Chapter 1: The Black Angels
Carol Mason was a light sleeper. So, the ring of the telephone brought her awake quickly without grogginess or fond memories of delightful dreams. She reached for the lamp on her bedside table, snapped it on, and saw that her clock read 1:18. Her first thought was that little good could come of a call at that time of the morning. She rose from bed, reached the telephone in the alcove between her bedroom and sitting room in three strides, and picked up the phone on its third ring. Her neutral but wide-awake “Hello” then set off a business-like conversation.
“Miss Mason, it’s Clem.”
“Hi Clem, it must be a major problem. Has a patient died, escaped, or gone on a rampage?”
“No ma’am, we need to go out to get a patient. I can come by to get you in ten minutes. Do you have your rain gear? It’s pouring.”
“I have my boots, but my slicker and rubber helmet are in my office.”
“I’ll bring them. Can you be ready in ten minutes?”
“Make it fifteen, please.”
The innocuous exchange put Carol on alert. That the Director of Nursing and the Chief Attendant would be sent to pick up a patient at any time was extraordinary. Being pulled from their beds implied an emergency that surpassed anything that had occurred during her three years at Elm Hill Psychiatric Hospital for Women. Moreover, Clem’s calling her “Miss Mason” and especially “ma’am” indicated that somebody powerful and probably not friendly to either of them was listening to his end of the conversation.
Carol turned toward the beautiful maple bureau at the foot of her bed, a family heirloom that her parents had given her to celebrate her appointment as Director of Nursing two years ago. This represented a major promotion from a charge nurse or shift supervisor and jumped her over the Nurse Managers for Elm Hill’s ten wards. It also gave her a two-room suite plus private bathroom rather than the small dormitory room without a bath that she had had before in Brackman Hall, a dormitory for the unmarried nurses, nursing students and, more recently, nurses’ aides. The suite also came with its own telephone, a luxury that Carol shared with the three Nurse Managers who lived in Brackman. Thus, she no longer had to use the public wall telephones where younger nurses giggled as they talked to their boyfriends and grimaced when their mothers warned them about “bad boys.”
Pulling out underwear, white stockings, and a clean pair of white gloves, she briefly considered whether it was worth the bother to struggle into her girdle. However, she quickly decided that, especially since she didn’t know where she was going or what she would be doing, she wanted to look as professional as possible in her uniform. She then got her white nurse’s uniform and put her nurse’s cap into a small green plastic bag. Finally, she picked up her large and heavy brown purse as she left her bedroom and retrieved her sleek black rubber knee boots from the entry closet by the door. For some unknown reason pertaining to the hierarchy at Elm Hill, nurses were issued feminine boots while both male and female attendants got more clunky ones.
Carol’s room was at the back of the first floor, so she had a relatively short walk to the entryway. Looking out through the window at the downpour, she was grateful that Clem was bringing a heavy slicker and rain helmet for her. Almost immediately, the hospital’s ambulance pulled to a stop in front of the door. She opened the door to admit a tall Negro whose rainwear was already glistening from even the short walk of ten yards from the car to the steps of the porch. He smiled without speaking and held out the raincoat and hat to Carol. She quickly donned her raincoat and helmet and looked up to see Clem regarding their black rainwear in a mirror and smiling slightly to himself.
“You know, Carol, maybe the storm is appropriate. It’s turned us into black angels. We’re giving someone help, or at least the chance not to ride Old Sparky, but unlike real angels we’re certainly not taking her to the good place.”
That bit of philosophy brought the conversation to an end. Once they had regained the shelter of the ambulance, Carol asked what was happening.
“Dr. Carson called me at home a little after midnight and told me to meet him at the hospital. When I got there, he said that there had been a gruesome murder when Judge Adams was blown apart by his daughter Carrie with a shotgun at their mansion on River Ridge and that the police wanted the killer to be committed for a psychiatric evaluation. He had already signed committal papers and wanted the two of us to transport the patient here because the case is very sensitive.”
“Thanks for the summary. I knew that somebody nasty like Carson must be around when you called me ‘ma’am’ and that something pretty serious had happened unlike when you call me at midnight to get a poor drunken nurse out of jail.”
Clem laughed, “Some cops do like to go after our girls, don’t they? The attendants are a lot worse, but they don’t get arrested unless they cause significant damage to somebody or something. Gladys deserved a night in the drunk tank for puking and peeing on the steps of City Hall. In contrast, one nasty old sergeant on his way to a midnight shift hauled poor Emma in just because, he claimed, she was staggering. I don’t think that the girl even drinks.”
By now they had been on the road for about ten minutes, leaving the area of the hospital and driving through a community of respectable bungalows. Clem turned off the through-street they were on to a side road without street lights. “Believe it or not, this goes up the Ridge and brings us out behind the big houses. Doc Carson told me to take it and that we’d be met at a back gate into the mansion’s gardens. It’s the third house after the road has a left bend just after the crest.”
The road curved away from the houses through a wood, leading them in less than a mile to the foot of a ridge that rose about two hundred feet through dense foliage that looked impenetrable through the still heavy rain and almost total darkness. They drove in silence for several minutes as Clem squinted into the gusting downpour to navigate the four switchbacks up the hill. Once they reached the top, the road dropped slightly and then swung sharply to the left to parallel the ridge top to the left and the back walls of the properties that faced River Ridge Road to the right.
“Darn it, Carol. Can you tell where the backyards are separated? I thought there would be lights and a welcoming committee.”
“I know we’ve passed one. I think that gate up there might be number three.”
Chapter 2: The Suspect
Clem rolled the ambulance to a slow stop, as a slight figure moved from the sparse shelter of a gate through the ten-foot wall, waved its arms, and tapped on Carol’s window, motioning her to open the door. Carol did and then slid to the middle of the seat. The car’s interior light briefly showed a young woman’s face in the square opening of her black rain helmet. It seemed to Carol that she looked on edge in a way that was unexpected for an officer presumably conducting a murder investigation. Indeed, nervousness, if not a little fear, was reflected in her voice.
“Turn off the car and the lights. We need to go quickly. The Medical Examiner is supposed to be here at 3. We need to get Carrie out of here and to the hospital before that because the cops will come up to take her to jail as soon as he’s finished. That gives us less than an hour.”
Carol’s response was strong and stern, “Who are you? Are you a policewoman? Aren’t you investigating a crime? We’re not here to fight the police!”
“I’m Emily Jenkins. I’m a meter maid not an officer, but I was ordered to help Officer Harker. I don’t know what’s going on. Someone high up wants her committed and not prosecuted, but they evidently don’t want the people investigating here to know until she’s locked up in the hospital. Please, hurry! You’re Miss Mason, aren’t you? They’re a little afraid of you.”
“Carol, whatever have you done to frighten the police?”
“Rescuing Emma, as you might well guess, Clem. Let’s relive old times later, though. Emily’s right, we need to hurry, not try to make sense out of this crazy situation.”
Her words seemed to calm Emily, who turned to businesslike directions. “We can’t risk a flashlight. So, walk straight behind me. There’s a little light filtering back from the front of the house. I’ll take you up the servants’ stairway at the rear. Leave your rainwear on and don’t worry about making a mess or causing a problem for the investigators. We’re a long way from the murder site, so no one should be looking at the stairs or the second-floor back bedrooms for clues.”
Emily opened her door and stepped out. Clem then reached back, pulled a green canvas duffle bag forward, and whispered to Carol as she started to slide toward the door that Emily had left open, “Sarah Harker is a mean one, but nobody’s ever accused her of being close to the top brass.”
Within a couple of minutes Emily had guided them to Carrie’s bedroom. When they entered, a uniformed policewoman half turned from a comfortable armchair that had been positioned near the bed on the side to the left of the door. She appeared to be about 30, a little over a half decade younger than Carol, with a strong face, hard eyes, and a light brown ponytail.
Her low voice was authoritative, crisp, and certainly to the point. “I’m Officer Harker. Are you Mason? Do you have the committal papers? What’s he doing here? Don’t you know we’ll have to undress her?”
Carol didn’t hide her lack of deference. “Clem is our Chief Attendant who brought the committal papers. More importantly, I need his help in getting her restrained. It also looks like he’ll have to carry her out. What have you done to her? What did you give her?”
The question turned everyone’s attention to the girl on the bed, who seemed to be in her late teens. Her right hand was handcuffed to the headboard, but the restraint was superfluous because she appeared to be in a nearly catatonic state with glazed open eyes and no movement. She had an oval face and dark brown hair that might once have been pretty but was now matted and disheveled. She was wearing a green dress that was well spattered with what must have been blood from below the waist to the neckline.
Clem and Carol had already shed their raincoats and rubber helmets, while Emily remained frozen by the increasingly angry hisses of the other two women. Clem pulled a plastic folder from the top of the duffle bag and handed it to the policewoman. “Here’s your copy of the committal order, ma’am. It’s signed by both Judge Welch and Doctor Carson. Don’t worry about me peeking at what I shouldn’t. I’ll step outside until she’s ready for the jacket.”
Sarah seemed momentarily relieved and mollified, “Thank heaven. Without the committal papers, Detective Perkins would slap me in the cell they have reserved for her.” Carol, who had already grabbed a pair of rubber gloves from Clem’s duffle bag, turned businesslike as well, “I don’t know what’s going on, but we need to cooperate. Clem’s outside already. I assume you need to take all her clothes for evidence.”
Without speaking, the two women got the girl undressed. As Sarah arranged the clothing as evidence at the bottom of the bed, Carol returned to the duffle bag for thick cloth diapers.
Please, Emily, come here and make yourself useful. That’s a good girl. Raise her legs, so we can put diaper cream on her bottom. Okay, good. Now hold her there, while I get the double diapers under her and pinned. Good girl!” It was unclear, though, whether the last was directed to Emily or Carrie. “Now, let’s get her sitting on the side of the bed again. Good. Pull those rubber pants up over her knees. Good girl. Okay, I’ll hold her up now. Get the pants up over the diaper. Make sure the diaper is completely covered. She’ll be in it all night, so she’s sure to be soaked. Okay, sit her down again and get Clem.”
While Emily went to the door, Carol picked up a cord belt, slipped it through the loops at the top of Carrie’s pants and secured it with a small padlock at the back. By this time, Clem had returned and extracted a heavy white canvas strait jacket from the duffle bag.
“Here ma’am, keep her sitting. I’ll get her arms in the front. Now, let’s get her standing between the two of us. Okay, now you’ve got the back straps fastened, here are the sleeves. I’ve got her elbows positioned so that the jacket won’t be too tight.” Carol then pulled the two sleeves together and buckled them behind Carrie’s back to get the jacket fully secured.
They refrained from the smiles they would have normally shared for a job efficiently done and then looked up to see Sarah and Emily looking at them wide-eyed, though probably for different reasons. Carol smiled at the meter maid, “One last chore Emily. Please hold her up while we get her dressed for the storm.” Clem emptied the once bulging duffle bag by extracting a set of rainwear for Carrie.
Carol looked at the policewoman again. “We need to know what was used for sedating her. Was it sodium amytal? It must be something powerful. The doctors certainly won’t want a drug interaction.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know. I’m just a cop. She was like this when I got here. Can I ask a big favor? Could you take Emily home? Nobody knows she’s here. It might be a good idea to keep it that way. There’ll be enough of a row when they find out you’ve carted that damn murderess off.”
Clem and Carol were already back in their rainwear. Clem picked up Carrie easily, while Carol turned to the now obviously disconcerted meter maid. “Come, Emily, you’re already dressed for the weather. You can lead us back to the gate and the ambulance. Goodbye, Sarah. We made a good if not congenial team. We’re in and out in less than twenty minutes. We should be back at the hospital by a few minutes before three.”
The policewoman seemed a little uncertain about how to respond to the use of her first name, but in the end nodded nervously, “We had to. I don’t think you understand any more than I do.”
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