“They were messing with the drip,” Tommy said. “Maybe they’re the ones.”
Thora peered at the machine on the IV pole. “Looks fine to me. And I doubt they’re who you’re looking for, Tommy. They just got here.”
“Could be part of a gang. Would explain a lot, if they were a gang.”
“Well it looks fine to me, Tommy. Don’t worry, Wilhelm will help me keep an eye on them.” She winked at Corncob as she said it, but that didn’t make him feel any better.
Tommy grunted and walked to the doorway, stopping as he looked at the clock. “Visiting hours are over in twenty minutes, got it? Twenty minutes.”
“Twenty minutes, Corncob.” Michael said and wiggled his phone. Corncob understood Twenty minutes until we miss Erasmus’ window for who knows how long?
“I’m sorry about all that,” Thora said. Michael arched an eyebrow at her. “Tommy’s a little on edge lately.”
“Seems like he was accusing us of something,” Michael said.
“I really can’t go into it,” she said. “Confidentiality and all that. Just take it from me that Tommy’s not a bad a guy, really.”
“I can understand that,” Michael said. He leaned back in a chair and spread his hands. “Normally, Corncob and I are quite confident that Uncle Erasmus is in great hands. However, I’m quite sure no one in the family was consulted on the morphine drip. Did you ever hear anything about morphine, Corncob?”
Michael’s voice went quiet. “Now I can’t go into specifics about the family, I can say that if any member authorized this treatment, they would have informed us. Likewise, I cannot specifically talk about what the family has or has not done in situations such as this. In general, I can imagine an investigation and quite possibly a lawsuit developing.”
Thora’s lips tightened. Wilhelm stood with ears pricked forward. “I see,” she said.
“Now, without getting into specifics,” Michael said, “I can talk about the situation in general, if you take my meaning, Thora.”
Thora’s shoulders relaxed. “I think I do.”
“Good!” Michael said as if they were best friends, “Now in general, if Tommy were to get overzealous and we found ourselves in the custody of the police, what do you think we would be charged with?”
“I think you would be charged with trespassing, theft, and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.”
Michael sucked in air through his teeth. “Well then, I’m grateful that you came to our rescue. So how long would this have been going on?” Thora tilted her head and smirked. “Theoretically, of course,” he added.
“I only know what I’ve seen on TV,” Thora said, “But on those shows, I get the idea that people start noticing after about three months.”
“Any clues?” Corncob asked.
Thora shook her head. “Whoever they are, they know how to get around all the security checks.”
“Would that also have to do with why our Uncle is on medicine he doesn’t need?” Michael said.
Thora reached out, and patted Erasmus’ hand. “I don’t think so. A few weeks ago, he was in such pain, the doctor prescribed the drip. I don’t know how any thief could manage that.”
Corncob opened his mouth to say something but Michael caught his attention and gave the barest head shake.
The vending machine was one of those old-fashioned jobs that didn’t take bills. Corncob recognized that it used purely mechanical means to count his coins rather than sensors and a miniature computer. It was a machine that he could understand intuitively, even without his magician’s gifts. It also meant that even if his gifts weren’t dampened by the red pill Michael had given him, he still wouldn’t have been able to convince the machine to give him back his money.
“No chips for you,” Michael said, taking another swig from his flask.
“Gimme a quarter,” Corncob said.
“Do I look like a bank? He-ell no.”
Corncob slapped the machine and collapsed into a padded vinyl chair. “Mister Mortimer is not going to be pleased.”
“Mortimer can kiss my ass. Someone somewhere screwed the pooch, and it sure as hell ain’t my fault that Erasmus is hooked up to opiates. At the very least Mortimer should have given us one of those POS things.”
“POA,” Corncob said.
“Whatever. I say we leave. Tell Mortimer what happened here and let him send someone to deal with the morphine in time for the next window.”
“We need to figure out what’s going on. What if Erasmus has a warning?”
Michael leaned forward with a scowl. “In his state? He’d probably tell us to be on the lookout for jazz-crazed narwals coming to take our gummy bears. His predictions are useless until he’s detoxed.”
“And yet, I still listen to you,” Corncob said, eying Michael’s flask.
“Damn straight. Take it from me, I’m an expert.” He took another drink.
Again with the bottle, Corncob thought. Michael didn’t even need the alcohol to quiet the voices, since he had taken his pill too. Just a drunken, stubborn man now that couldn’t think straight. The thought led to an idea.
“I don’t think we have that kind of time,” Corncob said. “Erasmus is one of us. If we were him, we’d want us saving us.”
“We’re supposed to be the Brotherhood, not the punt-it-to-leadership association.”
“Would you feel any better if we changed our name to that?”
“Are we supposed to look out for each other or not?”
“We … dammit, Corncob, it’s not that simple.”
“Well explain it to me while we’re on our way.”
“Our way where?”
“Checking out a hunch.” Corncob hauled Michael up from his chair and pushed him into the hallway. “I’ll look left, you look right. Count how many patients are hooked up to morphine drips. If it’s under a dozen by the time we reach the stairs, we can go home.”
Corncob’s heart sank while they walked down the hall. It was so easy to lead a drunk, just get them off balance and give them a push. Michael hadn’t even realized they were heading away from the stairs.
“I still say you cheated,” Michael said. “How do I know you weren’t padding your tally?”
“You don’t, but you still counted fifteen yourself, so shut it.”
“I still don’t see how this is our problem.”
“It’s like an opium den around here, and you’re not worried about what it could do to a battlemage?”
“Sedated battlemage in a lot of pain and unpredictably disoriented should he ever awake.”
Michael opened his mouth, and then closed it. “Point.”
Corncob allowed himself a small smile. “Thank you.”
“So what’s your plan?”
“Normally, I’d ask the morphine drips to tell me what they knew, but that’s out, as is you rifling through the memories of the staff.” Corncob pounded the back of his head against the stairwell. “I don’t know.”
Michael looked to his left, and stuck his head into the hallway. “What if I told you I just saw someone sneaking out of a room that was definitely not its drugged resident?”
“Our pal Archie.”
Corncob smiled. “You mean the one resident currently not drugged or playing Pai-Gow?”
“The very one.”
They hid around the corner as they watched Archie dart from room to room, spending no more than a minute in each. The old man moved with a speed and agility of a man twenty years younger, though his eyes didn’t seem capable of seeing Corncob peeking through the holes in a nearby sculpture.
“What I don’t get is what the guy’s taking,” Corncob said. “He’s not carrying anything in his hands, and his pockets aren’t bulging as far as I can tell.”
“Maybe he’s just an old perv,” Michael said.
“He’s going into both male and female rooms.”
“Maybe he’s a very liberal old perv, or at least not very picky.”
“He could be stuffing it down his pants.”
“That’s what I was saying,” Michael said.
Corncob looked back at Michael and narrowed his eyes. “Not that, you fencepost. Maybe that’s where he’s hiding the morphine.”
Archie disappeared around the far end of the hallway. Corncob waited a moment, and then motioned Michael to follow. As they peered inside the rooms, the lid to each resident’s morphine drip stood open, the display scrolling SUPPLY EMPTY … ALARM MUTED.
“It doesn’t add up,” said Michael. They stood near the stairwell, speaking with low voices. “I don’t care how sneaky the old bugger is, he can’t have gone this long without getting caught.”
“Well, let’s go upstairs and ask him about it,” Corncob said.
“And why would he tell us anything?”
“He already thinks we’re spooks of some kind. Think you can convince him that we’re the kind he wants to cooperate with?”
Michael smiled. “The easiest thing in the world is to confirm a paranoid’s delusion that everyone really is out to get them. You just stand behind me and look large while I do the talking.”
But as they reached the top of the stairs, Tommy stood in the doorway, arms crossed.
“Have a good visit gentlemen? Good visit?” he said.
Michael put on a smile. “We just stopped for a quick snack. I’m hypoglycemic, you see, and if I don’t eat I get a little uh,”
“Unstable? Annoying?” Corncob murmured.
“Excitable,” Michael said.
“Yeah, I’m on low carbs myself.” Tommy patted his ample stomach. “That caveman thing with lotsa meat. What do they call it?”
“Neanderthal?” Michael said.
Tommy’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. “Paleo. That’s what it’s called, Paleo.”
“Well it sure looks like it’s working,” Michael said. “Anyway, we’re going to pop back into our uncle’s room, if that’s all right.” He took a step toward the door, but Tommy didn’t budge.
“Visiting hours are over,” Tommy said. “Ended at 4:00.”
“My phone’s in his room. We’ll only be a minute.”
“Visiting hours are over, that means no visitors.”
Tommy took out a phone and held it out. “This is my phone. It has the sheriff on speed dial. While I’m getting your phone from your uncle’s room, you two are going to wait in reception. When I give you your phone back, you are going to leave, right? You’re not going to make me use speed dial?”
Michael sighed and turned to head downstairs. Tommy stayed in the doorway until Corncob followed suit. At the next floor, Michael looked back, and ducked into the hallway.
“Mike! He’s going to be looking for us if we aren’t in the reception area when he can’t find your phone.”
“Michael,” Michael said absently. “We’ll say we got lost on the stairs.”
“We’ll be arrested.”
“For what? Getting lost on the stairs?” Michael waved him off. “I thought I heard something.” He did a double-take as he passed a resident’s room, and then turned in.
“We were just in there,” Corncob said. “Archie’s already hit it.”
“Lookie here, Cornelius.”
Corncob followed Michael into the resident’s room. The woman hadn’t moved as far as Corncob could tell. She lay under a thin sheet, mouth slightly open, chest barely rising as she took in slow breaths. Pictures of grandkids in stilted elementary school portraits, a crucifix s over the bed, and a TV tuned to a reality show – sound muted. Nothing seemed disturbed, even the morphine drip was happy.
“Ah,” Corncob said.
“We were gone, what, two minutes? Who replaced the meds?”
They walked down the hallway, glancing in each room, finding full and happy morphine drips.
“I wonder where the supply room is for this stuff,” Corncob said.
“Just look for a solid door with a reinforced lock. It usually says AUTHORIZED PERSONEL ONLY.”
“Know a lot about drug supply rooms?” Corncob asked.
Michael gave a little shrug.
Heavy footsteps came crashing down the stairwell.
“Well, we better find it fast,” Corncob said. “That’s Tommy.”
to be continued ...