The Cold Inside (a serial novel) Chapter Thirty-Five part two
The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Wednesday January 25, 1995
The morning crew of the Carvale Home for the Elderly and Infirm began to filter in around nine A.M.; housekeeping, nurses and orderlies all fell into their established routines. Some of the residents were already up and about, others needed to be gently awoken and sometimes arrangements needed to be made for the ones that had died during the night.
That was the hardest part for Harvey Whitstien, you would see a familiar face one day and find they were gone the next. It didn’t seem to bother most of the nursing staff; they would just shrug it off and go on with their work. It seemed to Harvey that most of the people he worked with didn’t even see the old folks as human beings, they called them “consumers” and talked about them the way a stock clerk might talk about a can of beans.
Harvey dry mopped the floors and dreamed of the day when he would be free of this dead end job, when he would be free of all the dead end jobs. Harvey knew he had a destiny, a calling, and someday he would be famous.
And please let it be soon.
Working his way past the Occupational Therapist’s Office, Harvey noticed that Carol Bloom wasn’t there. That always meant trouble. It didn’t matter if she had a legitimate excuse or not, the Nurse Practitioner Grace Lumley would now spend the rest of the day running Carol down and bitching about her to anyone in the smoking area that might hear.
And didn’t it seem like everyone that worked at the Carvale Home smoked? The old saying was that a cigarette took seven minutes off the end of your life and it seemed like everyone here had gotten a good picture of what the end might be like and had decided they’d rather cash out early.
Of course that wasn’t why Harvey smoked; he smoked because he liked the way it made his voice sound. Every little bit helped when your band was struggling to get noticed but Harvey promised himself that as soon as they got a record deal he’d trade in the smokes for studio trickery.
A record deal.
As he mopped Harvey imagined himself singing before stadium sized audiences, accepting awards and slowly screwing his way up the rock star food chain from groupies to strippers to actresses to models.
Of course these days he didn’t even have a girlfriend much less groupies. It was enough of a struggle to keep a band together much less a relationship. The problem with most people, Harvey thought, is that they respect my talent but not my vision.
Everyone from family members to band mates to friends raved about his voice and his songwriting ability but they all shook their heads with disbelief at the genre he had chosen to work in.
They all said the same thing over and over and it drove Harvey insane. Heavy Metal is dead. No one listens to that any more. Why was Heavy Metal dead? Because some suit at a record company said so? Because the radio stations were all playing Grunge and Rap now? Because all the cool bands were breaking up or getting new lead singers?
Harvey frowned. Everyone was telling him he needed to go more mainstream with his music – like Aerosmith. They didn’t understand that his music wasn’t a profession or a skill, it was a calling. Pounding drumbeats and screaming guitar riffs were always in the back of his head. It wasn’t that he ignored the advice so many people were willing to offer. When Harvey had tried to experiment with something ‘mainstream’ and all he’d managed to discover was that he was physically and mentally incapable of writing a ballad or a love song.
Sometimes it was all he could do to keep from giving up on himself.
There was a small knot of staff members before room 302 and they were all talking in hushed tones. Harvey mopped his way towards them, he knew all about the man in room 302, everyone did.
“Hey Terry.” Harvey gave the stout black orderly a smile.
Her smile was wide with impending gossip, “Harvey. How’s the band going?”
“It’s going.” He shrugged, “What’s up? The Sleeper kill another patient?”
“The Sleeper ain’t sleeping no more sugar. They heard some terrible sounds coming from his room last night and when they got here they found him dead, lying face down on the floor.”
“The Sleeper.” One of the cooking staff explained further, he was jittery and bearded, “Maybe he woke up and didn’t like what he saw. The night crew said it sounded like some kind of an animal was in there. Woke up half the wing I guess.”
Harvey leaned his mop against the wall. “He’s dead?”
Terry rolled her eyes, “Didn’t he just say that? Band practice run late last night?”
“What are they going to do with him now?”
One of the administrators smiled thinly. “Well, I know the boss is trying to find a way to keep from giving his room and board back. The guy is paid up until the year 2000.”
Harvey asked, “So who did they call to get the body?”
“Grace’s is going through all the old records now, trying to see if some kind of arrangements were made.” The administrator shrugged, “If she doesn’t find anything then I guess the county is going to take care of it.”
Terry smiled, “County is going to take care of it no matter what. You think they’re gonna find a single record older than five years? Most of them were ruined the time that water pipe burst.”
“I think I just forgot something.” Harvey turned to go.
“You think you forgot?” Terry tried to joke but Harvey was already gone.
This is it. Harvey thought as he half-jogged down the hallway to Carol Bloom’s empty office, This is really it. My big chance.
The office was unlocked. He slipped inside but kept the lights off so he wouldn’t be interrupted. He still had the business card in his wallet, it was ivory paper with black ink and there was no logo or name on it, just a phone number. Harvey had been carrying it around with him for over a year.
His old band, ‘Atrocity Farm’, had been playing a set at a dive bar in one of Albany’s rougher neighborhoods. The audience was mostly people too drunk to pay attention to his life’s work but then Harvey spied a man and a woman in the audience. They wore business suits that looked like they cost more than all the bands’ gear combined, their complexions and hairdos were perfect. They looked like record company executives and they were listening to his songs, really listening.
Harvey pulled out all the stops, performing a longer than usual set. It pissed off his bandmates to no end but he didn’t care – all they were there for was the paycheck.
When the show was done they called Harvey over, just him, not the band.
The man was named Piers Sauno, the woman was named Helen Ginnmett. When they told him what they wanted he’d thought it was a joke, until they passed a thick wad of bills to him. And they promised more, a lot more, enough money that he could buy his own recording studio and cut his own album.
He’d carried that card around waiting for this moment. One time, when he was between bands and gigs he’d even considered going in there and killing the man in room 302 himself; but Harvey had known instinctively that doing that would somehow ruin the deal.
Sitting down in Carol Bloom’s office chair Harvey squinted to read the print on the card then dialed the number.
Half a ring later someone picked up. “Hello Mr. Whitstien,” the man’s voice was instantly recognizable.
“How did you- How did you know?”
“Is he dead?”
“Yes. They said he fell out of bed.”
“Thank you but the details are unimportant.”
“What do I do now?”
“You do nothing, you say nothing and in ten days time a cashier’s check will arrive at your place of residence for the agreed upon amount.”
Harvey felt his heart pounding in his chest. In ten days he would practically be a millionaire. “That’s it?”
An edge of exasperation crept into the man’s voice, “Yes Mr. Whitstien that is it, but I shouldn’t have to tell you that this transaction will have to remain our little secret.”
“Because if you tell anyone, from your taxman to your confessor we will find out about it.”
Harvey felt his hands go cold, “I don’t understand…”
“No, you don’t understand. Continue to do so and you will die happy, rich and old.”
Mr. Sauno hung up, leaving Harvey staring at the wall calendar in the empty office trying to catch his breath. He tried to stand but his stomach heaved and he threw up in the wastebasket near the desk.
Once his knees stopped wobbling and his gut stopped heaving Harvey walked out of the Carvale Home for the Elderly and Infirm without so much of a “Goodbye” or an “I quit.”