Chapter 36: Committed
“Son of a bitch.” Giselle switched off her Telecomm and sighed. Her right foot was tapping on the cement outside of Ms. Kushin’s old place. She got the address from James in Personnel, and so far it was a dead end.
New residents were in Ms. Kushin’s place and the only thing they knew was that the last tenant had committed herself.
That was the problem with James from Personnel. He never kept accurate records unless they were literally days old. Or, if he was lucky, he had employees like Useless who hadn’t moved in years. As for the rest of their transient street crew, his information was nearly useless.
Giselle would have thought that Ms. Kushin had retired after the incident at the Pussycat club – not committed herself.
She tossed her mahogany locks over her shoulder and scowled at the pavement, cigarette dangling from her full, red lips. Tension coursed through her body and she knew exactly why. Giselle knew where Ms. Kushin was, and she did not want to go there.
Besides, it wasn’t rocket science to figure out where someone in Sector 8 committed themselves. Other than the Skyward Souls Detention Center in sector 3, there was only one facility where idiots could actually commit themselves. All the other sector-specific facilities were incarceration only, and you had to be turned in or taken away.
That left the Schnieder House in sector 8.
Giselle dropped her cigarette and snuffed the end with the toe of her black heels. She moseyed to the edge of the sidewalk and raised a hand to hail a cab.
The Schnieder House was more than just a house on a street somewhere for some random crazies. It was a compound that took up at least 4 blocks of Cellar City with its twisted existence. Their spectrum of patience ran from mild schizophrenic or bipolar to criminal psychotics who couldn’t stop cutting off people’s fingers and toes. Giselle had seen a commercial for it once on an ad-screen, and it had boasted the employment of several new groundbreaking techniques as well as almost a dozen highly certified doctors and neurosurgeons. That way, their experiments had a certain air of pedigree about them.
Not that it mattered. Mental institutions were only the population’s dumpster. All sorts of trash goes in. Apparently Ms. Kushin saw that in herself now.
A cab stopped and Giselle gave him brief direction as she settled down in the back seat. She ran her tongue over her teeth as she remembered the old days; running through the halls, knocking over medicine trays, getting shot after shot of mind numbing drugs…
The good old days, when life was simple.
It was a short trip, and Giselle tipped the driver with a winning smile and a flash of her bra as she bent to scan her Cred Card.
She watched the cab drive off and turned to face the Schnieder House – her old nemesis back from the grave.
“Fuck you.” Giselle murmured, eyes narrowing at the gray concrete façade of the building. It looked like a stoic giant in the front – a narrow three story cement wall with two slitted windows on the third floor. The door was two sets of double doors side by side – one for in and one for out, both sets a battleship gray that was dinged and scarred and constantly repainted. The picture of a bland, drug-induced face, with no nose or ears to sense the world around it.
Giselle straightened, and tossed her hair over her shoulder with a decisive snap of her wrist.
Stalking up to the doors was the hardest part – once she was in the stale, regulated air it was easier. As if she had gotten used to the weight pressing in at her on all sides.
Years ago this place haunted her dreams – the stark hallways, the dim fluorescent lights, the lack of windows… But Giselle was past all that now. The most recent dream she had of this place was at least two years ago, and it involved her with gasoline and a flamethrower, laughing as the place burned to the ground.
Giselle took stock of her place by the door before her feet would move her further. The entrance had not changed. The desk across the lobby hadn’t changed. Even the lights hadn’t changed. Was that one on the west hallway blinking the last time she was here, or was it her imagination playing tricks on her?
Fuck you, Schnieder. Fuck you.
Giselle forced herself to the desk, and waited patiently for the middle-aged nurse to get off of the phone with some worried someone-or-other. The one sided conversation was a lot of ‘don’t worry’ and ‘they will be fine’ and ‘it takes some time to adjust to their surroundings.’
Giselle had the urge to scream, ‘GET THEM OUT’ but before the urge had any effect the nurse had said her goodbyes and was now addressing Giselle with patient yet unconcerned eyes.
“Can I help you, Miss?”
“I’m here to see Abigail Kushin.”
The nurse smiled wanly and addressed a compact screen turned away from Giselle. A moment of clicking and tapping and the nurse nodded that same smile still on her face.
Un-changing. Giselle clenched her fists.
“She’s in room 290, Second floor. You can take the elevator up.” The nurse pointed down the left hand corridor and then tapped a small touch screen embedded in the desk.
“You will have to sign in, however.”
Giselle eyed the woman with the venomous eyes of suspicion, but quickly turned them down to the blank screen. It said simply, ‘Guestbook’ on the top, and then it had a series of blank lines.
“Name, who you are visiting, and the time please.”
Giselle picked up the stylus and jotted quickly, ‘Amber Brown, Abby Kushin, 6pm.’
Giselle planted the seed of Amber Brown in her mind. The first two letters of the alphabet – back to basics. Don’t be too complicated. Play clueless and concerned friend. Don’t ask too many questions, don’t look any patients in the eyes, and do not talk to the doctors. If anyone asks, she was your Aunt.
Giselle turned from the desk and headed down the hall. As the exit drifted away, she allowed her fears to stay behind.
She was familiar with this place and familiarity had its advantages.
The elevator took forever to descend, and the ride back up took seemingly twice as long. When it finally opened up to the second floor, she almost threw herself out of the sterile space, but her self-control was impressive.
Giselle clicked down the hall. She didn’t need directions.
290 was an easy find, just past the man gently bonking his head against the wall across the hall.
Things must have toned down here in the past couple of years. Or they rearranged their room assignments. Giselle had half expected to see someone dressed in only a spiderman mask run screaming down the halls with some doctor’s tray of medical tools.
Giselle giggled at the memory.
“What are you doing here?”
Giselle looked up from her feet to realize she had walked right into 290 without knocking or speaking.
Abigail Kushin was curled up tight in her bed, blankets under her baggy chin, eyes wide with terror. She had one trembling arm extended and pointing at Giselle in an accusatory manner.
“What are you doing here?”
Giselle smiled beguilingly and swept into a chair. She pulled it forward so it made the most awful squealing noise on the linoleum and then settled into it.
“Hello to you too, Abigail.”
“How have you been?”
“Get out of here –“
“Checked your apartment –“
“You filthy harlot, GO! I –“
“Taught me everything you know.” Giselle interrupted, leaning forward in the chair to slap the arm down.
Abigail rubbed her forearm where Giselle had slapped her and put on a pout.
Giselle grimaced. “You are getting old.”
Abigail’s face started to redden and she sputtered, “I don’t want you here! Get out!”
“Or what? You’ll call the nurses?” Giselle’s eyes cut through the blankets and layers of old-fat Ms. Kushin had accumulated, and she was happy to see it made Abigail shiver.
Abigail didn’t say anything else for a long minute, only staring derisively at Giselle in the hopes she would go away. Giselle, however, crossed her legs patiently, and began to curl the ends of her mahogany hair around one finger.
“What do you want?” Ms. Abigail Kushin hissed.
Giselle looked up at her plump, matronly face and smiled. “Why are you so cranky all of a sudden?”
“I’m going to hell.”
Giselle shrugged. “And?”
Abigail furrowed her brow, the age lines creasing canyons in her forehead. “I’m repenting. Get away from me.”
Giselle blinked, and then despite her better judgment, a giggle escaped her lips. “How could you possibly repent, Kushin? That’s ridiculous.”
“I must!” Abigail hissed, pulling her knees up under her chin even further, and pulling herself deeper into the blankets. “I must!”
Giselle narrowed her eyes at Abigail.
The greeting hadn’t been anything new. In fact, Giselle had never been welcome around her old Madame. However, a few words of conversation usually loosened her up, and at least made her tolerable.
This was different though – this was conviction speaking. Giselle was good at reading people, and Abigail had suddenly become very easy to read.
“What happened to you, old woman?” Giselle peered at Abigail’s face, and her eyes widened when her old madame actually flinched away.
“I saw death. I saw it. He was going to come for me when… when the law came… and … they saved me.”
Giselle clenched her jaw shut to try to keep herself from laughing. Her smart comments would have to wait – because Abigail was not yet finished.
“He showed me what I had done, what we do is wrong, he showed me. I … saw it in his arms. There was blood, and the lights went on and off and on and off and then I saw his wings! They were bright like God’s light and they fluttered like feathers in wind and they … they blinded me… and his eyes…. Oh God his eyes…” Abigail started to break down into gibbering.
Giselle sighed, and glanced around for any bottles of medication. She reached onto the nightstand and plucked up the lone bottle she saw there. Half full. 200 milligrams of Transiprene.
Giselle rolled her eyes and tossed the bottle into Abigail’s curled legs.
“You idiot, they have you on anti-psychotics. You’re bound to be a raving lunatic on Transiprene. Especially if you’re as level headed as I remember you.” Giselle stood up, hands clenched into fists again.
This was stupid. She was never going to get any information out of Madame Kushin like this. Best case scenario she paid off a nurse to stop the dose and she could come back tomorrow night to see if Abigail was any better by then….
“Giselle, he’s coming for you.”
Giselle turned slowly, a malicious smirk on her face. “Who, death?”
Abigail nodded, and the look in her eyes gave Giselle pause. They weren’t the glassy eyes of a drug-head. They were still bright and clever as Giselle remembered them to be.
“I saw him take the girl and as he left I swear he was going to kill me if it hadn’t been for those police.”
Giselle felt her heart stutter as a connection came to her. Madame Kushin had been in residence at the Pussy Cat Club. “Did he have brown hair? Was he wearing a black coat?”
Abigail’s face started to contort. At first it looked like a grimace. “At first… No… he was wearing blood. Mostly blood… but when he came down with her….” Giselle realized the grimace was in fact a smile.
“When he came down with her…”
“Who was she, Abigail? Who was he holding?”
“When he came down with her…. He was wearing a black robe and his wings burst from the back of it and –“
Giselle was at Abigail’s bed in a flash and had the old woman by the shoulders. Her snarl ripped across her beautiful face and she glared Abigail into silence as she shook her. “Stop talking crazy! He doesn’t have wings and he is no angel you stupid bitch! Tell me what I want to know!”
Abigail flailed only a second before she fixed Giselle with another solid stare. “I know what I saw. And when you see his wings there will be no police to help you, you ungrateful slut. He’s going to kill you.”
Giselle pushed Abigail down into her pillows and stood panting over her. She felt her arms trembling.
They sat there in that awkward tableau for almost a whole minute as they both calmed down. After a series of soothing breaths, Giselle broke the silence.
“Who was he carrying down the stairs?”
Abigail slowly pulled herself up onto her elbows and tapped her fingers on the bed linen. She stared at a spot on the blanket. “She was supposed to be one of Paul’s girls.”
Giselle rolled her eyes. “Single use only.”
Abigail nodded, furrowing her brow with the effort. “Black hair… tiny thing… picked her up just within sector 7 fringe traffic area, I think…”
“What was her name?” Giselle leaned closer, trying to control herself. Abigail Kushin was so close to telling her what she needed and she didn’t want to have another outburst – not here.
“It … Whitmore, I think. Yeah, her wallet said Whitmore. Something Whitmore. She had 30 Cred notes in it and a Library card.”
Giselle pulled away from Abigail when she started seeing her mentor’s eyes cloud over with …
“Fuck, Kushin, are you crying? Jesus.”
Giselle turned and started to leave.
“You don’t want her first name? We should remember these people, Giselle, the ones we hurt. They will judge us after we die.”
“I already know her first name.” Giselle muttered.
Abigail Kushin called it out anyway after Giselle, and the sound of it played a symphony in Giselle’s ears.
Giselle did not look back the whole way down to the curb. The first name trailed behind her like a pixie in a fairy tale. It was the name she knew it had been, whole and complete now.
I have you now, Lenora Whitmore.