Weeks passed. Willie watched over the creature who seemed to be a medically induced coma. The lab assistant learned how to check its vital signs and record them on a chart. He washed the body with antiseptic wet wipes and rotated its arms, legs and body to increase circulation. When hair grew in around the stitches on its scalp and face, Willie was given an electric razor to shave the creature and himself. For some reason, he never got his straight edge razor back.
In his spare time, Willie got to clean the rest of the laboratory and second floor.
Eventually he acquired a portable television set, but the reception was sporadic on both that and the radio. There was only one cassette, some music by Mozart, and Willie quickly tired of it.
Julia entered the room carrying a paper bag. "Your supplies have been delivered…Willie?" The young man was nowhere in sight. "Where are you?"
There was a rhythmic, dull thud coming from beside the armoire. She found her lab assistant sitting on the floor, banging his head against the wall.
"I assume that's supposed to get my attention. You'll have to come up with something more creative than that. Put away your groceries."
"This job sucks."
"You spent more than two years in a straightjacket. I would think this is a slight improvement."
"I want…I want…" It obviously didn't matter what he wanted. Willie resumed his activity.
"I'm sorry if you're bored," Julia sighed as she absent-mindedly fingered through the mail on her desk. "Here." She held out an envelope. "You may take this over to Collinwood. It was delivered here by mistake."
"What for? Aren't you going there yourself later for a nice dinner with real food?"
"Yes, but apparently you need to be entertained. So, go for a walk. Take it to the back door, don't speak to anyone except Mrs. Pratt, the housekeeper, and come right back. I'll keep an eye on our friend."
Willie rose to his feet. It was bad enough that there was no one else to talk to, but the bitch couldn't even be bothered to look up and acknowledge him. The young man stalked over and slammed his hand on the wall, inches from the good doctor's face. She didn't flinch.
"Why, Julia? Why can't anybody know I'm here? I didn't do nothing wrong."
"Because I don't want anything to draw attention to our project, or risk your making a careless comment in conversation, as you have frequently been known to do."
"It's not fair. I do everything you say and it don't make any difference."
"Go on, before I change my mind." He snatched the letter and raced down the stairs.
Willie slowed down and strolled through the woods at a more casual pace to prolong his furlough. It had always been pretty lonely at the Old House, except for that brief time when Maggie was prisoner there, but he was never forbidden to leave the house that he could recall. He used to do odd jobs for Mrs. Johnson at Collinwood in exchange for laundry and bathroom privileges, with a hearty meal thrown in twice a week. Maybe he could strike a sweet deal like that with the new housekeeper. Julia couldn't object when her assistant's morale and productivity would be greatly improved with regular hot showers and clean clothes, rather than feeble attempts to maintain himself with frigid water from the kitchen hand pump.
Willie rapped the big, brass knocker on the front door before remembering he was supposed to use the delivery entrance. He started to head around back when the heavy oak door swung open.
"Yes? May I help you?"
In the doorway was a stunning brunette woman wearing a hostess gown in a jarring combination of colors. She smiled flirtatiously at the confused young man.
"S-sorry, I was supposed to—are you Mrs. Pratt?"
The lady threw back her head and laughed. "Hardly! I am Mrs. Roger Collins. And you are?"
"Uh, Willie. I work over at the Old House."
Mrs. Collins' enormous green eyes lit up as she opened the door farther. "Please, come in."
"I said come in." She sounded like someone who was used to being obeyed. Willie stepped hesitantly over the threshold and the woman guided him into the drawing room. This was not good. If Jolly Roger or Mrs. Stoddard discovered him there, the boss would hear about it.
"May I get you a drink?"
"Sure." The delivery man grinned.
"Have a seat and chat with me for a while." She looked at him, pouting. "I'm afraid I don't get much company in this big empty house."
Willie shook his head. "Me neither."
"So you work for the mysterious Mr. Collins. You must tell me all about him, since I haven't had much chance to get acquainted." Her visitor shrugged. "I wasn't even aware that they had servants. Have you been with Barnabas long?"
"Oh yeah, ever since he came to town, but I been away for a while."
"What does he do?"
"Anything he wants. Oh, you mean a job? Beats me, he don't talk business with me. I just clean up and fix things. I did all the plumbing at that place, you know. But Julia, now she's a doctor. You should ask her about Barnabas when she comes over for dinner."
"Yes, of course she'll be joining us again this evening." She smiled politely.
"I guess. I don't see her too much either, except when she takes over so I can get a break."
"Takes over what?" the lady asked with innocent curiosity.
Willie opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. Oh shit. "Uh, excuse me, I have to deliver this letter 'round back."
"I can take it."
Willie slid from his seat and backed away toward the door.
"Uh, no, sorry, ma'am, but I got direct orders."
"Why are you so nervous?" Mrs. Collins approached him with a lilting laugh. "I don't bite."
Willie ran out the door. Maybe that didn't look too obvious. Okay, it did, but it wasn't his fault; he was completely distracted by that lady's crazy dress, and her voice, and those eyes…
The servant sprinted to the rear entrance and pounded on the door, panting. Mrs. Pratt responded and looked askance at the scruffy young man.
"No handouts for you; get along. We can't have tramps camping out in the backyard."
"No, ma'am," Willie explained quickly. "I work at the Old House for Barnabas Collins. Here's a letter we got by mistake." The woman reached out reluctantly then grabbed the envelope away from him. "I was wondering if you need any work done. I can cut wood and other things, whatever you want. The lady who was here before you used to let me use the shower and—"
Mrs. Pratt closed the door in his face.
Fuming, Willie stomped back to the Old House. That stupid old lady had no right to call him a tramp. He hadn't eaten out of a trash can for a long time.
"This is bullshit. There's got to be some rules around here besides yours," the servant announced as he reentered the laboratory. "I'm a person and I got rights, dammit. You can't make me stay here all the time."
"You are mentally ill and discharged into my care. I have to know that you're safe."
Willie's first instinct was to punch a hole in the wall, or punch Dr. Hoffman. Rip those damn tubes out of monster boy and flip the table. Instead, the disgruntled man turned and stalked out the door. He was half way down the stairs when Julia called after him.
"Alright, Willie, what is it you want?"
He stopped in his tracks but did not turn. What he said wasn't true at all. He had no rights; he belonged to a vampire who told him so. All she had to do was blab to Barnabas and the master would kill him, just like he always threatened to do. Willie sat on the steps and buried his face in his hands, mustering the strength to stay in control of his emotions. Julia descended as well and sat next to him, patting the boy's shoulder.
"We can't have you so unhappy. What can I do to help?" She looked concerned and motherly, but Willie regarded her with skepticism. Turning away, he picked at the bannister's peeling paint.
"I want to go into town and just walk around, get a hot shower at the YMCA, take my clothes to the Laundromat. I want to buy a hamburger and beer. And—and if this is such an important job, I-I should get paid."
"Very well." The lab assistant's head shot up in surprise. "I'll give you twenty dollars a day for your work. $100 a week is a lot of money, so I expect you to open a savings account and not squander it at the Blue Whale."
Willie did some quick figuring in his head. "That's only five days. You mean I get off for weekends?"
"Of course not. You'll work the other two days to pay for your room and board." Dr. Hoffman continued down the stairs and retrieved her purse from the foyer table. "Go now." She handed him three $10 bills. "That will have to do for now. I expect you back in one hour, and under no circumstances are you to go anywhere near Maggie Evans' house."
Julia sighed. "Because she will call the police and you will go back to a mental institution. And not a luxury resort like Wyndcliff, because Barnabas will not pay those bills again. You will go to a state asylum and spend the rest of your days strapped to a cot lying in your own waste." She folded her arms. "Is that a good enough reason?" The young man didn't answer. "You now have 58 minutes."
Willie bolted out the door, stopped, turned and reentered the house.
"Dr. Hoffman? Can I borrow your car please?"
Willie knew how to shower up in minutes flat, so there was plenty of time left over for a few more errands. He popped into the Blue Whale for a quick couple of shots and a free lunch of peanuts and pretzels.
"Tell 'em Willie boy is here." The young man slammed a dollar on the bar. "Double hit of rum, my good man!"
"Would you like to order some food?" the pretty blonde barmaid suggested as she refilled the snack dishes on the bar.
"Don't have time today." The customer did a double take. "You're not Bob."
"Yes, I know. I'm his daughter, Crystal."
"Is Bob dead?"
"Why, no." She looked at the patron uncertainly. "He's in the store room. I'm just helping out while I'm home from college."
"Let me guess; I used to be good at this. Liberal Arts major, right?" The woman shook her head. "Business and Marketing?"
"Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry." Willie almost spit out his drink. "Yes, please," she continued sardonically. "Tell me a joke about it I haven't already heard."
"I'm sorry. No, that sounds fascinating. I want to come back sometime and hear about your, uh, animal research. Maybe over a drink."
"Maybe." The girl refilled his glass. "Where did you graduate from?"
"Oh, I studied psychiatry at Wyndcliff."
"I've never heard of that school."
"It's a private institution."
Willie was slightly buzzed when he headed to the Evans' cottage, where he parked across the street and slid down in the seat. Holy private eye spy, this was a perfect plan, because no one would recognize the doctor's car and he could watch for Maggie to come out of the house. If she was alone and looked like she was in a good mood, maybe he would say hello.
After a few minutes, he dozed off.
"Loomis, what are you doing here?" Willie awoke when the driver's side door opened and he was dragged out by the collar. "I thought they locked you up and threw away the key."
It was Joe Haskell. The handsome and usually polite young man was not exhibiting his pleasant side at that moment. He glanced cautiously at the cottage and, seeing that the disturbance hadn't attracted any attention thus far, continued. "Listen, you lunatic, stay away from Maggie. I'm warning you."
"It's a free country. I can sit in a car if I want to."
"You think you can do or say whatever you want and get away with it, just like you tricked Maggie into marrying you by getting her pregnant."
"I didn't trick nobody. Maggie is an adult."
"She only agreed to go out with you only because you told her I was gay."
"So what?" Willie shrugged.
"That was a damn lie! You don't care whose reputation you wreck, or lives you ruin." Haskell was becoming increasingly infuriated.
"I didn't know you were so sensitive about it," the blond man calmly commented. "Maybe you should get professional help. There's nothing wrong with being gay."
"Say that one more time…" Joe prepared to swing a punch.
"Okay, okay," Willie backed off. "We don't want to get in a public brawl, do we? Because I'd have to cut that pretty face of yours, and Maggie wouldn't like that."
"Just…get out of here before I really lose my temper."
Willie was quick to jump back in the car. However, he hesitated before leaving and rolled down the window.
"Hey, no hard feelings, Haskell. I want to apologize."
"Alright," Joe responded begrudgingly.
"I'm sorry you don't like being gay." Willie hit the gas pedal and took off.