Willie was in the library reading Hamlet when the bell chimed for visitors' hour. It had been an interminable day. There were no sessions on weekends and Stanley was now permitted to spend Saturdays and Sundays at home with his mother.
Bug Eyes and Roberta were commandeering the TV Room, watching the Saturday afternoon lineup of old movies. During The Little Colonel, they concluded that Shirley Temple was either an alien spy or a succubus, causing Roberta to attack the television set. The next film was Horsefeathers, during which Bug Eyes marched about chanting "whatever it is, I'm against it," along with Groucho. He then procured an imaginary horn and set off in search of a nurse to chase.
It was time for his shower, but Willie was reluctant to disrupt the unfolding drama. Hamlet was crying at his girlfriend's grave. She killed herself after the prince yelled, treated her like dirt and called her a whore. Sure, now he was sorry, but it was too late. Everything this poor schmuck did was either too soon or yesterday's news.
"What're you reading?" Gary was standing over his shoulder. The orderly usually worked in D Ward, with the violent cases, but he was covering a shift for Mitch.
"Words words words. It's about this guy who broke up with his girlfriend."
"You're doing okay, though."
"There's a beautiful babe in the reception area waiting for you." Gary said, handing a visitation pass to the patient. The patient's head shot up as he slammed the book closed. "You are one lucky guy." Willie was speechless; he started for the door. "Hey, you, book back on the shelf." The patient grabbed the play and shoved it in place. "Don't break it."
"No no, can't break the spine. First edition. Very valuable." He raced out the door, tripping on his slippers.
She was sitting on the upholstered chair Tony Peterson had occupied not long ago. Hands clutching her purse, legs crossed demurely at the ankle. The young man hesitantly approached Victoria Winters.
"Uh, Vicki, I-I mean Ms. Winters—hi." Willie was confused. "Did you come to see me? That was n-nice."
Even if it wasn't Maggie, the patient was so happy to see someone from Collinsport, he wanted to grab and hug her. Plant a big wet one right on the kisser. No, she'll scream. He almost plopped down on the floor at her feet. No, that looks crazy. Just sit in the other chair and act normal. Make nice conversation. Speak slowly and pronounce all your words.
"Listen, I'm sorry for those things I said to you the other day."
"I don't understand."
"You know, in the study at Collinwood. I thought you were gonna cry."
"That happened a long time ago, Willie. You were a different person."
"Oh…I just wanted to make sure I apologized, since you drove all this way."
"David told me about your dilemma. He tried to talk to Dr. Hoffman, but she's too preoccupied to make time for a visit it seems." There was the slightest edge to her voice, not enough to be impolite, but unmistakable. "So I brought the bag with your things in it." She knew Willie was never the tidiest of men, but he appeared now like a shaggy-haired hobo. "It certainly looks as though you could use them."
He self-consciously twisted the voluminous folds of his stained T-shirt. "Yeah, I sure could. Th-thank you." He looked around, perplexed. The duffle was nowhere in sight.
"A nurse took it away to remove, she said, any objects which would be restricted."
The young man nodded. "They got a lotta rules here. Kinda like bein' back in prison, ya know? No—I mean—you wouldn't know about prison, I just—never mind."
"It's alright, I understand." Vicki smiled. "How are you getting on?"
"Oh, I'm good. Real good. I can talk now and everything." The patient wrung his hands a bit nervously. "I'm awful glad you came. You're my first visitor."
"Willie, I'm actually here for two reasons. One is to see you, of course. But I'm also wondering if there's a doctor or anyone here who remembers a former patient named Jeff Clark."
"Never heard a' him."
"He's my fiancé."
Willie frowned. What happened to Burke? So, now she's dating a crazy guy? Shuddup, don't ask. If she don't tell you, don't ask.
"He was admitted here with amnesia. We want to know if there's any other history or information."
"Then you should talk to Doc Gordon. I can set that up for ya. We're tight." He asked Nurse Deb at the monitor station to page the Ward B administrator. "Did David come?" Willie looked at the governess hopefully. "He said he was gonna."
"Yes, but I'm afraid he has to wait in the car. I didn't know they don't allow children under 18 to visit."
Willie looked sadly out the double glass doors past the reception desk to see the boy reading in the back seat of a convertible Cadillac in the parking lot.
Willie ripped through the contents of the duffle bag deposited on his bed like a kid on Christmas morning. It was all there. Well, not everything. His belt was missing, his razor (of course), the shoelaces from his sneakers, the drawstrings from his hoodie and sweatpants, and his dwindling collection of little hotel shampoo bottles. Worst of all, gone was the tie belt from his soft terrycloth bathrobe, the one he lifted from the Panama City Hilton. But he could still wear it.
In a flash, Willie pulled on a pair of jeans and a clean, white T shirt (one that really fit) and tube socks. The sneakers were useless without laces but, nestled at the bottom of the bag were his fine, Italian ankle boots, just like the ones Barnabas wore, only much more scuffed. He donned his old leather jacket and combed back his hair. James Dean was back in town. A minute later the jacket was discarded because it was too frigging hot.
Willie strutted into the Common Room, but no one acknowledged or expressed admiration for his new ensemble. Maybe they didn't recognize him. The fashion plate stuck his head inside the door to Doc Gordon's office.
"Sorry to interrupt. You gonna be a while?"
Victoria sat in the armchair watching the doctor root through his file cabinet in search of a folder.
"I won't keep your visitor too long."
"It's okay, take yer time." Willie lifted a lab coat from the rack and slipped out the door.
The patient surveyed the reception area as he donned the white coat with clip-on ID attached. Nurse Deb at the monitor station was flirting with Vinnie. All the nurses flirted with Vinnie. If there was an Insane Asylum Orderlies Calendar, he would be on the cover.
Nicole sat behind the front desk, nose buried in a Victoria's Secret shopping catalogue, her favorite reading material.
Willie walked up with authority, his heels clicking on the linoleum floor. He signed the log, flashed his badge and strode out the front door.
"Hey, who are you and what've you done with David Collins?" Willie grinned as he jumped into the seat next to the boy. "You're growin' like a beanstalk."
"Well, it doesn't matter how big I am, they said I couldn't come in."
"So I went AWOL. Don't have long, though. What's all the news from Collinwood?"
"Nothing much. Oh, Burke Devlin died in a plane crash." He looked away sadly. "Two minutes later, Vicki has a new boyfriend and she doesn't even talk about Burke. It's all Jeff this and Jeff that." The boy pulled out a pack of cigarettes, offered one to his companion, and lit up.
"What's it going to do, stunt my growth? Anyway, I brought these for you." He tossed the pack to Willie. "Stole them from the housekeeper."
"Good man." They smoked for a moment in silence. "So, you got a new housekeeper to replace Mrs. Johnson?"
"Yes, Mrs. Pratt, but I never see her. No one in that damn house ever talks to me. Aunt Elizabeth walks around like a zombie; all she says is that's she's going to die." David pulled a silver flask from his hip pocket. "Brandy?"
"Are you serious?"
"It's father's. He won't miss it, he has lots of them."
"How is Jolly Roger?"
"He got married again."
"No shit." Willie was astonished. "So, now you have, what? A stepmother?"
"She's a witch; I hate her." David took a swig from the flask and downed the libation with little difficulty.
"C'mon, you read a lotta stories, all stepmothers are like that." He briefly observed the adolescent. "Do you 'member tellin' me a long time ago how much you hated your dad 'cause he was gonna send you to boardin' school?" David nodded. "Well, with all the crap goin' on at your house, maybe that ain't such a bad idea any more. I went to boardin' for awhile. Well, kinda."
"And look how you turned out."
The two sneered at each other for a moment, then simultaneously burst into laughter. A blaring siren went off inside the building and throughout the grounds.
Dr. Gordon was chatting with Miss Winters, relating what he remembered of Jeff Clark's medical history, when an urgent voice came over his walkie.
"This is not a drill. We have a Code Yellow. Repeat, Code Yellow." The administrator flew out the door and grabbed the nearest staff member.
"Head count came up one short, sir."
"Do you know who? Never mind, I know who." He swung around to the reception monitor. "What did you see?"
"Nothing, sir. I was here the whole time."
Dr. Gordon stomped to the reception desk.
"Nicole!" her head shot up in bewilderment. "Who left the building?"
"Uh, it was you, sir. I thought…I saw your badge."
The doctor raised a brow. "Really? You confused me with a small Caucasian man with long blond hair."
"But-but you signed out."
Gordon checked the log. It was signed Igor Humperdick.
"I want another head count immediately!" the doctor barked. "Call a fire drill."
The siren went off.
Of course, some of the loonies panicked, but the attendants efficiently ushered them to queue up at the side door which led to the garden. Nicole's job was to escort the visitors out the front door.
Willie and David jumped at the sudden loud noise.
"Holy mother of shit!" Willie leapt over the convertible door and started to run. He braked and sprinted briefly back to the car. "Thanks. Thanks a lot."
He grimaced. "Prob'ly not." And set off again.
Willie scaled the tall, black wrought-iron fence which surrounded the garden, carefully navigating the long, Gothic spirals on top. Tonight's nightmare will be brought to you by Vlad the Impaler. He braced himself and leaped.
The doctor's lab coat caught on a spiral and Willie found himself dangling eight feet from the ground. It would look really bad if he was discovered hanging off the fence. As he attempted to disengage himself from his binding, the coat split open with a long rip and both were sent tumbling.
Willie bundled the coat into a ball and dashed around the corner of the building. There was a lineup of loonies on one side of the garden path, staff on the other. Behind the inmates was the row of orderlies. Nurse Annie and Dr. Gordon proceeded down the aisle, checking off names.
The young man sprinted silently to the group and slipped in next to the last attendant. Jorge turned to see the panting patient suddenly appear beside him, and shoved him to the front line. Willie stuffed the coat bundle behind his back as the doctor and nurse approached.
"What's behind your back?" The doctor, usually a nice kind of fellow, had that look Barnabas would get right before his servant got whacked across the room. But Willie wasn't worried because Doc Gordon would never hurt him. He wasn't allowed to.
"Oh, this?" Willie produced the ruined lab coat. "It was on the ground."
"You smell like cigarettes and whiskey."
"Now, sir, that's just not true. With all due respect, I smell like brandy."
"I just wanted to go for a walk! Why can't a person go for a goddam walk if they wanna?" Willie shouted. It was Sunday evening and, except for bedtime, he had spent the entire day sitting in a corner, back to the wall, with a monitor posted nearby. Even his meals were delivered on a tray.
"Nurse Jessie!" he called to her, beginning to cry. "Listen, I just wanted to see my little brother, that's all. He's dyin' of a fatal disease. Why don't ya want me to have visitors like other people? I didn't hurt nobody." But his girlfriend did not come over to comfort him. Willie hugged himself as his leg started to bounce and the tears started for real. "Hey, I don't think you guys fed me today. You can't do that; it's against the law. I'm gonna call Humphrey Bogart and sue your asses!"
The monitor leaned over and whispered in Willie's ear. "Shut your mouth or I will shut it for you. You're getting on my nerves."
Willie drew his knees up close and buried his head there, sobbing quietly.
"You know, I volunteered to be your guard dog," Steve continued with a smile. "After you got me in trouble, I figured I owed you one. Why don't you get yourself thrown into ITA, and we can enjoy some alone time, just you and me, huh?"
The orderly continued to confide in his charge an agenda of activities they could pursue under those circumstances.