Author: Brian Lawrence PM
An inmate is missing from the St. Louis Forensic Psychiatric facility and psychiatrists are being murdered. Detective Michael Ray must find the inmate and stop the murders.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Mystery/Suspense - Words: 4,047 - Published: 01-17-12 - Status: Complete - id: 2989439
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
By Brian Lawrence
William Frasure leaned against the lobby wall of the former St. Louis County Insane Asylum while a nurse from Ward H took roll call before transporting the patients to their new building.
"Here," muttered one of the twenty-three patients.
Off to the side, two security personnel talked together. Three staff members huddled by the door, deep in conversation.
Eyes on her clipboard, the nurse shouted the next name. "Fredericks."
"Here." A fiftyish man raised his arm high. No one noticed.
Frasure stepped away from the wall.
Toward the back of the group, a man softly said, "Here."
Louder, the nurse repeated, "Joseph Hartz."
Frasure's chest tightened.
"Here," the same man answered.
The nurse moved onto the next name.
When the nurse reached the m's, Frasure moved toward the man who had answered to Hartz and whispered, "Jerry, you're not in this ward. Come along, now." He led Jerry back to Ward G.
When Frasure returned to the lobby, the patients were marching single-file down the outside steps. Two staff members led, two trailed, and the two security personnel flanked the line. In the parking lot, pandemonium broke loose.
A wiry man shoved a much larger black man. The black man swung at the smaller man, but missed. The pair locked arms, fell to the blacktop, and rolled around. Hooting and hollering, the patients broke rank and surrounded the fighters.
By the time Frasure reached them, the security guards had pried apart the two patients. The staff herded everyone inside the new building where roll call was repeated.
The head nurse quickly called out names until she reached the H's.
"Joseph Hartz!" Still no answer. She glanced up from her clipboard and shouted, "Joseph Hartz! Where's Joseph Hartz?" She pointed to one of the security guards. "Go look in the parking lot. See if he's still there."
"Charles, are you awake?" asked Alice McClain. Dr. Charles McClain rolled onto his back and grunted. He was now.
"Did you hear that noise?"
A gust of wind shook the ancient oak outside their second story bedroom window. An extended creak sounded above them.
"There. Did you hear it?" Alice asked.
"It was the wind, Alice. This house is old." And so are you, he thought. "It creaks when it's windy."
"This house is all brick. Since when has it creaked in the wind?"
Charles couldn't remember.
"Besides, the wind only started a little while ago."
Charles was too tired to care when the wind had started. His day at the Psych Rehab Center had begun at 3:45 AM when the night-nurse had called him instead of the on-call psychiatrist. He'd made the trek to the center just to give an order for an injection of Thorazine.
As he drifted back to sleep, Alice put her dry lips on his ear. "I think there's something in the attic."
Charles opened his eyes. The digital clock read 2:20. He sighed.
"It's the wind."
"I've been hearing that noise ever since I returned from work this afternoon. And it was as calm as death all day."
A scuffling noise followed by another creak sounded above them, but from a different place than before.
"There it is again," Alice whispered urgently.
"Okay, okay." Charles pushed himself out of bed, plodded into the hallway, and flipped on the light. He was just tall enough to reach and lower the pull-down stairs to the attic. Below the opening he listened, but heard only the wind through the ventilator on the far side of the house. As he raised the stairs, he heard soft scraping, like something clawing at a board.
The noise stopped.
His heart pounded. He inched the stairs back down. They snapped together and he winced. He eased open the hallway closet, grimacing as the door scraped along the carpet.
"Well, what is it?" Alice called.
"Probably a squirrel," Charles replied.
He grabbed a flashlight from the closet and shined it through the opening. The beam revealed only insulation and two-by-fours. All he heard was the wind. Keeping the flashlight trained above him, he ascended the ladder until his head stuck over the ceiling.
He pictured an angry rodent biting his nose. Instead, something grabbed his thick gray hair and slammed his head against the frame. A bright object flashed in front of him. A sharp, stinging pain sliced across his throat.
Breathing became difficult. He tried to call out, but only gurgled. Warm wetness dribbled down his chest. He smelled blood. The grip on his hair released and he slid down the ladder, crumpling onto the hallway floor.
Far away, he heard Alice calling his name. He was unable to raise himself or speak. A dirty high-top sneaker planted itself on the carpet inches from his face.
Movement at the end of the hallway caught his attention. His wife stood in the doorway. His world started to gray and then Alice was completely blacked out by the man approaching her. The last thing he heard was a scream.
Outside the St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center, detective Michael Ray stared up the hill at the imposing building affectionately known as "The Asylum", the place where his father had died of coronary failure in 1991 - after a fifteen year stay in Ward H. High, wispy clouds rushed past the cast iron dome atop the five-story brick building. He tried to will away the demons that reared their crazy heads to remind him that he could easily go the path of his father and sister, who was a resident in the new facility behind him.
Michael hunched his broad shoulders against the cold November wind and trudged inside.
"May I help you, sir?" a large African American woman asked from behind a semi-circular desk.
A pang of guilt stabbed at Michael. He hadn't visited his sister in ages, and he wasn't here for that reason now. He glanced around the bright lobby, wondering if the smell of antiseptic and urine was only in his mind. He pulled a pack of Marlboros from his overcoat pocket.
"There's no smoking in here, sir."
"I know." He just wanted to hold them. He'd not lit one in three months, one week, and two days. "I'm looking for the head of the hospital." He showed the receptionist his badge.
"Dr. Classen, our Chief Executive Officer, is out. But our Superintendent of Clinical Services is here."
"Fine," Michael said, running his thumb over the cool cellophane wrap of the cigarette pack.
Michael paced. After he'd completed three laps, a man several inches shorter than his six-one and quite a few pounds lighter than his two-oh-four briskly approached him.
The man's voice was hurried and high-pitched. "I'm William Frasure. Janine mentioned you're with the police."
"Detective Michael Ray." He stuck out his hand. Frasure's grip was light, his palms clammy. "Is there somewhere we can talk?"
"My office." Frasure turned sharply. "Follow me."
Frasure led Michael up open stairs, through double-doors, then down a window-lined hall that looked out onto a courtyard where patients mingled and smoked cigarettes. Again, Michael fingered his pack. The last time he'd visited his sister, she'd been in the west wing of the old building. He wasn't sure where she was here, so he forced his gaze to Frasure's dark suit jacket, not wanting to catch a glimpse of her. He tried not to think of her, locked in a ward, listening to voices swirl through her medication-dulled mind, voices telling her to mutilate herself. He shivered and craved a cigarette.
"Here we are, Detective."
They entered a large office. One wall was glass, the others whitewashed and blanketed with certificates. Michael sat in a vinyl armchair, while Frasure took his place behind his neat desk.
"What can I do for you?"
Michael pulled a notebook from his coat pocket. "I understand a patient walked away from here last week during an altercation in the parking lot."
"One of our clients, yes. Joseph Hartz. Have you found him?"
Frasure nodded. "It's a more empowering term."
"I see. Is Mr. Hartz capable of violence?"
Frasure stared at Michael for several seconds. "I'm not sure I can answer that question."
"Because you don't know or won't tell me?"
"Client confidentiality. Did you find Mr. Hartz?"
"Can you tell me if Hartz was a patient of Dr. Charles McClain?"
Frasure scrunched his brows, then answered, "Not in some years. Did you find Hartz?"
"But Hartz was a patient of Dr. McClain's?"
Frasure sighed, opened his mouth, shut it again, then said, "I'm not sure how much I should tell you, Detective. What is this about? Have you found our patient?"
"Client." Michael smiled. Frasure scowled so Michael said, "Dr. McClain and his wife were murdered last night. Apparently, someone was living in their attic for several days."
Frasure whispered, "God, how awful." He rose. "Please wait here. I'll be right back."
Frasure left the office. Michael examined the certificates, trying to keep his mind off his sister. He failed. The time dragged, his mood deteriorated, the guilt piled up.
Elise had lived with him for two years. His wife had left him because of her, saying living with a cop was bad enough, but living with a cop and his crazy sister was unbearable.
Eventually, Elise became unmanageable. When he left her alone, she cut herself and she wouldn't eat. He struggled to get her to take her medicine. She preferred the voices over the side effects. He hired a private nurse, but that drained his bank account and Elise detested her. Finally, he'd had no choice but to institutionalize her. Calling in all his favors and using his department connections, he committed her. He'd had no choice. So why did it still hurt so bad?
Frasure breezed in, dropped a thick folder on his desk, and flipped through it.
"Hartz has been a client here since 1971. Are you familiar with the Air Force studies in the early 70's?"
Michael shook his head.
"The Air Force and the Missouri Institute of Psychiatry conducted LSD experiments. Joseph Hartz was a participant."
"He just walked in and agreed to be a Guinea pig?"
"No. Hartz was brought here for evaluation after beating his boss nearly to death. He worked as a produce manager and apparently didn't like the store manager. Dr. McClain, the examining psychiatrist, found him to be sociopathic, not mentally ill. But rather than face prison, Hartz volunteered for the LSD experiment."
Michael noted the emphasis on the word "volunteer."
"When Hartz was given his first dose," Frasure continued, "he snapped. Since then he's been paranoid, religiously preoccupied, and hallucinatory."
Similar symptoms to Elise's, Michael thought. "Paranoid schizophrenic?"
"Sounds too disorganized to have murdered Dr. McClain."
"Mr. Hartz has been showing marked improvement over the last couple years. He held a steady job in our canteen. When he wasn't working there, he worked in the ceramic shop."
"Who's Hartz's current psychiatrist?"
Frasure's phone rang. He picked it up, listened, then placed it back down.
"I'm sorry, duty calls. Can you find your way out? I'm going in the opposite direction."
Michael followed Frasure out, but when the door to the back stairs closed behind the clinical superintendent, Michael ducked back into the office.
For fifteen minutes, he scanned Hartz's file. He wrote four names in his notebook: Frasure, McClain, Dr. Classen the CEO, and Dr. Melvin Moore, Hartz's psychiatrist for over fifteen years. In the 1970's, the four men had been on the LSD research team. They had all made at least one research note on Joseph Hartz, who may not have volunteered. The release form in the file was signed only by a witness, senior research assistant William Frasure, not by Hartz himself.
The heat from the fireplace warmed Dr. Melvin Moore's thin body. His wife Angela snuggled next to him reading Woman's Day. Melvin laid aside his treatment plans and stared at the fire. Five days ago he'd lost a good friend. Hard to believe Charles had been murdered in his own home. Rumors were one of Melvin's patients, Joseph Hartz, might be responsible. That was even more unbelievable. Joseph was not capable of murder.
A loud pop from the fire startled him. A creaking noise above drew his attention from the fire. He scowled.
"Sure has been windy," Angela remarked.
"Windy. The house has been creaking all afternoon."
"What do you mean?" He didn't remember high winds that day.
"Just what I said, Melvin. It's been windy and the house has been creaking, especially the ceiling."
Melvin stood, his heart pounding, hands trembling. The attic. Isn't that what they'd said about Charles? Someone had been in his attic.
"Call the police," he said.
"Why? Melvin, what's wrong?"
"Just do it." He rushed down the basement stairs and retrieved his shotgun. With shaking hands, he pushed two shells into the old double-barrel. Half-way up the steps, he heard a shriek.
"My God. Angela."
He ran up the remaining steps and threw the basement door open. When he rounded the corner to the family room, he froze. His lovely wife lay in the middle of the floor, blood pooling under her throat, thin red bubbles frothing from her mouth, the light extinguished from her mahogany eyes.
He heard a footstep on the tiled kitchen floor.
Melvin whirled, finger on the shotgun's trigger. A man in a ski mask pushed the barrel of the gun into the air. Melvin fired. Plaster rained down from the ceiling.
The intruder jerked the shotgun from Melvin's grip and tossed it aside. He then removed his ski mask.
"You," Melvin said. "But I tried to help you."
The man smiled, grabbed Melvin by the hair, and striped the carving knife across the doctor's throat.
When the police arrived, they found empty cans of food in the Moore's attic.
Three days after the Moores' murder, Michael found unopened cans of baked beans and a nest of towels in the corner of the Dr. Classen's attic. He convinced the Classens not to return to their house until the police had apprehended a suspect.
Later that afternoon, he tried to reach Frasure, to both warn him and gauge his reaction to what he'd discovered at the Classens. But the superintendent, on half days because of a sick mother, was not in. Nor was he home.
The next morning, warrant in hand, Michael visited the Psych Rehab center. Without protest, Frasure relinquished Joseph Hartz's file, then stoically listened as Michael told him what he'd found in Classen's attic. He thanked Michael for the warning.
Michael descended the back stairs to the second floor. He wandered around until he found Dr. Melvin Moore's office. Twenty minutes later, escorted by security, he left the facility with Dr. Moore's file on William Frasure hidden within Hartz's file.
In the facility's parking lot, sitting inside his sun-warmed car, he perused the files. Frasure had been seeing Moore for anger management since being passed over for the CEO job, which had been given to Dr. Classen. Motive to go after Classen, but why kill Moore and McClain? Was Frasure in cahoots with Hartz?
The last place Hartz had been seen was in the old hospital. Michael returned to the new facility, talked one of the security guards out of his key ring, then trudged up the hill toward the old asylum, hoping the voices of the past would stay silent.
He searched Hartz's former room in the west wing, but found nothing. The room had been cleaned out. As he walked the empty first floor hallway, his wingtips echoed, imitating the moans of long-ago patients. Michael shivered and quickened his pace, mulling over Hartz's and Frasure's files, trying to piece together the puzzle while fighting away thoughts of Elise.
Hartz had liked to go up into the dome, the hospital's equivalent of an attic, and was often found hours later staring out the windows. Michael followed the same path, accompanied by the ghost of his father and the voice of his sister.
The fifth floor was deserted. He climbed a staircase until he encountered a locked metal door, which he unlocked with a key from the borrowed ring. He entered a circular room out of the 19th century. The concrete facing had been peeled off the walls to reveal the brick below. Decades of graffiti decorated the walls, mostly names followed by dates.
In each of the adjoining rooms, Michael found piles of scrap, overhead pipes, and more graffiti. He returned to the circular room and climbed a ladder that leaned against the stoop of an open doorway. The ladder led to another round room. Through dirty windows, all of St. Louis and the surrounding area was visible. But Michael's gaze was drawn to the hospital's new facility far below him. He wondered if Elise was in the courtyard enjoying the sunshine. He wondered if she could enjoy anything.
He forced himself away from the window, away from his guilty thoughts, and climbed a wooden spiral staircase in the center of the room. The upper room was dark and musty. The windows were boarded over.
He flicked on his flashlight and froze. A scuffling noise came from the room below. Goose pimples crawled up his arms. He held his breath and listened, but heard only his pounding heart. Must have been a rat. Satisfied he was alone, he aimed the flashlight beam on the wall and scanned the carved names and dates. He nearly dropped the flashlight when he illuminated the name "George Ray" and the date, "1986".
He hurried back down, his head roaring with the voices of patients past and present.
As he descended the stairs, he concentrated on the tidbits he'd gleaned from Frasure's and Hartz's files. Before he realized it, he was in the basement.
There were two closed metal doors, both locked, but he quickly found the key that opened the door to the right. He stepped into the dungeon of a medieval castle. Four by eight concrete cells lined a narrow passageway. The fronts were open, presumably missing their iron bar doors. On one side of each cell, two pairs of holes had been bored into the concrete. Michael followed the passageway, where a train rail ran down the middle.
A foul odor hung in the cold, heavy air. In each cell, he expected to see a pale, sunken-eyed, wild-haired person chained to the wall, moaning with madness. Instead, halfway down the passage, he found a dead body heaped in the corner of one of the cells.
He bent to examine the corpse.
A noise startled him. He turned and caught his breath.
"You should have told me you were coming over here, Detective." William Frasure picked his way toward Michael. "I would have gladly given you a tour. Are you looking for anything in particular?"
Michael straightened and stepped to the side to avoid hitting his head on the overhead water pipes. Frasure advanced, right hand behind his back, his head held high, eyes steady.
"I think I found what I was looking for." Michael retreated five paces.
"Oh?" Frasure stopped when he was even with the cell containing the body. "This place has such an interesting history, Detective. Do you know what the rails were used for?"
Frasure glanced sideways, then returned his gaze to Michael, a cold grin on his face.
"A rail car brought straw. There were no facilities back then. And it brought food. The poor crazies were chained to the wall. No medication. Farmers from the area took care of them, fed them, changed the straw. Quite different from the care your sister receives, don't you think?"
Michael winced at the sharp tone in Frasure's voice. "Joseph Hartz?" He nodded toward the body.
Frasure smiled. Michael shivered.
"How's your mother?" Michael asked.
Frasure smiled again. His file had indicated that his mother had died twelve years ago.
"I understand your anger toward Dr. Classen," Michael said. "And I think I understand Dr. Moore. Apparently his techniques weren't helping."
Frasure arched his brows.
"But why McClain?"
"You're the detective, figure it out." Frasure again advanced.
Michael remembered something in Frasure's file. "Why did your wife leave you?"
Frasure stiffened. His lips curled into a snarl. "None of your business."
Michael grinned, but he tensed, ready if necessary. "There was mention of an affair."
"Dr. McClain, wasn't it? That had to hurt. You're not a medical doctor, so no CEO job. Your wife thought you were a loser. Is that why she slept Dr. McClain?"
Frasure lunged, his hand coming out from behind his back clutching a long carving knife.
Michael sidestepped into one of the cells. The knife whooshed past, narrowly missing him. He kicked, connected with Frasure's side and sent him sprawling into the opposite cell. Michael pulled his gun as Frasure scrambled to his feet.
Both men breathed heavily. Michael trained the gun on Frasure's chest. Through ragged breath, he said, "Drop the knife."
Frasure fell back. The knife clattered on the concrete and Michael kicked it down the passageway.
"Don't you think it's a conflict of interest to have Frasure here?" Michael asked Dr. Classen.
The tall, balding physician chuckled. "Ironic, I'd say. But you're right. Barnes Hospital didn't want to hold him, so we agreed to until he can be transferred to Fulton State Hospital for evaluation."
The two men stood outside a locked room and watched through the door's square window. Frasure paced. His right arm was secured in a sling to keep from tearing the bandage on his shoulder. He muttered to himself, occasionally raised his good arm in the air, and shook his fist at unseen demons.
"Was he working with Hartz, then?" Classen asked.
"Nope. He killed Hartz in the basement, then staged the patient's disappearance."
"He'd been obsessed with the three of you for years. Opportunity presented itself. Hartz was a link to all of you."
"But the attics?"
"You all work, as do your wives. Your houses were empty at least part of the day. Frasure staged a story about his mother so he could go on half days and went into each house and set up the attics to look like someone was living there, someone like Joseph Hartz, who liked attics. When he wanted to kill, he'd get in the attic and stay until he was ready."
"What a sick, demented man."
"That's your area of expertise, Doctor. To me, he's a murderer."
The two men lapsed into silence and watched Frasure's antics.
Classen broke the silence. "Are you ready?"
Michael sucked in a deep breath. His stomach swirled, but at least with his decision, the voices in his subconscious had stopped.
"Ready as I'll ever be."
Classen led Michael deeper into the ward. They stopped outside an open door. On a twin bed sat a woman with stringy brown hair, sharp facial features, and sunken eyes. She stared at the wall, but when Michael cleared his throat she swiveled her head their way.
Her eyes brightened. She smiled.
Relief surged through Michael. Elise recognized him.
She stood. He moved forward.
"Michael," she whispered.
"I'm sorry I stayed away so long, Elise," Michael murmured. "It won't happen again. I'm going to help you get better so we can get you out of here."