After I deposited Mr. Waite’s check, I headed back to the office. I parked on the street and got out of my car. That’s when I head Kitty 2 screaming.
“Help! Up here!”
I looked up and saw a couple of goons dangling Kitty 2 out of my office window by her legs. Alarmed, I sprang into action, whipping my phone out and recording some video.
“Where’s your boss?” one of the goons snarled.
“That’s him,” Kitty 2 said, pointing at me. “The guy on the sidewalk recording this.”
The two goons looked at me. I waved.
“That’s your boss?” The lead goon asked. “What kind of boss just stands there taking video while his secretary’s being dangled from a third floor window?”
“A bad one,” Kitty 2 replied. “Will you please stop dangling me from this window now?”
“Sure thing,” the lead goon replied, and they hauled Kitty 2 back into the office.
Since there was nothing more to record, I put my phone away and headed upstairs. I wasn’t worried. This sort of thing happened about once a month. Hired goons would show up looking for Rex and get the wrong office, even though Rex’s office, like mine, was clearly labeled. There’s no literacy test to join the local Goon’s Union. After the first time some goons showed up and dangled Kitty 2 out a window, I had gone down to the local union headquarters and politely suggested that they make sure their members get some basic literacy training so that we could avoid future misunderstandings. After I got out of the hospital, I gave up on the idea of trying to get goons to read.
I opened my office door and ran smack into the two towering goons, standing there with their bulging arms folded across their massive chests. They both glared.
“Gentlemen,” I said. “I’m afraid there’s been a mix-up. You’re looking for Rex Hardman. His office is next door. It’s the one with ‘Rex Hardman, Private Investigator’ painted on the door.”
The goons exchanged a look, and then one of them grabbed me by my shirt collar and lifted me off the ground while another one whipped out his phone and showed me his calendar app. It had my name listed as their afternoon appointment. I held my breath so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the scent of hair gel, Axe body spray and garlic.
“Does that say Rex Hardman?” the goon asked.
“Yes. Yes, it does,” I replied.
“Nice try,” the goon said, putting his phone away. “But I graduated cum laude from Eastside Elementary. Your little mindgames won’t work on me.”
“In that case, intimidate away,” I said.
The goon holding me slammed me up against the wall and pressed his face close to mine. His grip was iron, but his face was soft and smooth, like he moisturized every day.
“You’ve been hired to appraise an outlet mall, correct?”
“Yeah. So what?”
“Well, our employer wants you to give your report to him instead of the guy who hired you. Understand?”
“Okay,” I replied.
The goon looked puzzled. “Okay?”
“Yeah. It’s not like there’s some appraiser’s code of ethics that prevents me from appraising the same property for two different people. I’ll even give your employer, whoever he is, a discount.”
“You’re sure you don’t want to make a wisecrack or spit in my face or something?”
“Yes. I’m sure.”
The goon’s shoulders sagged, allowing my feet to touch the ground.
“Something wrong?” I asked.
“It’s just that half the fun of this job is the give and take. When people give in right away a lot of the enjoyment gets sucked right out of it.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” I said.
“It’s not your fault,” the goon said, letting go of me and stepping back.
The other goon stepped forward and handed me a card with a phone number on it. “When you’ve completed your appraisal call this number.”
“Will do,” I said, slipping the card into my shirt pocket. “You guys take care.”
The goons started out the door, but had to step aside as Alexandra Blavatsky from across the hall came barging into my office. She was dressed in a loose flowing dress and a turban with some sort of crystal mounted on it. She accessorized this outfit with a scowl.
“What’s all the racket?” she demanded. “I’m trying to hold a séance.”
“I was just having a friendly conversation with these gentlemen here,” I said.
“What was with all the screaming earlier, then?” Alexandra asked. “Do you know how hard it is to make contact with the spirit world when your secretary is over here screeching like a banshee?”
“In Kitty 2’s defense, she was being dangled out a window when she did that screaming,” I said, pulling my phone out and bringing up the recording. “Look.”
Alexandra chuckled as she watched Kitty 2 flail around and yell for help. “Oh, that’s good. You’re putting that on YouTube, right?”
“You better believe it,” I said.
Kitty 2 took this as her cue to emerge from the back office and try to snatch the phone from my hand.
“Over my dead body are you putting that on the Internet!” she said.
I backed away from her and held the phone over my head. “Think of the hits,” I said.
“I’ll show you hits,” Kitty 2 replied, picking up a stapler and chucking it at me. I ducked, and the stapler hit Alexandra between the eyes. She staggered back into the hallway, and I closed the door. The goons had had the good sense to make themselves scarce.
“I’ll sue you! That’s assault!” Alexandra yelled from the hallway.
“You’re supposed to be psychic,” Kitty 2 replied. “You should have seen it coming.”
Alexandra’s office door slammed, and I was alone with Kitty 2, who snatched up a coffee mug and prepared to throw it at my head. All I could think to do was pull five-hundred bucks I had gotten when I deposited Waite’s check out of my pocket and wave it at her. She put the cup back on the desk.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Money,” I said.
“Yes,” I replied.
Kitty 2 grabbed the hundred dollar bills from my hand and squinted at each of them.
“These are real,” she said. “What did you do?”
“I got paid.”
“I can see that,” Kitty 2 said. “What did you get paid for? Did you kill someone? Are you dealing drugs? Oh my god, you are, aren’t you? I have a niece who’s in high school. I’ll bet a bunch of her friends would buy drugs. We’ll make a fortune.”
“I’m not selling drugs,” I said. “I got paid for an appraisal.”
Kitty 2 stuffed the money into her bra. “Whatever you say boss. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” I replied. “And I’m sorry those goons dangled you out a window. I don’t know what that was about.”
“It’s fine,” Kitty 2 said. “I don’t really mind being manhandled by two big, strong men with no regard for my well being. I wish it happened more often, honestly.”
“Glad to hear it,” I said. “If you’re not too busy I need you to see if you can find an address and some background information on a fellow real estate appraiser named Oliver Barley. In the meantime, I’ll be in my office. If anyone asks, I’m not in.”
“I’ll get right on it,” Kitty 2 said. She gave me a crisp military salute and then sat down at her desk and began filing her nails. I went into my office and closed the door.
The original Kitty joined me at my desk as I uploaded my latest film to YouTube. Then she fell asleep on the windowsill while I honed my solitaire skills. I’m pretty good. If there were a professional solitaire circuit I could do pretty well, but it’s not that kind of game.
After a while, Kitty 2 sent me an email with all the information about Oliver Barley I had been too lazy to Google myself. There was nothing remarkable about him. He was a partner in an appraisal firm that specialized in commercial properties. The cached version of his firm’s Web page had a picture and brief bio. He was bald and wore glasses. He had a wife and three kids and enjoyed golf. There was nothing to suggest he might go insane except for the three kids and the wife. Kitty 2 also sent me his home address and phone number. I called, but the line had been disconnected. I called Barley’s old firm, but the minute I mentioned his name the receptionist started speaking Chinese, so I gave up and decided to go to the De Sade Hospital for the Criminally Insane to see if I could talk to the man himself. I figured maybe he had finished his appraisal before he lost his mind. If that were the case, I might be able to save myself a trip to Innsbruck.
I Googled the De Sade Hospital for the Criminally Insane. I was surprised to discover that it was not named for the Marquis De Sade, but for a fellow named Melvin De Sade. According to Wikipedia, Melvin De Sade was born in Skokie in 1927. Unlike his more famous predecessor, Melvin was a normal guy with normal proclivities, but his name proved a burden. As a child he was singled out for repeated psychological evaluations despite the fact that he showed no signs of being disturbed, and pet stores refused to sell him a puppy. As a young man he had no trouble attracting members of the opposite sex, but his relationships tended to fall apart once the women realized Melvin didn’t have a dungeon in his basement. Instead of changing his name, Melvin vowed he would reclaim his surname from the ignominy in which it had languished for so long. He went to Yale and then Harvard for medical school and became one of the foremost psychiatrists of his day. His research contributed a great deal to our understanding of the root causes of mental illness, but he had died a failure. The Marquis De Sade was still more famous than he was. Old Melvin probably could have saved himself a lot of heartache if he had bothered to read Justine before embarking on a life of virtue.
I jotted down the hospital’s address and left my office.
“I’m going to visit a mental hospital,” I told Kitty 2 on my way out the door.
“It’s about time,” she said, not looking away from her computer screen.
The De Sade Institute for the Criminally Insane had a big sign out front with its name on it. Next to that one was a second sign reading “Not Named After the Marquis De Sade.” I drove past both signs and onto the hospital campus. There was a security gate, but I got past the guard by telling him I was thinking about going on a killing spree and needed to check myself in. The hospital grounds were lush, green and well-manicured. The hospital building was a large white Georgian structure whose aesthetic charms were undermined somewhat by the bars on the windows.
I went up the stairs and through the front door, which was unlocked. I found that a little disconcerting, but I tried not to let it bother me too much as I walked up to the nurse behind the desk in the entranceway. She was trying to clip a hangnail with a pair of safety scissors. She looked frustrated. I cleared my throat to get her attention.
“Do you have some scissors?” she asked.
“No, sorry.’ I replied.
“A knife? A boxcutter? Anything sharp, really.”
“I can’t help you,” I said.
“You’re not here to check in, then?”
The nurse arched an eyebrow. “And you are?”
“I’m here to see Oliver Barley. I’m his uh…attorney,” I said.
The nurse punched a few keys on her computer. “You’re not scheduled for a visit until Thursday.”
“Something urgent has come up,” I said.
The nurse shrugged. “You might as well go see Dr. Valerian since you’re here. I’m sure he’d like to speak with you.”
“Excellent. Can you point me toward his office?”
“Down the hall. Third door on your right.”
My shoes squeaked on the white linoleum floor, and I caught a faint, but distinct scent of urine lurking behind the smell of industrial strength disinfectant as I walked down the hall. When I reached Dr. Valerian’s office, I stopped and knocked.
“Come in,” a soothing voice said.
I opened the door and stepped into a book-lined office. The smell of cleaning products and piss was replaced by lavender, which came from a large bouquet of flowers on the doctor’s desk. The flowers were set next to a picture of the doctor and a much younger man holding hands on a beach. Dr. Valerian was a small, white-haired man with a well kept white goatee and a receding hairline. He wore a red bowtie and a seersucker suit. He stopped studying a file open on his desk to study me. I resisted the urge to say “What’s up doc?” Doctors hate when you ask them that.
“Dr. Valerian,” I said. “I’m Oliver Barley’s attorney. I’d like a word.”
“Yes, of course,” Dr. Valerian replied. “Sit down, please.” He gestured to a chair in front of his desk.
“Doctor, I was hoping you could give me a little insight into my client.”
“What would you like to know?”
“Well,” I said. “What exactly did he do to land him here?”
Dr. Valerian arched an eyebrow. People seemed to do that a lot here. “Surely, as his attorney, you know what Mr. Barley has done.”
“I wanted an..uh..medical perspective,” I said.
“Well,” Dr. Valerian said. “Mr. Barley is an interesting case. I think he may warrant an academic paper or even a book. He has had a psychotic break, yet there was nothing in his past to indicated a tendency to mental illness. Do you know how rare it is for someone his age to manifest psychotic tendencies?”
“No,” I said.
“Extremely,” Valerian said. “He seems to have developed a sudden belief that consumerism is destroying the world.”
“What’s psychotic about that?” I asked. “A lot of people feel that way. They’re called hippies.”
“You misunderstand,” Dr. Valerian said. “Mr. Barley seems to think that people buying things will literally destroy the world. That once a certain critical mass is achieved, the desire of people for more stuff will tear the very fabric of reality allowing a creature of some sort access to our plane of existence.”
“That’s crazy,” I said.
“That’s the medical term for it, yes.” Dr. Valerian said, reaching out and setting the Newton’s Cradle on his desk in motion, the balls making an annoying clacking sound every couple of seconds.
“So, help me understand how his beliefs led to his actions,” I said.
“Well, as you know he tried to cut up his wife’s credit card.”
“Yes,” I said. “But could you go into a little more detail?”
“With a chainsaw.”
“His wife was handing it to a cashier at Macy’s at the time.”
“Yes,” I said. “That’s exactly what the police report said. I just wanted to make sure we were all on the same page. Was my client brought in with any possessions? An appraiser’s report of some sort, perhaps?”
“No,” Dr. Valerian said. “Just his eyeglasses and a very bloody suit.”
“In that case, is it possible for me to speak to him?” I asked.
“Of course,” Dr. Valerian said. He pushed a button on the intercom on his desk. “Emily, would you send an orderly down to escort Mr. Barley’s attorney to speak to him?”
“Yes, doctor,” came the reply.
“I only ask you one favor,” Valerian said.
“What’s that?” I replied.
“If Mr. Barley says anything of note please let me know. As I said, I’m very interested in writing about his case, and I’ve had very little luck getting anything coherent out of him.”
“I’m sure you’ve heard of attorney-client privilege,” I replied.
“Yes,” Dr. Valerian said. “I’m not asking you to violate that. I’m just asking for any information he may divulge that wouldn’t bear on his case. I mean, he has an insanity defense all sewn up as far as I’m concerned.”
“No promises,” I said.
“Very well,” Valerian said.
A couple of minutes later I was being led down a long corridor by a man the size of a school bus.
“This place is pretty quiet for a mental hospital,” I said.
“Most of the patients aren’t really that bad when they’re not trying to kill you,” the orderly said. “Most of them are also on a lot of drugs. Like a Michael Jackson lot of drugs.”
“So,” I said to him. “How do you like working here?”
“Beats my last job,” the guy said.
“What was that?”
“Kindergarten teacher,” he said. “I don’t have to touch bodily fluids nearly as often here.”
The orderly stopped in front of a metal door with a slot on it at eye level. He pulled the slot back and gestured with his thumb. “Barley’s in there,” he said. He wandered off down the hall to give me some privacy.
I peered through the slot. Barley was wrapped in a strait jacket and rolling around in his padded cell, mumbling to himself.
“Hey Barley,” I said.
Barley stopped rolling around and looked at me for a second. Then he went back to rolling around.
“I want to talk to you about the Innsbruck Outlet Mall.”
Barley started to laugh. He laughed and laughed. I pulled out my phone and checked my email. When I finished he was still laughing. Once he quit laughing, he started to speak. “That mall,” he said. “That mall is the nexus. It is the end of the world. It is where all human weakness comes together. It is where He waits, patiently, for the moment when this world will belong to him. All will be swept away in a wave of madness. The lucky ones will die instantly. Those that remain will envy them.” Once he was finished, he started laughing again, his lips flecked with foam. His eyes wide.
“That’s all very interesting,” I said. “Do you happen to have an idea of what the mall might be worth?”
Barley struggled to his feet and came toward the door. He met my gaze with his dark, hollow eyes.
“I was like you once,” he said. “I was blind to the true nature of things. Going to work every day, casually putting dollar values on property, as if it mattered. I made money and I spent it, well, mostly my wife and kids spent it. Well, my wife, really. But I never gave it a thought. Then I went to Innsbruck, and I had my eyes opened. I’ve seen what’s coming and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. Everything you know and love will disappear in an instant.”
“What about the things I hate?” I asked.
“Those will disappear too,” Barley said.
“So, there is some good news,” I said. “You’re just a glass half empty kind of guy. Maybe you just need a change of perspective.”
Barley laughed some more. “Oh, my perspective has changed,” he said. “And yours will too if you visit Innsbruck.”
“I don’t know about my perspective,” I said. “But I know my bank balance will change.”
“Ph’nglui mgla’nafh Cthulhu fhatagn!” Barley barked.
“Gesundheit.” I replied.
Barley started laughing again, and I closed the slot in the door. I found the orderly and asked him where the exit was. He told me to follow the signs for the gift shop, so I did. I tried to resist the temptation to buy a souvenir, but they had some really neat stuff, like embroidered strait jackets, a do-it-yourself electroshock therapy kit, and bottles of jellybeans labeled like antipsychotics. In the end I settled on a novelty lobotomy spike, and I bought a mug for Kitty 2. It had the hospital logo on one side and “You Don’t Have to Be Crazy to Work Here, But it Helps” on the other. I thought she’d get a kick out of that. On my way home I called Valerian’s office. He answered himself, so I figured his secretary had called it a day.
“This is Barley’s lawyer,” I said. “You wanted to know if my client said anything interesting that wouldn’t violate attorney-client privilege, and I’ve got something for you.”
“Well, out with it,” Valerian said.
“Ph’nglui mgla’nafh Cthulhu fhatagn!” I yelled into the phone before hanging up.
Valerian called back a couple of times, but I let it go to voicemail. It felt pretty good to know someone else was as confused as I was.