Pfand X
Chapter 14

Copyright© 2011 by Lazlo Zalezac

Silvia Farmer was seated in a visitor's chair next to the hospital bed, reading a romance novel. She was there, because an old friend of hers had said that her daughter had been drugged and beaten by a client, during a party. She watched the young woman sleeping, taking note of the visible injuries. For some reason, her gut instinct was that Gloria was far more important than met the eye.

Gloria McQueen was a physical mess. Her left eye was swollen shut, and covered with a horrible swirl of black and blue bruises. The right side of her face was swollen as a result of her broken jaw. It was the classic injury produced by being backhanded by a right-handed man. There were carpet burns, partially scabbed over, on her forehead and nose. She assumed that Gloria had been anally raped at some point in her ordeal.

Looking at the young blond made her blood boil. There was no reason for her to be there. A girl with her experience knew enough to know how to adequately prepare for a full evening of sex. Sexually, she could have taken on an entire room full of men, and walked out in the morning leaving the exhausted men behind. Injuries like this were the result of meanness.

Silvia had been there for two hours without anyone coming into the room to check on the young woman. Several times, she stuck her head out of the room to see if she could spot a nurse. After the fifth time of not finding anyone, she picked up the phone and made a call. After a minute of conversation, she hung up satisfied. Gloria would not have to worry about getting adequate treatment, or even about anyone finding her. She sat back to wait for the results of her call.

Within ten minutes of making call, a nurse came into the room and said, "I just got a call that we're transferring her."

"Really?" Silvia asked pretending to be surprised.

In a way, she was surprised. She didn't expect such a quick response to her call. The bureaucracies of hospitals could almost be as bad as those of government, although things did speed up when a Curador got into the act.

"If you'll step outside, I'll prepare her to be moved," the nurse said.

"That's okay. I'd like to stay with my niece," Silvia said thinking she didn't want to leave the young woman alone.

"You're family?"

Silvia could lie with the best of them.

"She's my sister's daughter. I practically helped raise Glory."

"You don't look much alike," the Nurse said.

Silvia said, "We're half sisters. Same mother, different fathers."

"Ah, that explains it," the nurse said. "Still, I'd prefer if you left."

"That's not going to happen," Silvia said studying the nurse intently.

"Please leave now," the nurse said starting to sound irritated.

Silvia let loose with a loud shrill whistle that echoed in the small hospital room. It was the same whistle she had used to summon taxi cabs, when visiting large cities. It was loud enough to be heard over street traffic.

A second later, a deep rumbling voice cut through the room. "Ma'am, is there a problem?"

Silvia said, "She's insisting that I leave."

"I'll have hospital security here in a minute and we'll straighten this all out."

"Thank you, Manny."

The nurse stepped closer to Gloria.

In a voice cold enough to freeze ice, Silvia said, "I wouldn't take one step closer to Glory if I were you."

Moving closer to Gloria, the nurse said, "I've asked politely, now I'm demanding that you leave."

"Don't move, or I'll drop you where you stand."

"What?" the nurse shouted.

"Step back from Miss McQueen," Manny said in a threatening low growl.

The nurse froze staring at the stun baton that had magically appeared in Gloria's hand. The electrodes were an inch from her arm. She hadn't seen Silvia draw it. She glanced over at Manny and saw that he had a pistol aimed at her head. She'd be angry if she wasn't so scared.

Silvia said, "The picture on your badge doesn't look much like you."

"I stopped dying my hair," the nurse said.

Silvia said, "I've never heard of a dye job changing the entire face."

Two more men entered the room. One of them had a hospital badge. He looked at the two armed individuals and nearly wet his pants. He turned to complain to the man with him and froze on seeing that he had drawn a gun as well. The gun was pointed in his side.

"What's going on?" the new man asked.

Silvia said, "This nurse is an imposter."

"No she's not. I've worked with her for years," the security person said.

Silvia said, "I don't know you either."

The small room was now crowded with the bed, the nurse, Silvia, the hospital security person, and two members of the Wache family. The two members of the Wache family took up a great deal of space all by themselves.

"She's a nurse here," the security person said.

"Well, her picture on her ID doesn't look like her."

The man looked at the badge and then said, "Why do you have Meg's badge, Mary?"

Mary looked down at her badge. "What the hell? How did I end up with her badge?"

"That's what I want to know."

"I had my badge this morning when I entered through the employee entrance," Mary said looking confused.

Wearing a badge as a nurse was a pain. If worn on a lanyard, it would swing out when leaning forward to deal with a patient. It was always getting in the way. She wore her badge clipped to her uniform. The problem with that was that it would come off several times a day when moving patients or moving around.

"Will everyone be quiet," Manny said. Looking over at Silvia, he said, "Ma'am, would you like to get a real nurse who might be able to identify these two?"

"I'm the only nurse on duty," Mary said.

"I don't believe that," Silvia said.

This was a large hospital; there should be nurses everywhere. She became even more suspicious of Mary. She glanced at the security person from the hospital wondering if his cooperation had been bought by party or parties unknown.

The security man said, "I bet that Meg has stolen your id to get into the pharmacy."

"What am I supposed to do if she's stolen some drugs? The records are going to show that I took them," Mary said more worried about losing her job than the gun that was being held on her.

"I'll fill out a report and take care of it," the security man answered.

Silvia closed the stun baton and put it into her purse. She moved around Manny and went into the hallway. There was no one around. She went over to the nurses station only to find it was empty. She walked up the hallway looking in the rooms. There were patients, some with visitors, but no hospital staff. She was beginning to get worried until she spotted an elderly woman wearing an outfit with a hospital logo on it.

"Excuse me," Silvia said.

The older woman looked at Silvia. "Can I help you?"

"I'm looking for a nurse," Silvia said.

"Mary is the only nurse on duty on this floor. She should be around here somewhere," the woman replied.

"Why only one nurse?" Silvia asked.

"Budget cuts. They kept reducing the staff until they were left with one nurse per shift. They have them work overtime so that they usually get two nurses on staff. Meg was fired last week. With the shortage of personnel, they've staggered the shifts so that there's only one nurse on duty during the quiet times and two at the other times."

"What do you do here?"

"I'm a volunteer. I do whatever I can to help out. Usually, there are more of us here, but not today."

"What can you do?"

"I can make sure that the patient really needs something. Most times, the patient wants something to drink or something like that and I can fill up the water pitcher and talk with them a bit. If it is a little more serious than that, I can chase down a nurses aide. It is only when it is a real problem that I call Mary," the woman answered.

"Where are the nurses aides?" Silvia asked.

"They're around here somewhere. There are only two of them. They are probably in the other hallway."

Silvia asked, "There are only three employees on a floor with ... what ... sixty rooms?"

She couldn't see how three people could take care of a hundred and twenty patients. That would require each of them assist forty patients each hour – essentially they could spend one minute with a patient. In reality, it would be the nurses aides who would deal with sixty patients each with the nurse being called only for the problem cases. Unfortunately, changing a bedpan took longer than a minute, so it was doubtful the patients were getting that much care.

"Yes."

Silvia said, "I guess you'll have to do. Come with me."

The elderly woman followed behind Silvia thinking that she wanted some help dealing with a patient. She hoped the patient wasn't in pain. The delays in getting the nurse who could do anything about it would feel like forever for the patient.

Outside the door to Gloria's room, Silvia stopped the old woman. Pointing at the nurse, she asked, "Is that Meg?"

"No. That's Mary. She's the nurse on staff," the elderly woman answered.

"Thank you," Silvia said. "I don't need you any more."

The old woman said, "I'll just see if she needs some help."

"She doesn't. You should just go on and help the others," Silvia said.

The elderly woman frowned, but headed towards the nurses station. She was going to call security, but then noticed that the head of security was already there. She watched while Silvia went into the room.

"She's legit," Silvia said.

Looking at the two men standing near the door, Manny, while putting away his gun, said, "Let's step out into the hallway."

"Would you get out so that I can take care of the patient now?" Mary asked looking at Silvia.

It wasn't that she was particularly dedicated to her job, but that she would be legally liable if anything went wrong. At the first sign of trouble, she'd be out the door and she needed the job. The badge was a bad piece of news as well. If Meg had already accessed the pharmacy, she was going to be in big trouble.

"I'm staying," Silvia said.

Deciding that it wasn't worth the fight, Mary turned to Gloria and started to prepare her for being moved. The woman was clearly angered about having had a gun pulled on her. Outside, in the hallway, the security man was arguing with the two men about them having a gun on hospital premises. His rant kind of died an awkward death when they produced carry permits and explained they were in the personal protection business. It was clearly not the low profile presence that Silvia had desired.

Silvia said, "I'm sorry about that. We had a family friend murdered in a hospital and I'm a little sensitive about it."

"Murder, huh?" the nurse said bitterly. "How could they tell the difference from neglect?"

"She was suffocated," Silvia answered.

"The question still stands," Mary said talking while working.

"Why are there so few people on staff?"

Mary answered, "It is cheaper to pay us time and a half for overtime than to hire another person. We've got four nurses for this floor and each of us works double shifts four days a week. They should have four more nurses and another dozen nurses aides, at a minimum, but that's too expensive."

Silvia thought about what Mary had said. Now she understood why the Curador's had insisted on creating a couple of private hospital facilities for members of the Pfand. It was the only way to get halfway decent medical care.

"You don't sound pleased about that," Silvia said.

"I'm tired all of the time. It's hard to care about anything or anybody when you're tired all of the time. The patients aren't happy with their care, management keeps wanting more while supporting us less, and..." after glancing out the door, "today three assholes pulled weapons on me," Mary said. "No. I'm not pleased."

Silvia said, "I'm sorry about the weapons, but your ID didn't match you. This woman is here because of an assault by person or persons unknown. For all I knew, you could have been here to finish the job someone else started."

"You could have asked," Mary said angrily.

Silvia shook her head. "What do you think would have happened if I started to question a paid killer?"

"They'd have killed you," Mary admitted.

"Exactly," Silvia said.

Mary stepped back and said, "She's ready for transport to another facility. If you'll excuse me, I have other patients."

"Go ahead," Silvia said.

It was another hour before two men with a gurney arrived to transport Gloria McQueen to another facility. They had paperwork identifying City General as the hospital to which Gloria was being transferred, but Silvia knew that Gloria wasn't going anywhere near City General. It took time to find Mary, get the appropriate paperwork signed, and load Gloria into the ambulance. Silvia never left Gloria's side.

Riding in the back of the ambulance, Silvia watched the paramedic work on Gloria. The young woman hadn't shown the slightest sign of consciousness in the entire time that Silvia had been by her side. It wasn't natural.

"Why is she still asleep?" Silvia asked.

The man answered, "She's been sedated. It's a whole lot easier dealing with patients like her when they are heavily sedated."

"What do you mean, like her?"

The man answered, "She's not really ill. She's been injured and needs to rest while the body heals itself. They gave her a little something for the pain, which often makes people irritable. Then you've got the boredom factor. Sitting around in bed all day with nothing to do makes people even more irritable and restless. Add in the fact that she was beaten, she is probably going to be jumpy and nervous around strangers. They probably gave her a sedative to keep her from getting too difficult to control.

"Painkillers and sedatives are a double knockout and puts the person into a deep sleep. Now that is a patient that is easy to control."

"So they essentially drug her to the gills to keep her quiet," Silvia said.

"That's basically it."

"When will she start coming around?"

"When we get to the hospital, they'll change her IV bag. She'll come around in an hour or so after that," the man answered.

"Can't you do that?" Silvia asked.

"No," the man answered.

Manny could see that Silvia was starting to get impatient. He wasn't sure why she was so edgy. He knew that prostitutes, even high-end prostitutes like Gloria, were at risk of being assaulted by clients. He knew that Silvia was well aware of the risks of that profession.

He said, "I'm thinking about asking Mary out on a date. Do you think she'd agree to go out with me?"

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