Chapter 7 - 2018: Randy & Cassie
Four months later...
“Yo, Jimmy! Move over, pal.”
Randy sighed and scooted over on the couch. He ran his grubby hands through his wavy grey hair, then over his wrinkled face and almost laughed. Who needs to wait until you get old to know what it feels like when you can live in some geezer’s body?
“What’s got you smiling? Those new meds workin’ better?” Charles asked.
Randy’s smile dropped. “Don’t joke about that. The review board denied my move, okay? They think I’m crazier than ever. Doc upped my dose.”
He was calmer than was natural. Part of his mind knew he should be raving about Danielle’s death, demanding justice, but Randy Davis wasn’t a name anyone wanted to associate with these days. Randy wondered if he should become Jimmy. Maybe if he pretended enough, it would happen. Attacking the staff was getting him nowhere. His actions only reaffirmed their belief he needed to be in here. Often, the medication did its job. And when every day ended, Randy knew he was a husk, existing and nothing more. Why fight when I have nothing left to fight for? he asked himself several times a day.
Charles leaned in. “Look, I get it, buddy. If I could choose to be anybody but myself, why not some rich dude who has it all?”
Or a guy who lost it all. Randy put some distance between them. “It’s no joke. Doc tells me I’m here for killing my next-door neighbors because I was a lonely widower, and they’d been happily married for fifty years. He says I’m paranoid, that I’m in such deep denial that I don’t know how sick I am. And guess what? I get the bonus of keeping my thoughts organized, unlike most schizos. So, I’m kinda like a sociopath like you, buddy, and most of those lovely fellas in here.”
Charles laughed. “I’d say you’re in good company. I always love hearin’ you go on about how you ain’t sick. That’s some serious, serious denial, pal.”
Randy’s face hardened. “Well, I’m here to put it right, pal. I’m not crazy. I never killed anybody, but it doesn’t matter how many times I tell you or anyone that. No one believes me.” I don’t even know if I believe me anymore.
“Consider yourself lucky you ain’t servin’ time in the slammer. The judge took pity on a poor old bugger like you.”
Randy shook his head. Despite what he tried to tell himself, he couldn’t shut down the truth that hammered at the lies in his head. “I’d hardly call this arrangement living the good life. I had it all, Charles… A beautiful wife, a successful company I built from the ground up with my blood, sweat, and tears, a feeling of pride, the big house… Now I’m in the body of this washed-up loser who murdered his damn neighbors because of jealousy. Is that fair?”
“You know what I think?” Charles kept a straight face.
“What?” Randy’s heart leapt. Does he believe me? Maybe someone will finally believe me.
Charles erupted in a fit of laughter and smacked the couch. “You’ve really snapped, bro!”
Randy groaned and stood. “I don’t have time for this.”
“Hey, you’re gonna miss art therapy!” Charles called after him.
Yeah, therapy. Making something that resembles a pile of shit, a metaphor for my life.
As he walked through the community room, Randy gazed around, wishing not for the first time to find an instrument to end his life.
I need to stop saying I’m Randy Davis and embrace the new me. Trouble is, everyone who knew this Jimmy Williams guy won’t be so easily fooled. Maybe...maybe I really am crazy. Or perhaps I’m dead, and this is Hell.
Randy turned the corner to return to his room and came face to face with himself. That is, the man he used to be. He thought he’d walked into a mirror, but the pain and confusion in the other man’s eyes looked foreign on his once calm and collected face.
“Um, excuse me,” the younger man said.
“W-wait,” Randy said. “How are you here? Are you Jimmy Williams? Did you switch your mind with mine? Because let me tell you--”
Randy grabbed the younger man by the shoulders and shook him. “What did you do? Tell me what you did! Did you think you’d frame me and live out the rest of your days in my body?!” His eyes went large and bloodshot. His mouth twisted as he spat words.
Two orderlies arrived and pulled Randy away from the man.
“That’s right, Mr. Williams. Let’s settle down. Back to your room, if you please,” one of them said.
“Don’t give us reason to call code,” the other said, his voice placid.
“I’m not Jimmy! That man right there, that’s me! I’m Randy Davis, and he’s...he’s an imposter!”
His ravings echoed down the hall, stirring up the residents. Some shrieked. Others laughed.
Randy fought and flailed against the orderlies. A strength he didn’t know he possessed took over, and he escaped, running back down the hall toward his former body. He wished now more than ever that he had a shank, something to pierce the other man’s throat. His bare hands would have to do. He tackled the other man, wrapping his hands around his neck.
“You killed her! You killed my Danielle, you son-of-a-bitch! I’ll fucking kill you!”
Sirens came to life. Lights flashed around him, and before Randy could scream another word, he was pried off his old self. He lunged at the man again, only to be pinned by the heavy orderly--Darryl or Drew or something.
Grief conquered rage as tears spilled down his grizzled cheeks. The staff raised him up like they were crucifying him.
“N-no,” he moaned, shaking his head. “No. Dani… Danielle…”
They dragged him away. One of the orderlies helped his former self to his feet, the shocked expression on that face foreign to Randy. It didn’t belong to handsome Randy Davis.
Randy went limp as they loaded him onto the bed in the restraint room and cuffed his wrists and ankles. The prick of the needle, then the injection of the drugs to calm him. Just before he faded, the blurred image of Dr. Winslow leaned over him.
The portly doctor shook his head. “James, we hate to do this. You seemed to be doing so well…”
Randy clutched a ragged teddy bear in one hand and sucked the thumb on the other. The cool autumn breeze played with his downy hair, almost a mother’s tender touch. But as the five-year-old boy stood on the edge of the grave, gazing down at the unyielding wooden box, he realized he would never feel Mama’s caress again.
He hiccupped as a tear escaped. He sniffled, pulling his thumb from his mouth and wiping his nose, then dashing the tear away.
“Not gonna cry like some baby,” he whispered, willing himself to believe the words. If he sees me crying, he won’t like it.
A rough hand cuffed the back of his neck. “C’mon, boy. What’s done’s done. Time’s up, for your mom as much as for us just standin’ here like a coupla idiots.”
Randy kept his eyes on the casket. “Don’t wanna go.”
The hand grabbed his upper arm and pulled him away, bringing him face to face with his father’s menacing eyes. “Now, you’ll listen to me if you know what’s good for you. Your mama was weak, you hear? She took the easy way out. Now, man up and stop cryin’. We’re goin’ home.”
Randy sniffed and nodded as his father dragged him back to their beat-up, rusty ’77 Chevy station wagon. The boy hid under a ratty blanket in the back, hunkering low against the carpet, sucking his thumb on his blanket’s satin binding. The exhaust roar underneath lulled him to sleep. He was worn out since he came home from school to find his mama sitting at the tiny booth kitchen table of their trailer. Her head lay at an odd angle, a little red circle in the middle of her forehead.
At first, he thought she was playing a new game.
“Hey, Mama, what you got painted on your face?” He laughed, dropping his book bag and going to her.
When he reached her, he touched the funny spot on her forehead and pulled back, tears springing to his eyes. The red stuff on his grubby fingers was the same stuff that poured from his knees when he scraped them from falling off his bike.
Randy was awakened by the same rough hands he knew as well as his own. His father hoisted him over his shoulder and dumped him onto the sofa in the trailer. He watched his old man grab a beer out of the fridge. His dad took up his throne--his stained armchair positioned in front of the TV. His old man took a long pull on the beer, then belched. He dug in his shirt pocket for a cigarette and lit up. He clicked through the stations, muttering and shaking his head.
The boy watched him.
“What the hell you lookin’ at, Randy?” his father asked.
“Why’d she do it?”
“Do what?” His father puffed away on the cigarette with indifference.
“Wasn’t she happy?”
His father ignored him. Randy sighed. His dad kept his attention on the screen, the TV’s glow the only source of light in that dark trailer.
* * *
After night fell, Randy woke to hot wetness in the crook of his shoulder. His arms were wrapped around a weeping Danielle, her shoulders shaking.
“Finally, pregnant,” she whispered. “Randy, why did I lose the baby?”
He gently shushed her, kissed the top of her auburn head. His head swam with questions and no answers. He had no words. Maybe I’m being denied being a father because of my own lousy one. Would I be just like him? No, no... I’ve worked too hard, come too far to believe that, to let that happen. But why Danielle?
* * *
He felt his mama’s kisses on his bandaged elbows and knees, bruises not always from scrapping with the other kids in the trailer park or from innocent child’s play. She whispered soothing words in his ears to help him fall asleep when the waking nightmare of his drunk father kept him up, the snap of the belt and the vomit of his hateful words like the sirens in the mental hospital.
* * *
Mental hospital? Where did that--? His eyes snapped open to the stain on the ceiling in the restraint room.
“Oh, Dani… Oh, Mama…” His dry, cracked lips barely moved. He wished he’d stop moving altogether.
The orderly beside him shifted uncomfortably, checked the restraints, and put a few feet between them.
* * *
Cassie stood, dumbfounded.
“Are you okay?” asked the kind-faced nurse who helped her up.
Cassie read the nurse’s badge. “I...I’ll be okay...Doris.” She swallowed. After four months of being imprisoned, taken to trial for a crime she didn’t commit, and inhabiting a body that wasn’t hers, Cassie thought she was prepared for anything.
She was wrong.
The nurse nodded. “If you need anything, the nurses’ station is just that way.” She pointed in the opposite direction, then left.
Cassie shivered as if she’d just climbed out of Lake Erie in January. Some people were brave or crazy enough to swim in the frigid lake to raise money for local charities. Some kids from her school did a polar dip this past winter, but she hadn’t been among them. She hated swimming. After falling into her aunt’s pool when she was three years old, she stayed away from water. Now she was drowning, gasping for breath as she watched the old man escorted away.
She was the newest arrival at Hatford Medical. She hadn’t committed any crime. She was as much a victim as Danielle Davis.
Randall Davis had been deemed insane. His behavior over the past couple of years showed a man who slowly unraveled due to the pressures of keeping a multimillion-dollar company going. His lawyer spun a story of a man who needed an outlet for his stress. He didn’t drink or do drugs or gamble. Instead, he had numerous affairs, becoming a sex addict. But it wasn’t his fault, no. Why, just look at Randall Davis’s track record. He had always worked hard to overcome his circumstances. Raised in the slums, he had risen above his hellish upbringing of an abusive, alcoholic father and a mother who died too soon. He had graduated at the top of his class from Harvard. He had built a successful company from the ground up while in his twenties. He was a man of integrity and strong work ethic, loved his wife, was a friend to many, and a fair and generous employer. This was not a man who murdered his wife in cold blood. No, he had gone crazy.
Cassie swallowed, hating the Adam’s apple that bobbed up and down. She’d never get used to it. And other body parts. She shivered, hating the reminder every time she needed to take a piss. Four months in this body, yet she felt like a thief who snuck into a house and slept in the attic. She didn’t know anything about her body. Was Cassie Meadows alive? For all she knew from glimpses of TV screens, no talk of a missing teenager had surfaced.
She blinked back tears. The old man had to be straight-up nuts. He’d come at her like a starving lion attacking a gazelle. She continued to stand there, frozen, afraid, and very alone.
Yet what he said...about being Randy Davis… The raving man’s words came back to her, but she shook her head, too worn to process anything. Impossible. But...is it? I’m not in my own body, after all.
Shuddering, she gained the composure to walk to her room. She lay down on her side and pulled the blanket over her, despite the humidity. The old facility didn’t have air conditioning.
She drifted to sleep.
She was flying first-class back from Rome, one of her high-ranking employees next to her. She cradled the glass of scotch in her hands and gazed at the other guy.
“Well, congratulations, Fred,” she said, “on a job well done.”
Fred chuckled. “Should we toast to it?”
They clinked glasses and downed the alcohol. The warm liquid burned pleasantly on the way down.
“We’ll take another,” Cassie said to the flight attendant as she passed.
“My pleasure, Mr. Davis.”
The flight attendant returned in short order with two fresh glasses and handed them off.
“Thank you.” Cassie slipped a hundred-dollar bill into the flight attendant’s hand and patted it.
The woman smiled. “Thank you, sir. You’re most kind.” She left.
Cassie considered her glass of scotch, swirling it around.
“Something on your mind, Randy?” Fred asked. “It’s not like you to drink.”
Cassie chuckled. “Some things are worth drinking for.”
“All good things, I hope.”
She nodded, clearing her throat after she finished the drink and set it down. “Of course. You know, you did the right thing, made the right move. I promised you a promotion if this deal went through, and I meant that. When we land, it’s official. You’ll be Head of Foreign Tech.”
“Thanks. You don’t know what this means to me.”
“Well, you earned it. I just hope that those guys on the other side hold up their end of the deal.”
“I don’t know… I’ve been trying to make a deal with those Italians for years now. Something almost seemed too easy.” Cassie’s stomach knotted. Her head spun. She leaned back into the seat and closed her eyes. “I’m gonna get some rest. I can’t wait to see Danielle when we get home.”
When she woke, her stomach growled. Forgetting where she was, she sat up and panicked. Then she remembered.
I’m insane. I’m Randy Davis to the world, not Cassie Meadows. Another memory. Too real, the taste of the liquor and the worry too fresh.
Over the past few months, several memories surfaced. Some involved Randy’s childhood, which hadn’t been pretty. Cassie tried to forget those. She marveled even more at the man whose body she lived in. If ever there was the definition of a good man, he was it. Try as she might to bring to light any memories involving Randy’s supposed affairs and his bad deals that ruined his company--or Danielle’s murder--Cassie couldn’t do it. All the memories came when she slept, yet she still found it odd that nothing more recent surfaced.
The old man’s ravaged face appeared in her mind. Cassie considered the absurd. What if his claims were true? What if he was Randy Davis? Why did he think some guy named Jimmy Williams would occupy this body?
Because the old man’s body belongs to Jimmy Williams. That’s what the orderlies called him. Maybe Randy Davis’s mind really is inside the old guy’s body. If I’m inside Randy’s body, isn’t it possible the same is true for him? That’s what I thought earlier. So, what if it’s true? No...no...it can’t be. Can it? I really am cracking up. God, I wish I could just talk to my mom for a minute. If anyone would believe me, it’d be her.
Then Cassie laughed, that deep rumble that still startled her erupting out of her mouth. She had tried talking to her mom once. Look how well that went over. I really have gone nuts.
* * *
Cassie returned to the belief that the old man might be Randy Davis. Despite everyone calling her Randall, Mr. Davis, or the occasional Randy, she never accepted she was anyone other than Cassie. She kept her head down and didn’t correct anyone. It wouldn’t do to appear crazier than she already felt. Keeping a low profile included avoiding the old man at any turn. All that mattered now was survival.
If someone told her earlier that year what her life would become, she never would have believed it. And why would she? Yet she knew she had to resolve to keep her present reality. There wasn’t a passing day when a patient didn’t attack a nurse, doctor, or another patient. She was in a ward surrounded by male patients in the most secure part of the facility.
She was in a man’s body but was still a young woman. She would be lying if she said she wasn’t afraid, but fear was something she couldn’t--wouldn’t--let rule her life.
She reminded herself at every turn. Just survive.
On the last day of September, she entered the showers in the morning with a group of other patients. She averted her eyes, trying to avoid looking at the naked men around her. She took the disposable razor, washcloth, and bar of soap from one of the supervising orderlies and began washing. She was glad to shave daily. The beard had gone early on. The almost daily nicks from the razor were a reminder that Cassie would never get used to facial hair. As she glided the blade over the contours of Randy’s face, she hated the whiskers that sprouted like reproducing rabbits overnight.
She finished the task and lathered up her hair. The short hair was a reminder of how much she missed her long locks. Closing her eyes, she stepped under the spray.
At least I’m not bald.
She almost laughed, but then someone passed a hand over her lower back. She jerked away and snapped open her eyes. The man next to her winked and chuckled.
“Oh, my bad. Or did you like that?” he asked.
Cassie shook her head and took another step away. She returned to rinsing her hair, but the guy pursued her.
“Hey, I asked you a question.”
“Sorry, I don’t, that is…”
“You ain’t a fudge-packer?”
“That’ll be enough, Ronald!” one of the orderlies barked.
Ronald laughed. “Aw, where’s your sense of fun?” he said to the orderly, then leaned into Cassie. His breath even hotter than the water on her ear, he added, “Used to take ’em young and fresh, I did. Bet you’d like it up the ass if you’d bend over.”
Cassie’s heart raced. She dropped her things, nearly slipping on the wet floor.
“Bend over. Pick up your soap,” Ronald taunted.
Cassie headed for the exit. “I’m done. I’d like a towel, please.”
“You know the drill, Davis. Bring me your razor and other things first. Then you get your towel,” the orderly said.
Cassie gazed at him with pleading eyes. “Please, I don’t want to go back in there.”
“Drop something?” Ronald called, exiting the showers with two razors in hand.
“Give it here, Peterson,” the orderly next to Cassie said.
“You want this?” The grin dropped off Ronald’s face as he lunged at Cassie.
She darted out of the way, slipping on the floor. Ronald crashed into the orderly, the razor held above him as he pushed the man to the floor. Before the orderly could react, Ronald slashed at the man’s arm with the blade. Blood streamed down the orderly’s arm, which he clutched as he backed away. The other two orderlies grabbed Ronald. The sirens and flashing lights that followed no longer alarmed Cassie, as calling code was a daily routine.
In the showers, the other patients watched, some detached, some amused.
Cassie’s head throbbed as she sat up and tried to get her bearings. The razors didn’t seem like they could do much harm, but as she observed the blood tracking down the man’s arm, Danielle Davis lying in pinkish water in her bathtub, flashed through Cassie’s mind.
“Enough. Everyone out of the shower,” one of the orderlies said as the others hauled Ronald away.
A towel landed on Cassie’s lap. She snatched it and wrapped it around her as she stood. She hoped the tears on her face wouldn’t stand out from the water dripping from her hair. With a trembling hand, she braced herself on the wall and tried to come to grips with what happened.
This is what we resort to—--desperate acts. Do they really think attacking someone is gonna do them any favors?
No, she didn’t suppose it would. These patients were in here for a reason, reasons that made her shiver despite the towel around her. She kept her eyes on her feet as she dried and dressed.
Don’t give them an opportunity to scare you more.
She returned to her room and released a torrent of tears. After some time, she wiped at her eyes.
“That’s enough, damn it. Enough.”
She inhaled deeply and exhaled, then left her seclusion. She stepped into the community room, a place she had avoided until now. She wiped the sweat from the back of her neck, disgusted at the way the wetness clung to her collar.
Cassie hoped the redness in her eyes faded. She tried to reassure herself that the wobble in her step and the churning of her stomach were just her brain playing cruel tricks with her foreign body, a mind that didn’t belong to this body, an imbalance, a concoction of oil and water.
She approached the old man. He sat on one of the smaller sofas by himself, staring into the distance like he was catatonic. Cassie almost wished he was. With every step, she wondered how her legs held her up. When she was within ten feet of the old man, he turned.
He glared at her and turned his gaze back to the room.
Cassie tried to speak, but her tongue was a lead weight in her mouth. She stepped closer.
“If you’re gonna say something, you might as well say it.” The weary words spoke of a man who had given up.
Cassie shuddered at the truth of his tone. How many nights have I cried myself to sleep since this all happened? Just wanted it all to end? She took a seat on the other end of the couch. “I don’t want to cry anymore. I want to understand.”
The old man gaped. “Excuse me?”
Cassie sighed. “Look, I’m hoping I’m not crazy, saying this…” She lowered her voice and leaned in. “I’m hoping you’ll understand what I’m experiencing. I’m not Mr. Williams or whoever you think I am. I’m not Randy Davis, either, although I know I look like him.”
“Yeah, you’ve ruined his signature look. You shaved off his beard. What was wrong with the beard?”
Cassie couldn’t help the hollow laugh that escaped. “Seriously? That’s what you care about?”
“It was part of him. You took that from him, like you took his wife. You’re a murderer.”
“I’m not a murderer,” Cassie whispered, trying to keep her voice even. “Do you want everyone to hear?”
The old man chuckled. “Have you looked around? That’s who’s in here-- murderers, rapists, child molesters. A bunch of psychopaths. You should know. I don’t know how you did it, but you framed me for the murder of two old folks who loved each other because you were some bitter, jealous widower...and then...then...you-you--” His mouth quivered. He stopped forming words and pointed a bony, gnarled finger at Cassie. “You fucking murderer! You killed her! You killed my Dani!” He lunged at her and wrapped his hands around her neck.
Cassie tried to flee, but the pressure of his hands pinned her in place. She gasped for breath, tried to plead with him, gazed at him in the hopes he would see who she really was. She clutched at his hands, trying to pry them off, to catch her breath and get the hell away from him as fast as possible. Every nerve fired inside her, telling her to run. But this stupid body seized up.
How stupid could I be to think approaching him would be a good idea? That he’d be any different?
Cassie almost hoped Jimmy or Randy would just kill her. Then darkness.