“I have an appointment with Doctor Suharto,” Ethel said, smoothing the front of her colorful tiered skirt.
The guard looked confused, not to mention a little bewildered by Ethel’s Boho-chic attire. “Doctor Suharto doesn’t usually see people on weekends. Are you sure you have the right day?”
Ethel knew she had the right day. She had sent a spell his way, convincing him to make an exception for her. He did. “Could you please check it for me?”
The guard acted as if he was wasting his time when he picked up the phone. “This is Tony in the visiting area. Is Doctor Suharto expecting a visitor today?” There was a pause as the guard waited for an answer. “Oh. She’s here, I’ll send her over.”
Ethel was relieved her spells were still strong . . . at least on normal people. She had not used them much before Maggie moved into the apartment building.
The guard made another phone call. “I have a visitor here who needs to be escorted to Doctor Suharto’s office.” He hung up and looked at Ethel.
Ethel smiled and tilted her head as she ran her fingers over her beaded neckless. “Is everything okay?”
The guard did not smile back. “Someone will be down in a minute to escort you to his office.”
Ethel turned and walked far enough away from the desk so that she would not block the path of other visitors. She looked back to where she and Maggie had sat. Her heart sank when she saw it empty, knowing Maggie was taken back into the belly of the giant beast of a building. She was mad at herself for not trying harder to help Maggie. The court date was only days away and she had not pressured the detective hard enough. She would make a point of it when she got back to her apartment.
Ethel tried not to listen in on conversations between the patients and the visitors while she waited for her escort, but it was difficult not to hear them. Talk of kids, court, and the weather was the talk of the day. One patient became angry, accusing the hospital, the doctor, the lawyer, and whomever she could think of, for treating her badly. Was Maggie being treated badly? She did not think so; she did not get a sense of it when she was speaking with Maggie.
The door to the visitor room opened and a guard came in.
Wade pointed toward Ethel. “She needs to be escorted to Doctor Suharto’s office.”
“Follow me,” the female guard said, looking momentarily surprised by the wrinkled woman’s appearance.
“Thank you,” Ethel said, following her out the door.
They walked further down the hall to an elevator where they both got inside. Neither one spoke as the elevator was pulled up to the third level. They stepped out and walked down the hall to an office marked with the doctor’s name on a placard outside the door. They walked inside to a reception window. The guard stood back and motioned for Ethel to speak.
Ethel turned toward the receptionist. “I’m Ethel Dory. I have an appointment with Doctor Suharto.” She could tell her rough voice was getting on the receptionist’s nerves.
The young woman, with braided hair, looked down at the computer screen and then looked up at Ethel without raising her head. “Have a seat.”
Ethel sat down in an office chair while the guard stood nearby. She was used to people giving her weird looks, as if she were a nomadic gypsy having just arrived in a covered wagon, looking to swindle whatever she could from the unsuspecting townsfolk. Nevertheless, she thought their behavior was unusual, especially for a hospital known to be tolerant of all people, no matter their race, color, or national origin. She was not even a full-blooded gypsy. When the Nazis had shot most of her ancestors on sight in the early 1940s, some managed to make their way to America; eventually abandoning their nomadic ways in the new country.
Then Ethel’s heart skipped a beat. It could be possible that the spell she cast to speak with the doctor had side effects, had a sour side. That was not good. If her spells of good also had undesirable consequences, she was facing even more of an uphill battle to free Maggie.
It has to be the spirits, Ethel thought. They are strong, especially the black-robed one that feeds on Maggie. They apparently had the ability to counter her spells, making them bitter and acetous.
The door next to the receptionist window opened and the receptionist stood there, looking at Ethel. “Ms. Dory.”
Ethel stood up and followed the receptionist, down a brightly lit hall, to the doctor’s office, the guard trailing behind.
The receptionist walked up to the open office door. “Ethel Dory is here to see you.”
“Please, come in,” Dr. Suharto said with an Indonesian accent. He stayed seated as Ethel walked in and the guard and receptionist remained outside. “What can I do for you today, Ms. Dory?”
“I came to speak with you about Maggie McGee,” Ethel said, nervously rubbing the dry skin on her forearm.
“Are you family?” the doctor asked, thumbing through papers.
“I’m a close friend,” Ethel said. “I believe Maggie put me down as someone to whom you can share her personal information with. I’m also her emergency contact person.”
“So, I see you are,” he said. He looked up at her. “Margaret McGee is no longer considered IST, incompetent to stand trial, and has a court date of September eleventh scheduled.”
Ethel was not sure how to approach the subject of ghosts and tell the doctor it was a spirit, of a child no less, that actually murdered Mr. Zimmerman. If she did, he would be committing her to the psych ward.
“Doctor Suharto,” Ethel began, “Maggie is innocent; she was framed for the murder of Mr. Zimmerman.”
“I see,” the doctor said, not seeming to believe her.
“Do you believe in spirits, Doctor Suharto?” Ethel asked, as butterflies—or maybe wasps—flew around inside her queasy stomach.
“Are you talking about ghosts?” the doctor asked, closing the folder he had been looking at.
Ethel nodded timidly.
“There is no such thing as ghosts,” he said.
“Do you believe in God?” Ethel asked. She watched as he pushed the folder to the side of his desk as if he had no interest in speaking about the topic.
“I am agnostic,” he said, not making eye contact. “I neither believe nor disbelieve in God.”
“Well, if you believe there could be a God, then you could believe there are angels,” she said. “And if there are angels there are demons, Satan being one.” Ethel wiped her sweaty palm on her skirt. “You are right, Maggie is sane. I don’t know what she has told you, but I know she did not say she committed the crime.” Ethel cleared the mucus that was building in her throat. “I’ll get to the point. I am a seer and I know for a fact, Doctor, that there are spirits in this world, both good and bad. And I know that Maggie has been pursued by jealous spirits intent on causing her harm. I know this sounds way out, but there is even a dark robed vampire spirit that feeds on her despair while she sleeps.” She looked nervously at the doctor, waiting for him to tell her she was out of her mind and had to leave.
Dr. Suharto rubbed a brow. “Even if what you say is true, what does it have to do with me? My report states the facts based on my sessions with Ms. McGee.” He sat down his pen and leaned back in his chair. “Have you seen one of these spirits?”
“I see them with my mind’s eye,” Ethel said, touching her temple. “But they are there and it is a fact. There are even studies that can prove it.”
“What studies are you referring to?” the doctor asked, staring at her.
Ethel was not sure how to answer because she knew of no studies. “I can’t think of any particular ones, but I’m sure you are aware of them.”
“Ms. McGee suffers from hallucinations brought on by the stress of her husband’s suicide, his infidelity with her best friend, and the stress of moving to a new home. She is now receiving the proper medicine and treatment to address this issue.”
You fool, Ethel thought. “What motive would she possibly have for taking the superintendent’s life?”
“There are no rational reasons in cases like these,” he said.
“Well, I want it put on the record that Maggie is innocent and that it was spirits that killed Mr. Zimmerman,” Ethel said, raising her chin like a child stubbornly refusing a wrongdoing.
“While it is true that Maggie has never said that she did not cause Mr. Zimmerman any harm, she has stated that spirits were the cause of his death. Hallucinations are real, as real as you and me, to the person suffering from them. They truly believe they see and hear things that are not there. I have no doubt she believes what she tells me, and you, but it is a symptom of schizophrenia, an inherited disease. She is now receiving proper medical and psychological care and is able to go to court and face the charges brought against her.”
“But what about me?” Ethel said, crossing her arms. “Am I hallucinating and schizophrenic? How can both of us be affected by the same spirits?”
“I suggest that some of Ms. McGee’s hallucinations could have been made worse by your talk of spirits to her and by you believing what she said, adding fuel to the fire.”
Ethel was furious. Now the doctor was accusing her of making Maggie’s mental illness worse. That is if she even had a mental illness. “How do you know she has schizophrenia? Is there a blood test?”
“No blood test,” the doctor said, leaning back in his chair. “The diagnosis of schizophrenia is based on my observations during our interviews. While it appears she has not had symptoms for more than six months, she does report recent hallucinations, delusions, lack of energy, poor grooming habits, and a family history of schizophrenia.”
“So are you saying that her symptoms did not begin until she moved to Sandpiper Bluff?” Ethel asked. “Surely that has to say something. The place used to be called Lake Shore Sanatorium and Psychiatric Hospital until it was later converted to apartments. The place is haunted.” Ethel raised her voice. “That must mean something?”
The doctor turned his chair and looked out the window, watched a sparrow land on the windowsill, and then turned back to Ethel. “Ms. Dory, I have listened to your concerns and know you care about your friend. I suggest you study schizophrenia, psychosis, and hallucinations and educate yourself on mental illnesses,” he stood up. “Maggie is mentally ill, she is not pursued by ghosts.”
Ethel noticed her hands quivering more than usual. She wanted a smoke and a drink. She stood up and collected her composure. “Thank you, Doctor, for your time, but I suggest you do some reading on spirits, especially the evil ones.” She walked out of the room.
The guard was not walking fast enough as she rushed down the corridor. Ethel wanted out of the building so that she could think about what she had to do next to help Maggie. She would call Det. Becker, even though she had no new evidence, but she could not just walk away from the case. She had the feeling the detective knew there was something else going on, but she did not know if the feeling was strong enough for him to act upon it.
They reached the last checkpoint and Ethel was free of the guard. She retrieved her purse from the locker and walked out of the building toward her car. Her hip began to ache from her exaggerated steps as she scrambled to the parking lot. She got into her car and took a wood tip cigar from her purse. She lit it, puffed, and then exhaled the smoke, allowing a little tension to flow out with it.
“I’m calling Claudia,” she said, her voice cracked from the phlegm in her parched throat. “I don’t want to use the crystal ball, but I don’t see any other way to put an end to this madness.”
The tires of the old gray sedan squealed as she rushed past rows of parked cars. “Hang in there Maggie, I’ll help you.”