I’m working on something right now and have no time to come up with original material for the likes of you, so here’s a short story (<3000 words) that I wrote about five years ago, and never bothered to give a proper title–‘The Loony Bin‘ is just what it appears as in my file of sorry attempts at short stories so I’d know which story it was.
It’s the story I’ve just now edited so much in order that it should be fit for publication, that I might as well have written something original. Derp. XP
The atmosphere was tense as a silence on a battlefield as the seven of us sat in our straightjackets, waiting for Dr Reynolds to begin the session.
For the most part we had never liked each other, and I doubted this reluctant gathering would do much to change that, but Dr Reynolds had another goal in mind for this endeavour. He was silent for a long time before he began, rocking back and forth ever so slightly as he sat facing the back of his chair, and us. When the phone rang, he let it ring, and when one of his assistants made a motion as though to pick it up, he stopped her. His gaze scraped over us with bitter anticipation.
We were a rather sorry bunch. Daisy had enough anxiety issues for ten people. Mark was depressed often to the point of lifelessness. Leland’s lack of empathy bordered on sociopathic behaviour. Jenna was a barely functioning alcoholic. Marianne was almost incapable of controlling her rage. Edward had delusions of grandeur and seemed to think we were living in the nineteenth century.
As for me, well, I was hardly going to deliver an accurate analysis of myself.
But what made me really sorry about all this was that Dr Reynolds’ doctorate was in Art History, because it made me more than a little nervous about the gun he was tapping against the side of his chair after having used it to take us all hostage.
To my knowledge, he didn’t actually know how to use the thing. But then, he wasn’t one of my patients.
“Adrian Reynolds,” said the answering machine, once the phone stopped ringing. “This is Detective Inspector de Worde of the London Met. Listen to me, sir, we really don’t want anyone to get hurt—so if you could pick up the phone and tell us what you want we might be able to resolve this peacefully.”
With a heaving sigh and an enormous eye-roll, Reynolds leaned over and stabbed down at a button on the landline. “There can be no peace when the dead lie uneasy in their graves,” he said, loud and exasperated. It sounded like a quote, but I didn’t recognise it. “No one’s going anywhere until I find out which one of them killed Dr Andrews!”
Amateur sleuthing. Never as glamorous in real life as it was in the movies, I supposed; but then, what was? After a long silence on the other end of the line, the detective asked, “What makes you think it was one of those seven, Dr Reynolds?”
Reynolds laughed. “Because this place is run by incompetent gossips, and they let slip yesterday that these are the seven who have no alibi.”
Impressive, that he’d organised all this in a day—and good for him that he was engaging in constructive activities so soon after his last suicide attempt. He’d come a long way. No doubt Dr Andrews would have been proud, and touched by this show of righteous indignation displayed on his behalf. If only I’d had a corroborating witness to my alibi of watching stupid videos on YouTube.
The detective replied, “But Dr Reynolds, it’s my job to find out who was responsible, not yours. I promise you, you do not need to do this.”
“Yes, I do,” said Reynolds bluntly. “This is the last chance I have to make the decisions in life that make a man who he is meant to be. For John Andrews’ sake, I intend to be a reckoning for one person in this room.”
“Dr Reynolds… Adrian—”
With a nod from Reynolds to one of the other patients he’d roped into his reckoning, the telephone cord was yanked from the wall.
And with the whole place in lockdown due to the lunatic with the gun, it would take them hours to break the system and send people in after us. Daisy burst into a fresh and noisy wave of tears, and when I considered our situation I almost joined her. Leland gave her a look of utter derision. Then he gave me one when he realised I was looking at him.
So much for relying on my closest colleague for moral support, though I don’t know why I would have expected anything different.
“Now,” said Reynolds, ignoring Daisy. “We’re going to start a new ‘session’, doctors.” He mimicked quotation marks with his fingers when he said the word ‘session’. “I hope we all make a lot of ‘progress’, during this ‘heart to heart’, and that we’re all ‘honest’ and ‘open’ about our ‘feelings’.”
“Was that your ‘threatening speech’?” asked Leland, unable to make the quotation marks while in a straightjacket, but still able to mock Reynolds’ tone of voice. “Because I don’t get it. Was that tone supposed to indicate you don’t want us to be honest and open?”
“Shut up, Dr Langslow,” said Reynolds, echoing the sentiments of probably everyone in the room, “or I’ll have you gagged like Dr Nelson.” He gestured with the gun towards Marianne, who growled and struggled against her bonds, stamping her feet against the floor wildly, like a two year old having a tantrum. Reynolds ignored her too. “We’ll start with the motive,” he said.
Well, we all had means and opportunity. The police hadn’t found the murder-weapon, but I think it was safe to say we all owned a kitchen-knife.
“Dr Nelson,” Reynolds began, and she glared at him. “Dr Andrews has been trying to get you fired for years now, and six months ago he succeeded in having you suspended. You punched a seventeen-year-old schizophrenic in the face, I definitely wouldn’t put murder past you.” He took a moment to mull it over in his mind. “But I don’t know if this was impulsive enough to be your kind of crime.”
Marianne growled again, louder, and continued to struggled while he moved on to Mark.
“Dr Richardson,” he said.
Mark didn’t say anything, he barely even looked afraid, just slid his eyes over to the man addressing him.
“Difficult to think up of a motive for you. And you don’t seem the type to take another’s life, but then I don’t have much difficulty imagining your neighbours telling people you were ‘always such a quiet man’. We might come back to you.”
Mark didn’t change his expression in the slightest. Sitting next to him was an almost hysterical Daisy, who tried to stop sobbing when Reynolds turned to her.
“Dr Boleyn,” he acknowledged with a nod. “I think you could murder, if you were pushed. And I’ve always thought you might snap at any moment, maybe you were worried about your job too?”
As soon as he turned from her, Daisy wept even harder. Next was Leland.
“Dr Langslow. I know Dr Andrews was one of the many victims of your malicious pranks, and your patients inform me you are a complete prick, but I don’t know you’d go as far as murder. Unless he had something on you I don’t know about. And you’re meticulous. If anyone could do it and get away with it, it would be you.”
I already knew Leland was innocent. He’d been out on a date with someone he’d met at a conference, but there were reasons he didn’t want Eddie finding out who that was, which was why he’d had me cover for him, at the time and after. This was a private establishment, after all, and Eddie’s word was as good as law.
But if I brought it up, my job would be on the line too, and I might have been in trouble with the police for not mentioning it sooner. Last resort, I decided.
“Dr Sinclair,” Reynolds went on, now looking at Jenna.
“Dr Reynolds,” Jenna answered gently, startling me with her decision to reply. “I know you’re upset about John, we all are—”
“Except the person who gutted him, you mean?”
Jenna took a deep breath. “Maybe even them. Don’t you yourself still regret what happened six years ago?”
Reynolds snorted. “Oh yes,” he said. “That’s how I know what happens here will frankly be a favour to whoever it turns out to be. Still, never mind that now, let’s talk about you. Everyone knows you were all over Dr Andrews when you were drunk, which, let’s face it, was most of the time, wasn’t it? And he wanted nothing to do with you, because he was married and you were… well, a pathetic lonely drunk. Did he reject you one too many times?”
You could see the shame in Jenna’s eyes before she closed them. I had seen her only half an hour before the murder, passed out in her office, and I didn’t think she’d have been able to come out of it in such a short amount of time. But I don’t think Eddie would have been very forgiving about that either.
And speaking of Eddie…
“Dr Hardgrave,” said Reynolds, derisive and at the same time blatantly amused. “Where to start?”
“You can start,” said Eddie, with the usual bluster, “by untying me and going back to your cell before the police come in here and shoot you down like a dog!”
Thanks Eddie, I thought. Really defusing the situation there; cheers.
“Dr Andrews was looking to get this place shut down,” said Reynolds, which should have surprised me, if I’d never met any of my colleagues before that evening. “He said there was a mile long list of malpractices lurking in its exalted history.”
“An upstart!” barked Eddie. “Listen here, young man—my family has been in charge of this institution for almost three hundred years.”
“Mm, well far be it from me to give advice, but I think you might have tried updating your policies since then,” said Reynolds.
From the fury in Eddie’s eyes, I think he noticed me suppress a little chuckle there. He paused before he went back to harrumphing at Reynolds. “My father handed this institution to me,” he announced, as if it had any relevance, “just as his father handed it to him. The practice of this facility has a grand tradition!”
“The practice of this facility,” said Reynolds, “is your choice, and speaks of the man you were meant to be. As it does for all of you, who chose to do what was needed for evil to triumph.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” groaned Leland. “No wonder that twathead Andrews wanted you on anti-psychotics.”
Reynolds turned to him in a flash, actually standing up and moving away from the chair, which skidded across the floor with an awful groan. “What did you say?” he asked icily.
“Shall I repeat it for you?” Leland retuned, voice laced with sarcasm as it always was. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were deaf as well as insane. I’d sign for you if I had my arms free.”
His words got him a gun pressed right against his forehead, and not for the first time I wondered why on earth he’d ever gone into psychiatry.
Meanwhile Daisy’s tears became a scream and Jenna cried out “For goodness’ sake!” while even Mark was beginning to look worried, and Leland himself obviously regretted opening his mouth.
But this was Leland, and despite himself the next words out of his mouth were, “What, was that a rhetorical question? I thought we were supposed to be sharing our ‘feelings’. And I ‘felt’ that Andrews was a stuck up, sanctimonious little shit.”
“Don’t kill him!” cried Jenna, but we could all see that that was just what Reynolds was about to do, when suddenly I did something even stupider than what Leland had.
“I did it!”
Reynolds stopped immediately and whirled around, wide-eyed. Leland’s own went as big as they could go, and everyone in the room stared at me, disbelieving.
“Chess!” Jenna exclaimed—my nickname, since apparently we were on such familiar terms.
Something to think about, when you have a gun pointed at your head, wondering why on earth you’d just said the stupid thing you’d said. Seriously, since when was I familiar with any of these wankers? Even Leland, though we’d slept together a few times. It hardly warranted the ultimate sacrifice.
“Dr Leigh,” Reynolds started. I don’t think he knew what tone to use anymore. “I wouldn’t have thought you’d come down from the clouds long enough to push a knife into a man’s brachial aorta and bleed him dry. Are you being serious, or do you just have Bonny and Clyde syndrome for Langslow?”
He made a disgusted face; and who could blame him? It was unfortunate that disgust slipped into anger as the seconds passed and I failed to string together enough coherent thoughts for a reply. The room suddenly seemed to be growing very large, and I was becoming very small.
And Leland, he had a look on his face I’d never seen before; something almost resembling actual concern for another human being.
“Well, Dr Leigh?”
The gun was cocked. Well, that’s it, I thought. I’m dead.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Leland hissed, his line of sight escaping as far as it could from me or Reynolds. “Leigh can’t cut a cake properly with a kitchen-knife, let alone a grown man.”
One had to admire his ability to keep that particular grudge alive under the current circumstances. I’d tried to make the pieces equal; truly, but we couldn’t all have the hand-to-eye coordination of the great Leland Langslow.
“Besides,” he continued. “We were… together when Andrews croaked.”
I hoped my face gave nothing away there, though it was a typically sly thing for Leland to say. Reynolds frowned, but Eddie started yelling before he could say anything.
“Together!? What do you mean ‘together’, Dr Langslow!?”
Leland swung all the contempt he had back around to face Eddie. “Why, we were organising my stamp collection, Dr Hardgrave,” he said, with venomous cheer. A second later: “We were fucking, you idiot—what the hell did you think I meant?”
“No…” said Reynolds—the exchange with Eddie had been brief, but long enough for a man of Reynolds’ intelligence to analyse it, and he was shaking his head in a way that made me quite nervous. “No, if that had been your alibi you would have used it—tried to keep it secret from that despotic bigot,” (Eddie harrumphed again here), “but not from the police. Not when in all likelihood this place is going to be shut down anyway.”
Suddenly it occurred to me that that was true; and what I’d thought I’d been sure Leland had been doing that night may not have actually been reflective of reality. But that didn’t mean he’d killed Andrews, only…
“One of you is covering for the other,” Reynolds declared; authoritative for a brief moment and then in the next confused again “But that doesn’t make any sense. You two don’t care what happens to other people. You never have.”
“What do you know about us?” Leland asked him, but Reynolds ignored him and kept looking at me. His eyes seemed to make the walls travel out further.
And he was right, you know. I didn’t care about other people. I just thought that I might miss Leland if anything happened to him.
“Maybe,” said Mark, and startled us all because I’d have thought even he’d forget he was in the room by that point—he was and always was such a non-presence, “these are the choices they’re making to determine who they are. And not what they’re meant to be. Nothing is ever meant to be. It only is.”
I think Daisy stopped crying at that point. At the same time, I think I started, silently. Why was this happening? It didn’t feel like I’d made the choice even as the words had been leaving my mouth, and now every path that might have been before me was completely dark; obscured in a shroud of witless panic.
“But we do make choices,” said Reynolds. He hadn’t taken his eyes off me. Even though a second ago it was between me and Leland, for some reason he was fixed on me. “Choices that call down good, or evil. And I don’t believe that evil is inevitable. Those who choose it for whatever reason must be brought to their reckoning. Are you covering for Langslow, for yourself, or are you trying to choose good, Dr Leigh? Or maybe it’s that you want that ‘favour’ I spoke of earlier.”
My voice said, “I don’t know.”
“Idiot,” sighed Leland. “Though, as if you know any better, Reynolds. Fuck it, I know who did it. End the lockdown and I’ll tell you, we’ll see if we can stall you from shooting long enough for Plod to come to the rescue, with our outstanding therapy skills.”
“I don’t believe a word you say, Langslow,” said Reynolds. “I want an answer from Leigh.”
“Dr Reynolds,” Jenna tried again. She sounded like she needed a drink. “Please. The guilty must only be punished if the protection of the innocent can be assured.”
“None of you are innocent enough for that,” said Reynolds. He didn’t even blink. “I’m waiting, Dr Leigh.”
Eddie cried out, “Reynolds, this has gone far enough!”, and Marianne had gone still and pale as a mist. I couldn’t see Mark, Reynolds and the gun were blocking him from view.
“Chess—!” snapped Leland, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say after that.
“I don’t know,” I said again.
It was the truth, for what that’s worth. It felt like a clock striking at the hour.
First there was a skip; a space just long enough for a man to fall in.
And then Dr Reynolds made the choice that made him the man he was meant to be.