|Chapter 22: Cleaning House
Sitting alone at the desk in her hospital office, Maxine Lattamer could not tear her eyes away from her desktop computer monitor. How could anyone, with Sam Jinks reporting on every news station in the country that the police had located the missing part of Estelle Gidarbs body.
"We cant show you pictures," said Jinks with his trademark, upper crust flair. "Believe me, you wouldnt want to see them."
He then proceeded to describe in graphic prose what the networks couldnt show in pictures while the telewindow camera zeroed in on the back of a yellow Chrysler Buccaneer with its deck lid raised. The low angle of the shot made it impossible to see inside. However, Jinks masterful use of the language together with the picture of the car from behind and the uniformed officers looking into the trunk, created a mental picture that was clear enough. What they found in the trunk was Estelle Gidarbs head.
Nurse Lattamer did what telewindow viewers throughout the world did; she gasped in horror. But unlike most viewers who were now absolutely certain of Hector Clays guilt, she was more certain than ever that the man she loved from afar had been set up. If the body part in question had been a finger or an ear discovered in a cleaver, intimate hiding place, her confidence in Hectors innocence might have been shaken. Thats not what happened.
The grisly discovery was too much like a made-for-telewindows event for Maxines taste, particularly with Sam Jinks and his favorite criminal profile expert, Dr. Sandra Hollingsworth, presiding over the coverage. When Maxine got over the shock of it, she had all she could do to keep from exploding in rage. Had the special event news team of Jinks and Hollingsworth done no more than report what happened and explain what they thought it meant, that would have been one thing. Their snickering dismissal of all other interpretations of the apparent facts, with words like, "illogical," "far-fetched," "irrelevant" and "silly," was something else. It was an insult to everyone with an alternative view. It was a declaration of intent to discourage an honest investigation of the police and to silence the coherent representation of any view other than their own.
Maxine bit her lip and switched the channel to the Fleetwood Memorial Hospitals own network where she should have gone in the first place. While Paula was off trying to gather information on Euel Gidarb from her friends on the night crew, Maxine was supposed to be learning what she could through the hospitals computer network. To be honest with herself, the head nurse had to admit that neither task was likely to yield a meaningful result. Nevertheless...Hey, whats this!
Name: Gidarb, Euel T.
Date of birth: 16, January, 1995
sex at birth: male
Race at birth: CAUCASIAN
mothers race at birth: CAUCASIAN
Fathers race at birth: CAUCASIAN
There was more, a whole page.
All Maxine Lattamer had done was turn on her computer and enter his name. There it was on her monitor, Euel Gidarbs complete medical history. Somebody screwed up, she thought. She could conceive of no other explanation for her easy access to the confidential record. Better work fast. Gotta get what I can before they find out Im not even supposed to be here.
Before they find out? No, before he finds out. Gieldgood had to be involved in whatever Jack Fleetwood was involved in. That made the imperious chief surgeon every bit as dangerous as the attorney general, if not more so.
Nurse Lattamers office door was jerked open, giving the woman at her desk an awful turn until she saw Paulas face in the crack. "Goodness," said Maxine with a hand to her chest. Why"
Paula waved her out into the hall. "Come here," insisted the blond, You gotta talk to Mays."
"But I wanna--"
Maxine got up and hurried to the door. Behind Paula, she saw Mays, the white-haired, bent-backed elderly black custodian in his hospital whites. He was the kind of guy whose every gesture proclaimed his permanent standing at the very bottom of the occupational ladder. Shed known him for 7 years, ever since she came to work at the hospital. In all that time, theyd never had a real conversation. What could be so important now that it couldnt wait?
"Goodness," she said, expecting to be led away in a hurry. "Where are we going?"
Paula give her head a little backward toss in the old mans direction, accompanied by the universal raised shoulder, palms in the air sign for, "Beats me."
Mays spoke up in a loud whisper. "I hope it all right we go in yo office?"
Maxines eyes nearly crossed with the off-the-wall request. She turned her incredulous head to Paula.
Paula shrugged. "He didnt want to go in there alone and he didnt want to go in there with me unless he was sure you were inside."
"Dont wanna be in no room with no white woman by myself and I dont won it ta look dat way on onea dem time thangs."
Maxine groaned to herself fearing that she was in for a long session of senseless babbling from an ignorant old man. His answer did explain a few things, at least. It explained why he was never around when she needed him unless someone else was present. And it explained the discrepancy between his apparent laziness in her presence and the work that he always seemed to get done.
"Come in," she said.
Paula and Mays came in. Mays closed the door. He turned slowly, moving his head from wall to wall and shifting his eyes from floor to ceiling.
"Aint used ta seein you heah dis time a night."
Maxine pouted. "I thought you wanted me for something that couldnt wait."
"He does," said Paula. "I wish the hell hed spit it out."
Mays stopped moving around and faced the head nurse, looking her square in the mouth. "Dr. Gieldgood busy wit dat man dat got hisself...Dat man, dat married dat doctor dat got cut up an day tryin ta put it on Hector Clay. You know, dat man..."
"Euel Gidarb," said Maxine, impatiently. The janitor was affecting the look of a secret agent under deep cover. He looked exactly like a janitor affecting the look of a secret agent under deep cover. He looked ridiculous.
"He takin care a everythang he can hisself cause he dont wont nobody ta know what he really doin. I know, cause I seen it befo. I seen it when day bought Ms. Fleetwood in here. I heardem talkin, too."
"Heard who talking?"
Paula answered for the maintenance man whose eyes flashed with the excitement of a player in a high-stakes poker game. "He heard Gieldgood and Fleetwood talking about murder."
Maxine flapped her arms in frustration. "Goodness! Everybody is talking about murder!"
"Day aint talkin bout Jack Fleetwood tryin ta murder his wife." The old man lifted his eyebrows twice. "Day aint talkin bout Dr. Gieldgood keepin her in a coma whit dat milk yall be puttin in her IV every day."
The head nurse opened her mouth to tell the black buffoon that the hospital was not feeding Kimberly Fleetwood milk intravenously. Then she realized that he was speaking descriptively rather than literally, and that she would have sounded like a fool if she hadnt caught herself. After that, she thought about what hed said. Only then did she really hear what hed said. "What ...What makes you think weve been giving Mrs. Fleetwood a drug to keep her under?"
Mays smiled the subtle, yet not so subtle smile of a jailer ready to turn over the keys to the jail for the right price. He patted his shirt pocket. "I got da goods."
Maxine looked to Paula for help. She got the universal "beats me" look again. Maxine looked back to Mays. "What goods?"
"I been watchin how day use dat stuff fo a long time. I dont know why yawl aint neva noticed how some folks be gittin betta an some dont when day use da milkan it got nothin ta do whit individual physiology."
The eyes of the two nurses met long enough to transmit the same thought. Individual physiology? Does he know what that means?"
Mays grinned. "yall dont think I know what dat mean. Jus cause I dont talk good dont mean I dont thankthink good. Now, if you look at da po folks day be givin it to you see all kinds a variations..."
Mays stopped grinning. The surprised expressions on the two white faces every time he used a word of more than two syllables was beginning to annoy him. He could talk more like white people if he tried. Dont say yall. Pronounce da "r," "er" an "ing" endins. Say "that" instead a "dat," "they" instead a "day." Mays figured that about covered it. Yes, he thought, I can do all a dat. Maybe I should.
Even though it was unnatural to him, even though it sounded effeminate, slowed down his thinking and made it harder to say what he wanted to, he saw no alternative. It seemed to be the only way to communicate without being looked upon alternately as a witless human being and a clever monkey.
He was too excited. He had to settle down.
"I take care a two flows. Dis one an Dr. Gieldgoods." He pointed to the ceiling. "Das...Thas...He got his own lab. Been done had it. Damn! he thought, I shouldnt a said dat...that. He do experimentations all the time."
His last sentence sounded good to him. Experimentations was a white word. He was sure that it impressed the two white women.
"I know what he been doin cause I been payin attention ta what happen ta different patients. When he wanna test somethin new, he do it whit po people. Das...Thas why he keep them people around. Day aint got no insurance. This used ta be a veterans hospital, you know. Firs time I seen the white stuff yall givin Mrs. Fleetwood was durin da wo."
Maxine wrinkled her nose. "During the what?"
"The wo," repeated Mays.
"The war," said Paula.
Maxine threw up her hands. With the man she loved arrested for murder, her tolerance for anything that would pull her away from the slightest chance of helping him could not have been lower.
"I dont have time for this," she said. She turned her back on the man, tromped to her desk and sat down in front of her keyboard and monitor.
Mays watched her in wounded disbelief as Paula made things worse with an apology to her friend.
"Im sorry," said Paula softly. "He said it couldnt wait."
"This cant wait," snapped Maxine nodding toward the desktop telewindow. "I dont know how long this information is going to be available, and it could be very, very important."
The lean, black janitor ambled over to the head nurses desk and stood behind her.
"If you thank dats so important, why dont you jus run off a copy?"
Seeing that Maxine had no intention of answer the man, Paula drifted over to them and explained, "We have three printers on this floor and none ofem work."
"Day would if day was turned on," said Mays.
Maxine poured all of her attention-focusing skills into the service of studying the medical record in the window. Whatever the old man was babbling about, she wasnt interested. "Mr. Mays, dont you have work to do?"
Paula tried to lead him away. "Maybe you should leave now," she said.
Mays stiffened his back. "I aint goin nowhere till yall see what I got on my disk." He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a black diskette. "Dis is what yall wanna see; not dat phony stuff Gieldgood put in dare fo everybody ta see."
Paula took her first look at the medical chart in the telewindow. Apart from the name of the patient and the medical emergency that required his hospitalization, she could have sworn that shed seen the chart before. Since Euel Gidarb had never before been a patient at Fleetwood Memorial, she wondered how that could be true. Then she had it.
"Maxine," she said, with a worried expression on her face, "Mays is right. This isnt Euel Gidarbs chart. Its a dummy."
"Not likely," said the rotund head nurse. "For one thing, the prescriptions wouldnt match the pharmacy records. For another, the dates would be too easy to check against other records. There are too many prescriptions and too many dates."
"I know," said Paula. "We had a patient with a chart that looked like this. I remember because he was the first man I ever saw whod been Gidarbed. Betty Rogers was supposed to have filled out his chart but she had to go to court on a parking ticket and she asked me to cover for her. The mans name was..."
"Carlton," said Maxine and Mays at the same time, with the name exploding from Maxines lips.
"Fred Carlton," she said, "the mute who tried to hang himself! The one you werent supposed to tell me about...But how does that help anybody fake a medical history as old as this one? As soon as you trace down a prescription number, Carltons name would come up, not Gidarbs."
"Yeah," said Mays, an soon as it do a watchdog program dat know what ta look fo turn it right back to what it were, so all you eva see is da name you started whit."
The truth of what he was saying hit home to Maxine. She had yet to be convinced that he truly understood all that he was saying.
"Goodness," she said. "As far as Gieldgood knows, the only person who could identify this chart as a fake is dead."
Paula nodded. She asked Mays, "Did you see Dr. Gieldgood enter this in the hospital database?"
"Yup. He dont neva pay me no mine."
The head nurse swiveled around in her chair to take another measure of the old, white-haired black man. Perhaps he did have something of value to share. She held out her hand for the diskette.
Mays shook his head. "Let me do it."
Reluctantly, Maxine got up and permitted the man to take her place at the keyboard.
He inserted the diskette into the computers auxiliary drive. From that point on, everything he did gave him the appearance of a man whose body had been possessed by the spirit of another. In a rapid succession of two-finger key strokes, he closed out the fake medical chart and brought up a screen full of 0s and 1s. The only thing resembling English was the heading with words, symbols and syntax that the nurses couldnt read. Mays, however, brought up a heading that seemed to make sense to him He changed several of the 0s to 1s and 1s to 0s. Then, he entered the name, "Gieldgood," and the password, "Circle."
Now in the window was a graphic display of the hospitals communication net with the four floors of the hospital sitting wall to wall in a four block square. The hardware icons were back-lit and color coded; blue for computers, white for printers. The unlit third floor printers were gray. Two strokes later the light behind them went on.
"See," said Mays, " Aint nothin wrong wit yalls printers cept what. Gieldgood did toem." Mays turned them off again.
"Ill be dipped in shit," said Paula, as dazzled by the old mans hidden talent as she was by what he had to show.
Maxine, unwilling to confront her negative preconceptions of the janitors intelligence said the only thing she could think of that wouldnt conflict with it. "Where is the basement?"
The petty foolishness of the question blew back in her face giving it a bright pink glow.
"Aint nuttin in da basement," said Mays. "Dis is da layout fo everythang tied into da net. I can open or block any communication channel to any piece a hardware in da hospital." Working counterclockwise on the graphic display, from the ground floor up, he illustrated the point. "Dis is what Gieldgood did whit dat mans medical chart."
Mays demonstrated how medical charts, lab reports, personnel files and other confidential information could be locked into a machine, locked out of others, or moved from place to place. "Ahmo show yall somethin now dat you might not understand..."
The hairs on the back of Maxines neck stood up. Her nervous system rejected the very idea that a man who spoke like a Mississippi share cropper could question her ability to comprehend anything that he could do.
"What makes you think youre so much smarter than us?" She wanted to say it in a way that reminded him of her job compared to his but she couldnt think of how to do it quickly enough. That upset her even more.
Mays kept his eyes on the monitor. "I aint said nuttin like dat. What I was fissnfixinfixing ta do was show...Lemme jus showya." As he typed, a formula appeared in the window: HNO3 + 2H202H >... That much of it Maxine did understand. It was enough to tell her that the inarticulate old mop jockey in her chair probably knew what he was doing.
Paula asked the obvious question. "Is that what weve been giving Kimberly."
Mays nodded, finishing off the formula with a few key strokes. "Das it."
"Do you have the antidote?"
"Dont need one," Mays said to the blond. "All you gotta do is quit feeding her da milk an shell come to herself."
The two nurses looked at each other, knowing they held a bomb of a secret in their hands. Their hearts pounded furiously, not for what it meant to the woman in the coma who they knew only through her friends, but for themselves. This was national Spotlight News material. There was going to be a big explosion under the American Partys king-to-be and the would-be king-maker who ran Fleetwood Memorial Hospital. She and Paula were going to be the ones to detonate it. The trick was going to lie in not being around when it went off.
"You gotta tell the nurse who attendin Ms. Fleetwood not ta give her da milk. You gotta do it now, while Gieldgood busy wit dat man."
Despite all the excitement, Maxine couldnt get over the fact that the amazing Mr. Mays appeared to be incapable of saying the name Gidarb. Why that extraneous thought would stowaway in her fuzzy preliminary plans for reviving Kimberly Fleetwood, she couldnt answer.
She checked the time display in the corner of the window. One thing was sure; Mays was right about acting quickly. If Gieldgood hadnt been busy with Euel Gidarb, he would have been checking to see to it that Kimberly Fleetwood got her "medication."
"Ill call Windy," said Maxine, punching up the night nurse's number on her wristband.
Paula stopped her with one hand before she could complete the call and held Mays in his seat with the other. "Youre not going to tell her the whole story, are you?"
"No. Not enough time. Ill just say, doctors orders. She wont give me an argument about that."
"But what are you going to say if he asks her about it?"
"By then, itll be too late."
Paula sighed, thinking, Yeah. By then, the shit will have already hit the fan. I hope I dont get any on me."
As dangerous as the nurses thought the situation might be for them, neither of them thought for a moment that they were risking their lives. Unlike Mays, neither of them believed that Dr. Gieldgood had anything to do with the death of their friend, Betty Rogers.
Mays eyed the women closely as Maxine completed the call to the night head nurse to hold off on Kimberlys medication. He wondered if he should tell them about Gieldgoods Mnemonoline 726, the monster maker, and the boy in the city bordering Detroit that he hooked on it. On one hand, he didnt know enough to say for sure that the boy had grown into the man known as the Brown Belt Strangler. On the other hand, he could not overlook the possibility, not with the same style of killings in other cities linked to the same kind of people taking the same drug.
Then he pictured how the two white nurses would look at him when he tried to pronounce the name of the drug. His decision was made. He said nothing
Maxine Lattamer leaned toward the door. "I better go out there and make sure"
The old man shot to his feet.
"Wait a second," said Paula to her portly friend, feeling the mans radiating fear of being alone with her. "Dont you want to see Euel Gidarbs real medical history?"
Maxine clicked on the time display in her wristband telewindow to assure herself that the time in her desktop monitor was correct. "Yes," she said, if Mr. Mays can locate it fairly quickly."
The old man shook his head. "Aint no record. I checked."
Maxine and Paula looked askance, "You mean you cant find one," said Maxine.
"Nope. I mean they aint no record a da guy."
Maxine returned to the monitor. "There has to be. How about his school records?"
"Aint not school records."
"Military, record?" suggested Paula.
"Aint no military record."
Paula moved from behind the man to the side of the desk so she could see his face. "What are you holding back."
"I aint holdin nothin back. I...I...I aint show what I got."
Aint show? thought Maxine. What the heck does that mean?
Paula helped her out. "You arent sure of what?"
"Well," said Mays. "I seen da man in da telewindow. I seen how he ack, how he laugh and how he ack like what his wife did to em wasnt nothin. I jus didnt believe he had no operation. Den I seen what he look like whiddout no clothes." He shuddered. "Maybe day faked dat, too. But as far a I can tell, da only public records he got is as phony as da one Gieldgood made up. Only day was easy ta spot cause day wasnt good phonies, ya know what I mean?"
Paula stared at the old man. Public record, she thought.
"You said you werent sure what you had. But you did have something. Did you get it from Dr. Gidarbs files?"
Mays hesitated. Hed already said enough to get him put away for the rest of his life. There was little point in withholding the rest of it.
"Yes," he said, "I seen her files."
"What was in it about Euel Gidarb?"
Perspiration was beginning to form on the tip of the old mans nose.
Paula took note. Mays couldnt even say the name Gidarb. It must have taken every ounce of his courage to go that far. Paula guessed that he may have had a psychological block against going farther.
"You never took a good look at Euel Gidarbs file, did you."
Mays parted his lips to speak then closed them and shook his head.
Maxine frowned. "Then how did you know the one I had in the window was fake?"
Paula answered for him. "The same way I did," she said. "You knew Fred Carlton pretty well, didnt you?"
Mays lowered his head and his voice. "Yeah. We grew up together. I was da one dat gotem in here when da Klan got through whit em."
"The Klan?" said Maxine with a hand to her chest. "I thought you said..."
"I leff him whit a note dat said he was a mutewhich he was afta da Klan choked emyou know, da way day tie da knot in da rope." Mays made a knot-tying gesture at his Adams Apple. "Couldnt let nobody know it was me dat snuck em in. I had ta getem admitted an das how I did it. Aint no other way day woulda accepted no black man, unless he was a athlete, or some'n like dat. Whit Jack Fleetwood joinin STOPIT an all dat, I figured nobody would wanna make a stink aboutyou knowwhat day did toemda otha thang day did to emif day thought it was a doctor dat messedem up an he tried ta kill hisself because of it."
"Wait a minute," said Maxine. "Are you saying that Gieldgood didnt fake that Euel Gidarb recordthat you did?
Once again, Paula answered for him. "No," she said. "Mays faked his buddys medical chart and Gieldgood used that to fake Euel Gidarbs." She looked at Mays for conformation.
He shrugged his shoulders in a way that said she was right but that he didnt want the credit for what hed done.
Without thinking it through, Paula asked, "Why did the Klan hurt your friend? What did he do?"
Mays counted slowly to ten. What did he do? The question was a spark which could have ignited a firestorm of anger if he hadnt anticipated it. In his experience, white folks could usually be counted on to assume that a black, male victim of Klan violence must have done something he shouldnt have to have brought about the attack.
"He let his daughter-in-law answer the phone."
Maxine got the picture faster than Paula did, seeing herself in place of Fred Carltons daughter-in-law in a telephone-window and Hector Clay in place of Carltons son. The color drained from her face. The floor began to wobble.
When Paula got the picture, Kimberly Fleetwood stood in for the daughter-in-law. Blue Monday stood in for the son.
"Oh," she said.
Mays lowered his eyes to the floor and spoke softly. "Day say he kilt hisself. Maybe he did. Maybe I shoulda let him die where I found em."
"Im sorry about your friend," said Paula as gently as she could, "but we gotta get movin. Lets see that file on our new guest."
Mays typed in a few letters and stood to finish. The moment the window opened on Euel Gidarbs medical record, the old man turned his head and moved toward the door."
"...What the hell!" exclaimed Maxine. Paula did a double take.
Paula sucked in her breath. "I dont believe it!"
Mays heard more than he wanted to hear as visions of Estelle Gidarbs surgical procedure pushed his blood pressure to a dangerous high. He turned the doorknob to make his escape.
Paula called to him. "Dont go," she said. "Look!" She pointed her face at the T-window. "Come on, you gotta see this!"
"I aint gotta see nothin."
Maxine, her eyes running rapidly up and down the document in the window, said. "Its not what you think it is. Believe me, its all right to look. This is something you want to see. I guarantee it."
Paula nodded her enthusiastic agreement.
The momentum of the old mans apprehensions kept him away from the monitor for a few tense heartbeats. But the pull of the nurses entreaties and the strange looks on their faces finally drew him back.
Looking over Maxines shoulder with eyelids separated barely enough to let in the light of the room, he saw only a blur. He widened his eye-slits enough to make out a fuzzy hint of a document with two pages lying side-by-side. He saw a photograph on each page. Below the photo on the left was a longer name than the one below the picture on the right.
This was new to him.
Lifting his timid eyelids a fraction more, Mays could see that this was no ordinary medical chart. Apart from the name of a privately run prison on the top of the page, the photos were of two different people, which meant that there should have been two different charts. But it was clearly the same one. On the left was a full length picture of a nude, dull-eyed, buxom woman in her early 30's with strawberry blond hair. The one on the right was that of a naked man. The man and the woman stood with their arms to their sides and their legs slightly apart.
Then Mays recognized the picture of the man as the one he saw the first time he pulled up the file. The difference was he had seen only the page with the man. For an instant, Mays felt betrayed and angered. Then he noticed the similarities between the familiar-looking woman and the man who had obviously been deprived of his
Mays was brought up short by a strong family resemblance between the man he could see was Euel Gidarb, and the woman who also looked familiar.
Then he noticed the womans odd name, the kind of name parents might give the twin sister of a boy named Euel. Twins, thought Mays. Same hair. Same eyes. Same facial features. Same deformity of the left wrist.
Maxine leaned far to her left and looked back over her shoulder at the old man while Paula watched him closely from the side, seeing his every observation in his rapidly changing expressions. They could see when he noticed the wrist, the badly broken wrist that hadnt been set correctly. They could see when he noticed the first thing they had noticed, the identical appendix scar near the identical patch of brown hair that adorned identical female sex organs.
Mays still didnt know what he was looking at.
Paula clapped her hands. "Dont you get it? These are before and after pictures of the same woman. Euel is Euelalia!"
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison