Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 50 of 64

I can’t help smiling. “Truer words,” I say. “But harsh.”

“Harsh is relative,” he says. “Contrast it with, say, getting someone committed on trumped-up evidence.”

It dawns on me that Doc Szandor believes me. “It dawns on me that you believe me.”

He gnaws fitfully at his pacifier. “Well, why not? You’re not any crazier than I am, that much is clear to me. You have neat ideas. Your story’s plausible enough.”

I get excited. “Is this your professional opinion?”

“Sorry, no. I am not a mental health professional, so I don’t have professional opinions on your mental health. It is, however, my amateur opinion.”

“Oh, well.”

“So where are you at now, vis-a-vis the hospital?”

“Well, they don’t tell me much, but as near as I can make out, I am stuck here semipermanently. The court found me incompetent and ordered me held until I was. I can’t get anyone to explain what competency consists of, or how I achieve it—when I try, I get accused of being ‘difficult.’ Of course, escaping onto the roof is a little beyond difficult. I have a feeling I’m going to be in pretty deep shit. Do they know about the car?”

“The car?”

“In the parking lot. The one that blew up.”

Doc Szandor laughs hard enough that his pacifier shoots across the room and lands in a hazmat bucket. “You son of a bitch—that was you?”

“Yeah,” I say, and drum my feet against the tin cupboards under the examination table.

“That was my fucking car!”

“Oh, Christ, I’m sorry,” I say. “God.”

“No no no,” he says, fishing in his pocket and unwrapping a fresh pacifier. “It’s OK. Insurance. I’m getting a bike. Vroom, vroom! What a coincidence, though,” he says.

Coincidence. He’s making disgusting hamster-cage noises, grinding away at his pacifier. “Szandor, do you sometimes sneak out onto the landing to have a cigarette? Use a bit of tinfoil for your ashtray? Prop the door open behind you?”

“Why do you ask?”

“‘Cause that’s how I got out onto the roof.”

“Oh, shit,” he says.

“It’s our secret,” I say. “I can tell them I don’t know how I got out. I’m incompetent, remember?”

“You’re a good egg, Art,” he says. “How the hell are we going to get you out of here?”

“Hey what?”

“No, really. There’s no good reason for you to be here, right? You’re occupying valuable bed space.”

“Well, I appreciate the sentiment, but I have a feeling that as soon as you turn me loose, I’m gonna be doped up to the tits for a good long while.”

He grimaces. “Right, right. They like their meds. Are your parents alive?”

“What? No, they’re both dead.”

“Aha. Died suddenly?”

“Yeah. Dad drowned, Mom fell—”

“Ah ah ah! Shhh. Mom died suddenly. She was taking Haldol when it happened, a low antianxiety dose, right?”


“Probably she was. Probably she had a terrible drug interaction. Sudden Death Syndrome. It’s hereditary. And you say she fell? Seizure. We’ll sign you up for a PET scan, that’ll take at least a month to set up. You could be an epileptic and not even know it. Shaking the radioisotopes loose for the scan from the AEC, woah, that’s a week’s worth of paperwork right there! No Thorazine for you young man, not until we’re absolutely sure it won’t kill you dead where you stand. The hospital counsel gave us all a very stern lecture on this very subject not a month ago. I’ll just make some notes in your medical history.” He picked up his comm and scribbled.

“Never woulda thought of that,” I say. “I’m impressed.”

“It’s something I’ve been playing with for a while now. I think that psychiatric care is a good thing, of course, but it could be better implemented. Taking away prescription pads would be a good start.”

“Or you could keep public stats on which doctors had prescribed how much of what and how often. Put ’em on a chart in the ward where the patients’ families could see ’em.”

“That’s nasty!” he says. “I love it. We’re supposed to be accountable, right? What else?”

“Give the patients a good reason to wear their tracking bracelets: redesign them so they gather stats on mobility and vitals and track them against your meds and other therapies. Create a dating service that automatically links patients who respond similarly to therapies so they can compare notes. Ooh, by comparing with location data from other trackers, you could get stats on which therapies make people more sociable, just by counting the frequency with which patients stop and spend time in proximity to other patients. It’d give you empirical data with which you track your own progress.”

“This is great stuff. Damn! How do you do that?”

I feel a familiar swelling of pride. I like it when people understand how good I am at my job. Working at V/DT was hard on my ego: after all, my job there was to do a perfectly rotten job, to design the worst user experiences that plausibility would allow. God, did I really do that for two whole goddamned years?

“It’s my job,” I say, and give a modest shrug.

“What do you charge for work like that?”

“Why, are you in the market?”

“Who knows? Maybe after I figure out how to spring you, we can go into biz together, redesigning nuthatches.”

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