They let me call Gran on my second day here. Of course, Linda had alread_alled her and briefed her on my supposed mental breakdown. I had no doub_hat she’d managed to fake hysterical anxiety well enough to convince Gra_hat I’d lost it completely; Gran was already four-fifths certain that I wa_uts.
“Hi, Gran,” I said.
“Arthur! My God, how are you?”
“I’m fine, Gran. It’s a big mistake is all.”
“A mistake? Your lady friend called me and told me what you’d done in London.
Arthur, you need help.”
“What did Linda say?”
“She said that you threatened to kill a coworker. She said you threatened t_ill her. That you had a knife. Oh, Arthur, I’m so worried—”
“It’s not true, Gran. She’s lying to you.”
“She told me you’d say that.”
“Of course she did. She and Fede—a guy I worked with in London—they’re tryin_o get rid of me. They had me locked up. I had a business deal with Fede, w_ere selling one of my ideas to a company in New Jersey. Linda talked him int_elling to some people she knows in LA instead, and they conspired to cut m_ut of the deal. When I caught them at it, they got me sent away. Let m_uess, she told you I was going to say this, too, right?”
“Arthur, I know—”
“You know that I’m a good guy. You raised me. I’m not nuts, OK? They jus_anted to get me out of the way while they did their deal. A week or two an_’ll be out again, but it will be too late. Do you believe that you know m_etter than some girl I met a month ago?”
“Of course I do, Arthur. But why would the hospital take you away if—”
“If I wasn’t crazy? I’m in here for observation—they want to find out if I’_razy. If they’re not sure, then you can’t be sure, right?”
“All right. Oh, I’ve been sick with worry.”
“I’m sorry, Gran. I need to get through this week and I’ll be free and clea_nd I’ll come back to Toronto.”
“I’m going to come down there to see you. Linda told me visitors weren’_llowed, is that true?”
“No, it’s not true.” I thought about Gran seeing me in the ward amidst th_ukers and the screamers and the droolers and the fondlers and flinched awa_rom the phone. “But if you’re going to come down, come for the hearing at th_nd of the week. There’s nothing you can do here now.”
“Even if I can’t help, I just want to come and see you. It was so nice whe_ou were here.”
“I know, I know. I’ll be coming back soon, don’t worry.”
If only Gran could see me now, on the infirmary examination table, in four- point restraint. Good thing she can’t.
A doctor looms over me. “How are you feeling, Art?”
“I’ve had better days,” I say, with what I hope is stark sanity and humor.
Aren’t crazy people incapable of humor? “I went for a walk and the door swun_hut behind me.”
“Well, they’ll do that,” the doctor says. “My name is Szandor,” he says, an_hakes my hand in its restraint.
“A pleasure to meet you,” I say. “You’re a doctor doctor, aren’t you?”
“An MD? Yup. There’re a couple of us around the place.”
“But you’re not a shrink of any description?”
“Nope. How’d you guess?”
“Bedside manner. You didn’t patronize me.”
Dr. Szandor tries to suppress a grin, then gives up. “We all do our bit,” h_ays. “How’d you get up on the roof without setting off your room alarm, anyway?”
“If I tell you how I did it, I won’t be able to repeat the trick,” I sa_okingly. He’s swabbing down my shins now with something that stings and cool_t the same time. From time to time, he takes tweezers in hand and pluck_oose some gravel or grit and plinks it into a steel tray on a rolling tabl_y his side. He’s so gentle, I hardly feel it.
“What, you never heard of doctor-patient confidentiality?”
“Is that thing still around?”
“Oh sure! We had a mandatory workshop on it yesterday afternoon. Those ar_lways a lot of fun.”
“So, you’re saying that you’ve got professional expertise in the keeping o_ecrets, huh? I suppose I could spill it for you, then.” And I do, explainin_y little hack for tricking the door into thinking that I’d left and returne_o the room.
“Huh—now that you explain it, it’s pretty obvious.”
“That’s my job—figuring out the obvious way of doing something.”
And we fall to talking about my job with V/DT, and the discussion branche_nto the theory and practice of UE, only slowing a little when he picks th_rud out of the scrape down my jaw and tugs through a couple of quic_titches. It occurs to me that he’s just keeping me distracted, using a highl_volved skill for placating psychopaths through small talk so that they don’_hrash while he’s knitting their bodies back together.
I decide that I don’t care. I get to natter on about a subject that I’m nearl_utistically fixated on, and I do it in a context where I know that I’m san_nd smart and charming and occasionally mind-blowing.
“… and the whole thing pays for itself through EZPass, where we collect th_ayments for the music downloaded while you’re on the road.” As I finish m_piel, I realize I’ve been keeping him distracted, standing there with th_weezers in one hand and a swab in the other.
“Wow!” he said. “So, when’s this all going to happen?”
“You’d use it, huh?”
“Hell, yeah! I’ve got a good twenty, thirty thousand on my car right now!
You’re saying I could plunder anyone else’s stereo at will, for free, and kee_t, while I’m stuck in traffic, and because I’m a—what’d you call it, a super- peer?—a super-peer, it’s all free and legal? Damn!”
“Well, it may be a while before you see it on the East Coast. It’ll probabl_oll out in LA first, then San Francisco, Seattle… ”
“It’s a long story,” I say. “And it ends with me on the roof of a goddamne_uthouse on Route 128 doing a one-man tribute to the Three Stooges.”