I can smell her!
Another one whose scent betrays her!
Even inside my cell, I can smell her sickness. Her filth. Her lust.
There have been others, too, while I’ve languished here. Others who need to be avenged. Others who with their devil’s issue must be driven back to the deadly fires from which they were spawned!
Oh, sick women with your uncontrollable needs.
I am coming for you. . . .
Laura Adderley leaned a hand against the bathroom stall, clutching the home pregnancy test in her other fist, unable to look. She didn’t want this. Not when her marriage was newly finished – a divorce she’d wanted as much as her newly minted ex, maybe more. Byron had already taken up residence with another woman and he would undoubtedly cheat on her as much as he’d cheated on Laura. It didn’t matter. Their marriage had been ill-conceived from the beginning; it had just taken Laura three years to recognize that fact.
Ill-conceived. . . .
Grabbing onto her courage, she slowly unfurled her fist, staring down at the two glaring pink lines of the home pregnancy test.
She’d known it would be.
Oh, God. . .
Squeezing her eyes closed, Laura inhaled a deep, calming breath. She’d ignored the signs for as long as she could, but there was no keeping her head in the sand any longer. She was pregnant. With her ex-husband’s child. They’d signed the papers that very week though Byron had tried to stall because he simply didn’t want to give Laura what she wanted: freedom from lies and tyranny.
But now what?
Dr. Byron Adderley was an orthopedic surgeon at Ocean Park Hospital and she, Laura, was a floor nurse. They’d moved to this smaller facility along the Oregon coast about a year earlier, leaving one of Portland’s largest and most prestigious hospitals for a slower-paced life. Laura hadn’t wanted the move; had been adamantly against it. For reasons she didn’t want to tell Byron she wanted, needed, to stay far, far away from Ocean Park and the surrounding hamlet of Deception Bay.
But as if he’d somehow divined her secrets, he’d announced he’d taken a position at the smaller hospital and they were up and moving. Laura had been stunned. Had told him she wasn’t going. Simply was not going. But in the end he’d gotten his way and though she’d dragged her feet, she’d reluctantly made this move in the vain hope that she could get her dying marriage off life-support though she knew she no longer loved him, maybe never really had. But with a new start, it was possible something could change. Maybe her heart could be re-won. Maybe Byron would want just her. Maybe everything would be. . .better.
Then he was discovered groping one of the Ocean Park nurses in an empty hospital room. The hospital tried to chastise Byron Adderley but he wasn’t the kind of man to be chastised. The nurse was summarily dismissed and the incident swept under the hospital rugs. . . .and Laura filed for divorce.
At first he’d argued with her. Not that he wanted her; it just wasn’t his decision and so therefore it couldn’t be. She didn’t listen and he changed tactics, humbly begging for a second chance. Laura was suspicious of his motives, aware he might be acting. But she looked down the road of her own future and it was decidedly bleak and lonely and one night, three month’s ago, he’d sworn that he loved her, that he would never cheat on her again, that he would seek help for past mistakes. She had wanted to believe him so much. Needed to. Shut the clamoring voice in her head that warned her to be smart, and one thing led to another and they ended up making desperate love together. A second chance, maybe a last chance that Laura had to take.
And then another nurse came forward, complaining that Dr. Adderley had made inappropriate advances toward her. Byron vehemently denied the charge but Laura, who had abilities that he didn’t understand – some she didn’t understand herself – knew without a doubt that he was lying through his miserable white teeth.
She let the divorce proceedings run their course, and being Byron, he took up with another woman. This time Laura didn’t look back. She was through with Byron Adderley and, until today, she’d been determined to move back to Portland and find employment far, far away from Ocean Park and Deception Bay.
But now. . .
The door to the bathroom opened. “Laura?” Nurse Perez called.
“I’ll be out in a minute,” Laura said, flushing the toilet and wrapping the tell-tale wand in toilet paper and shoving it in her purse.
“We need help in ER. We’ve got a head trauma coming in.”
She heard the door close and let herself out of the bathroom. Washing her hands, she looked hard at her reflection in the mirror. Serious blue-gray eyes stared back at her and she could see the beginning of her own dishwater blonde hair reappearing at her hairline, the longer, darker tresses trying to escape their ponytail and curl under her chin, a strong chin, she’d been told, that, along with high cheekbones and thick lashes, gave her a slightly aristocratic look; something far from what she really was.
A familiar pressure built inside her head and she mentally pushed it back, visualizing a twenty-foot high iron gate to withstand the force coming at her. This was an automatic response that clicked in almost unconsciously when particularly strong, unwanted – bad – thoughts attacked her. For years she thought everyone had this ability but then slowly realized that it was unique to her alone. It was like someone, or ones, was knocking at her brain, trying to get inside, and she would push up a mental wall to keep them out. But this time was different; there was more urgency and determination. As if this someone were pounding a metal hammer at her wall. At her brain.
Laura jerked to attention and glanced around, half-expecting to see who had spoken. But there was no one. Nary a soul. And the voice had been decidedly male.
Her eyes widened; she watched the autonomic response happen in the mirror as realization dawned, a realization she wanted desperately to deny. He was back.
Shutting her lids tightly, she squeezed at her brain, holding the wall firm until the hammering turned into a tinny, little ping, ping, ping and was gone.
By the time she reached the ER, the ambulance was screaming up the drive. It was eight-thirty pm. Late June, so it was still light out, though she could see the shadows forming beneath the gnarled branches of the scrub pine that lined the asphalt. Red and white lights flashed in opposite rotation and the woo-woo....woo-woo....woo-woo of the shrieking siren seemed to vibrate the very air.
With a squeal of brakes the ambulance jumped to a halt. EMTs leapt out and ran to the back of the vehicle. Doors flew open and a victim was rushed in on a Gurney, head surrounded by a white bandage which was dark red with blood.
One of the residents sucked in a breath. “Jesus, it’s Conrad!”
“Conrad?” Laura repeated in shock, gazing down at one of Ocean Park’s security guards: Conrad Weiser.
“What happened?” one of the trauma surgeons demanded.
“Attacked at Halo Valley,” the EMT responded. “He was on the way there to pick up a patient and one of the crazies beat the hell out of him and escaped.”
“Halo Valley?” Laura repeated through lips that barely moved.
“Yeah, the mental hospital,” Dylan, the EMT, clarified soberly.
“Let’s get him in here,” the trauma surgeon ordered as a second victim on a Gurney was off-loaded from the ambulance.
“You okay?” Dylan asked, frowning at Laura.
Bringing herself back to the present, Laura helped guide the second wounded man’s Gurney into the ER. He was awake but his throat was wrapped and he clearly couldn’t speak. His dark eyes glared at her and Dylan said, almost in an aside, giving her a second shock, “This is Dr. Maurice Zellman from Halo Valley. He was stabbed in the throat.”
“Also by the escapee?” she asked.
“Looks like it.”
She watched as Zellman was hurriedly wheeled through the double doors to ER as well, and was unable to control a full-body shivering that emanated from her very soul.
Halo Valley. The mental hospital for the criminally insane.
He was there.
Or, was that why he’d just tried to breach the wall in her mind? He’d escaped!
And he was coming after her.
Oh, God, no! Not now! She thought of the baby and her heart nearly stop. Fear crawled up her spine and nestled in her brain.
No, no, no!
Blindly, pushing back that horrid snaking fear, she turned to one of the other nurses. “Who did this?” she asked.
“Don’t you wish we could ask Zellman and find out?” Nurse Carlita Solano answered flatly. “Some nut job, for sure.”
Please, God, don’t let it be him.
But she knew it was. Justice Turnbull had escaped the walls of Halo Valley Security Hospital and he was free to take up his murdering ways.
Laura watched the doors behind the injured doctor slowly close with a soft hiss and wondered how this had happened.
The day had started out like many others.
Dr. Maurice Zellman, one of Halo Valley Security Hospital’s premier psychiatrists. . .maybe the premier psychiatrist, if you’d asked him. . . .had begun his morning with a piece of dry wheat toast, a soft-boiled egg and a slice of cantaloupe before driving to the hospital and arriving punctually at 7:15am. He had several consults before lunch, called his wife Patricia at noon and learned that their sixteen-year-old son, Brandt, had gotten in some kind of trouble at school and was facing detention for the rest of the week. With a snort of disgust, Zellman told Patricia that Brandt would be facing some serious punishment from his father as well, and then, ruffled, he visited a number of his patients in their rooms – cells, really, though no one referred to them as such – throughout the rest of the afternoon, his mind on other things.
By six o’clock he was finished with work, except that he hadn’t yet visited with his most notorious patient: Justice Turnbull, a psychotic killer who’d tried to kill his own mother and had proven to be obsessed with murdering the group of women who lived together in a lodge called Siren Song along the Oregon coast. These women were whispered about by the locals as members of a cult dubbed The Colony and were reclusive, brooding and odd. What Justice’s personal beef was with them remained a mystery, one Zellman had sought to crack in the over two year’s of Justice’s incarceration but hadn’t quite managed yet. Justice was also responsible for several other murders as well and was an odd bird by anyone’s definition.
No one at Halo Valley knew what to make of him, and they certainly didn’t know how to treat him. The other doctors just didn’t have it, as far as Zellman was concerned. They were adequate, in their way, whereas he, Maurice Zellman, was extraordinary. He actually cured patients instead of resorting to mere behavioral modifications.
And Justice. . .well. . .Maurice had made significant progress with him. Significant. Yes, the man was still obsessed with the Siren Song women, but that was because Justice was apparently related to them in some way. At least he thought he was, though that had yet to be proven. Maybe the women were a cult, maybe they weren’t. They were certainly paranoically reclusive and, in appearance, looked as if they came from another century. Zellman was inclined to think they should be left alone to their own devices. Everyone found a way to live in this world and there was no right way or wrong way, although getting Justice to see that point was a work in progress. For reasons of his own, Justice Turnbull seemed determined to snuff them all out.
But. . .there had been progress, Zellman reminded himself with a mental pat on the back. Initially, when Justice had first been incarcerated at Halo Valley, he’d bellowed long and loud that he would kill them all and their devil’s issue! The staff hadn’t known whom he meant, at first, but he made it clear that he wanted to wipe out all the ssissterrss at Siren Song. With the help of time and anti-psychotics, he’d all but recanted this mission. He still was agitated about them; he couldn’t completely disguise it when Zellman would mention the women of the lodge, just to see. But Justice wasn’t nearly as single-minded as he had been at first. Was he cured? No. Would he ever be? In Justice Turnbull’s case, unlikely, though Dr. Maurice Zellman was definitely the man for the job if there was a chance.
And Maurice understood Justice was tortured by demons of his own making, which didn’t matter to his colleagues one whit. They had locked the man away for the next few decades with no chance of getting released. Paranoid schizophrenic. Sociopath. Psychopath. Homicidal maniac. . .Justice Turnbull might be a little of all, but he was still a patient in need of care.
With a glance at his watch, Zellman noted the time: 6:45pm. He had a surprise for Justice, one Justice had been asking for and Zellman had finally been able to put together, though not without much resistance. With a satisfied smile on his face, he headed for Justice’s room. It was at the end of the hall by design as no one wanted to visit him. In fact, no one ever did, outside of hospital personnel. He was considered weird by the other inmates, which was saying a lot, as they were criminally insane themselves, every last one. But every group had a pecking order and Halo Valley Security Hospital was no exception. As one of the hospital’s leading physicians treating some of the most notorious patients – killers, sadists, rapists, to name a few – Maurice Zellman was intimately aware of how mentally unstable and deranged the men and women were on this side of the hospital, the side that housed those convicted of serious crimes. They might be excused from regular prison by reason of insanity, but it didn’t mean they weren’t the worst kind of criminals. That’s why they were housed on Side B, as this sterile section of the hospital was euphemistically called. Side B. The side for the irredeemable. Connected to Side A, where the mentally ill without criminal tendencies were lodged, by a skyway, surrounded by tall chain link fence and razor wire which was partially hidden by a laurel hedge, all the better to make everyone think the hospital was a warm and cozy place. In truth, Side B, was little more than a prison for the criminally insane.
Dr. Zellman was high in the pecking order of the specialists on Side B. He understood the criminal mind in a way that both fascinated and horrified the less imaginative doctors. Well, that was their problem, wasn’t it? he thought with a sniff.
Dr. Maurice Zellman did his job. And he did it very, very well.
With a tightening of his lips, he picked up his pace. He was running late and checking on Turnbull was going to make him later yet, but he really had no choice as Justice was his patient and was patently feared by the rest of the staff. This fact half-amused Zellman who’d worked with the strange man ever since he’d been brought to Side B because Justice was really no more frightening than any other psychotic. He was just a little more directionally motivated, focused on women, specifically these Colony women.
Just as Zellman reached Justice’s room, the door flew open and Bill Merkely, one of the guards, practically leapt into the hall. Merkely didn’t immediately see Zellman as he was looking back into Justice’s room. “So, long, Schizzo!” he yelled harshly, his beefy face red. He yanked the door shut and checked the automatic lock as Zellman cleared his throat behind him. Merkely jumped as if prodded with a hot poker, his already red face turning magenta. “Fucker told me I was going to die!” he cried as an excuse.
“You can’t listen to him.”
“I don’t. But he sure as hell predicts a whole lot of shit!”
“What were you doing in his room?”
“Picking up his tray. But I had to leave it in there. Hope the food rots!”
He stomped off toward the guard’s station which divided Halo Security Hospital’s Side B from Side A, the gentler section which housed patients who weren’t considered a serious threat to society. Zellman thought of Side A as an Alzheimer’s wing, though he would never say so aloud as they considered themselves to be a helluva lot more than institutional caretakers. He shook his head at the lot of them. Perception. So many people just didn’t get it.
He had a key to Justice’s room himself and he cautiously unlocked the door. Justice had never attacked him; he’d never attacked anyone since he’d been brought to the hospital, but the man had a history, oh, yes, indeedy he did.
Now the patient stood on the far side of the room, disengaged from whatever little drama had occurred between him and Merkely. Justice was tall, dusty blond and slim, almost skinny, but hard and tough as rawhide. He didn’t make eye contact as Zellman entered, but he flicked a look toward the meal tray that had been untouched except for the apple.
“That man is afraid of me,” Justice said now in his sibilant voice. Always a faint hiss to his words. An affectation, Zellman thought.
“Yes, he is.”
“He always leaves the tray.”
Zellman had a clipboard with a pen attached shoved under one arm. There were cameras in Justice’s one room cell, tracking his every move. Zellman didn’t need to watch reams of film to remind himself of the content of each of their meetings. He wrote himself copious notes and typed up reports that he suspected no one ever read. They all wanted to forget Justice Turnbull and his strangeness. When first brought to Halo Valley he’d referred to the women he sought to harm as “Sister,” in his hissing way. “Sssiissterrrs....” he would rasp. “Have to kill them all! ” he’d warned. But a lot of that dramatic act had disappeared over time.
Not that he wasn’t dangerous. Before his incarceration he’d killed and terrorized a number of women. He’d also cut a swath through some peripheral people and had nearly slain his own mentally ill mother. She now lay in a twilight state in a care facility with no memory of the attack and not a lot of connection with the real world.
“Justice,” Maurice Zellman said now in a stern, yet friendly, voice, one he’d cultivated over the years. “You’ve finally got clearance to have those medical tests run at Ocean Park Hospital. The van’s on its way here now. I’m warning you, though. If this stomach problem proves to be just a means to get out of Halo Valley, you’ll be further restricted. No more walks in the yard. No being outside and staring toward the sea.” Zellman heard his faintly mocking voice and clamped down on that. “No privileges.”
Justice turned to look at him through clear blue eyes that were almost translucent. He was extraordinarily good-looking except. . . there was just something unnatural about him that made one hesitate upon meeting him. A reaction to something he emanated that Zellman had never quite put his finger on. Now, his mouth was turned down at the corners and he winced slightly, as if he were in pain,
Over time and in-depth sessions with him, Zellman had come to realize that some of Justice’s deeply rooted problems were because he’d been rejected and scorned. Rejected and scorned by women. Maybe even his own mother. The women of the Colony particularly bothered him. They might now be his sisters, per se, but he seemed to think they were. Was there any shared genetic makeup between them? Zellman thought it unlikely. Justice’s world was all of his own making.
Still, Justice definitely believed the Siren Song occupants were the Chosen Ones while he was kept outside the gates. Locked out. Barred. Left with a mother who had been spiraling into mental illness most of her adult life, Zellman guessed. Who knew about his father? Certainly not Justice or anyone Zellman had ever talked to.
Not a great childhood by any stretch of the imagination.
“Can we go now?” Justice stared at him hard.
Zellman nodded. Justice wore loose gray pants and a white shirt, the regulated outfit for the patients on Side B. “I need to get the handcuffs, first. Sorry.”
Justice asked softly, “From the guard?”
“I won’t try to escape.”
“It’s hospital policy.”
A spasm crossed his face and he clutched a palm to his stomach. “This pain is killing me.”
Zellman considered the man. Inside the van Justice would be chained around the waist and locked to the side of the vehicle for the ride to Ocean Park. The handcuffs were merely an extra precaution. Sure, it would be against protocol to give him this small freedom as they made their way to the van – against the most basic rule of the hospital. But the stomach pain Justice had been complaining of was definitely worsening, and anyway, Zellman knew when someone was telling the truth and when they were lying. It was just. . .his gift. Justice was telling the truth.
It would take time to get the damned handcuffs, time and effort. And Maurice disliked Bill Merkely almost as much as Justice did. “Come on, then,” he said. “Hurry up.”
Justice’s expression brightened a little, the most anyone could ever scare out of him. He was in gray, felt slippers and he eagerly walked through the door ahead of Zellman. There were precautions overhead in the hall: big, glossy, mirrored half-circles that housed hidden cameras. Justice looked up at them as they passed and Zellman smiled to himself. There would be hell to pay later when the handcuff protocol breach was noticed. Dr. Jean Dayton, a mild-mannered little brown bird with a permanent scowl, would scream her pinched-tight ass off.
They walked along the hall together and, side-by-side, clambered up the utilitarian metal stairway that led to the ground level. At the top it was a short walk toward a set of gunmetal gray, locked double doors with small windows filled with wire netting – doors that led to the outside. They stood together just inside, looking through the windows, waiting while a white hospital van with the Ocean Park logo pulled under the portico beyond. Daylight was disappearing, the fading sun fingering stripes of dark gold along the grass that fanned out on the far side of the portico, night still an hour or so away.
As Zellman watched, the driver, an orderly from Ocean Park, jumped from the van. The man would be expecting Justice to be handcuffed, and with a faint feather of remorse touching his skin, Zellman turned to Justice and opened his mouth to. . .what? Ask him to be good?
Swift as lightening, Justice snatched Zellman’s clipboard and pen away from him. The clipboard clattered to the floor and while Zellman goggled in surprise, Justice jammed the pen deep into Zellman’s throat and out again. Twice.
Blood spurted in a geyser.
“Wha? Wha? Wha?” Zellman burbled.
The door opened and the driver stepped in. Justice grabbed the man by his head and slammed it into the metal door. Once, twice, three times. More blood. Pints of it.
“Keys,” Justice demanded.
“Van. . .van,” the man mumbled, his eyes rolling around in his head.
And like that, Justice was gone.
Shoved aside and tossed to the floor like a rag doll, Zellman clutched at his throat helplessly, blood squeezing through his fingers. Shocked and outraged that Justice had lied. About the stomach pain. About needing to go to the hospital. About every-damned-thing!
And he, Dr. Maurice Zellman, a doctor of psychiatry, a member of Mensa, had believed him. Worse than the sting of pain at his throat, the bite of his own damned pen, was the knowledge that he’d, Dr. Maurice Zellman been wrong after all.