The Cold Inside (a serial novel) Eleventh Interlude
The Cold Inside
by Al Bruno III
Wednesday January 25, 1995
The Carvale Home For the Elderly and Infirm’s file room was a cramped space off from the basement. The files for the newer patients were all in perfect order but any records from the previous owners’ decade long reign had been loaded into cardboard file boxes and piled in the corner. The boxes and the folders they contained were all warped from water damage and marked by mold by runny ink. There appeared to be no rhyme or reason to the way they had been stacked and shuffled together and that meant if you wanted to find anything you were going to have to go through each and every manila folder there.
Grace Lumley had spent the better part of her day doing this and she had just about had enough. She had brought a garbage can into the file room with her and every scrap of paperwork that didn’t have any bearing on her search was unceremoniously tossed. As she scanned through the files she fumed and grumbled to herself; it was bad enough that one of the orderlies had just up and quit, it was bad enough Carol Bloom decided to simply not show up today but now to find herself having to do this?
This was secretaries’ work but the secretary had begged off, claiming the file room always aggravated her asthma. We’ll see how the unemployment line impacts her breathing. Grace thought, I can’t have a secretary that refuses to go into the file room.
The Sleeper’s records had to be here someplace. It was that simple. Grace knew she’d noted his file, she remembered holding the file in her damn hands. So where was it? Had it been lost or misfiled?
Of course it was. The only person around here that isn’t allowed to do a half-assed job is me.
Grace glanced through another file, grumbled with disgust and tossed it into the trash. The old records had been here long enough; most of the people whose files she was reading had been dead for a quarter century or more. When she was done with this Grace still had to sign off on Lucille Dowd’s paperwork, the old girl had died in the critical care ward of the Albany Memorial Hospital last night. Grace wanted to get her room cleared out and ready for the next consumer but she really couldn’t make a move until they touched base with Lucille Dowd’s husband. It might look bad if he came by to find all his beloved wife’s things tossed but they couldn’t afford to let that bed sit idle for long either.
Grace let out a little yelp at the sight of the man standing in the doorway. At first she was startled but then she was mesmerized; he was so handsome. Good looking enough to be a model but his features were flawlessly offset by the maturity of years. His hair, his suit and his teeth were all perfect.
“Are you Grace Lumley?” He said again.
“Oh. Oh yes.” Grace brushed the dust from her hands and crossed the room to take the man’s hand. “How can I help you?”
His grip was firm and cool, “My name is Piers Sauno and I’m here about the remains of David Grymlann.”
“Who?” Grace felt momentarily dizzy, had they lost three consumers today?
“The patient in room 302.” Mr. Sauno handed her a worn looking manila file, “He’s been here for quite some time.”
Grace flipped through the pages; this was the file she had been looking for all along. “How did you get this?”
“We have long managed Mr. Grymlann’s interests.” He smiled easily. “It was his wish that his body be passed on to medical science so that the world might better understand the condition that plagued him.”
“We couldn’t find his records.” Grace explained, “When we aren’t sure what the family wants I- we contract with the Crawford funeral home.”
“Yes I saw their hearse parked around back. We parked our own vehicle right along side it.”
“Oh.” Grace was still flipping through the pages of the file, something seemed very off about this whole thing.
Mr. Sauno gestured to the file room’s open doorway; a hard edge had crept into his voice, “Now if you don’t mind I’d like to get moving on this matter. I could care less about your missing files or cozy kickbacks. My time is valuable.”
Grace found herself flush with anger and embarrassment; she led the man through the hallways of the Carvale Home for the Elderly and Infirm. He kept pace with her and said nothing. She felt the manila folder crinkling in her hand, Who is this guy anyway? A lawyer? A relative? And how did he get hold of the file?
They both stepped out onto the loading dock; the air was frosty and tinged with the odor of spent cigarettes. An ambulance was parked at an angle next to the Crawford Funeral Home’s vehicle. The hearse driver was talking to a woman in an expensive looking pantsuit; the loose curls of her honey colored hair were pulled back into a bun, her features were aristocratic and dazzling. The hearse driver was chatting away, trying to make time, never noticing that her eyes were focused anywhere but on him. When she caught sight of Mr. Sauno she walked away in mid sentence, “Where is our body?”
“It’s not here yet?” Mr. Sauno frowned and then turned to Grace; “This is my associate Ms. Helen Ginnmett. Why haven’t any of your staff brought the body?”
“You still need me Grace?” The hearse driver for the Crawford Funeral Home was a pleasant recovering alcoholic named Eric. Whenever Grace felt lonely or maudlin she found herself in his bed. Eric wanted something more than that but she always told him that they were too old for romance.
“I don’t think so.” Grace said, “These folks are here for the body. I guess there were other arrangements after all.”
“Oh well.” He smiled, “Nice day for a drive anyway.”
Ms. Ginnmett grinned widely, “That’s the spirit. I’ve always said it isn’t the destination it’s the people you meet along the way.”
An annoyed look crossed Mr. Sauno’s features, “Ms. Ginnmett, please.”
Ms. Ginnmett leaned in close to Eric and said in a stage whisper, “He’s such a grouch.”
Now Terry stepped out onto the loading dock; she looked around at the faces there, familiar and otherwise. When she spoke, her voice was uncertain, “Miss Lumley?”
Grace turned her attention from the strangers to the orderly, “What is it Terry?”
“I need to speak with you privately ma’am.”
“Can’t you see I’m a little busy here?”
Mr. Sauno shook his head and then said, “The body Miss Lumley. Could you please get us the body so we could all be on our way?”
“Hey.” Ms. Ginnmett’s smile slipped a little; “Did you see her expression when you said that?”
Mr. Sauno stepped closer to the two women, “Is there a problem?”
Terry shot the man a glare, “I think I should tell Miss Lumley this in private.”
Suddenly his hands were about both women's throats, he lifted them off the ground easily. Terry kicked Mr. Sauno in the crotch but he didn’t even flinch, his expression didn’t even change from its cool neutrality. “Enough games. The body.”
“Hey!” Eric moved towards him, “Take your hands off her!”
Grace tried to shout a warning but her voice was a choking whisper. Ms. Ginnmett grabbed Eric by the shoulder, spun him around and struck him. The blow was impossibly fast and impossibly loud. The sound of bone snapping was like a gunshot. Eric slumped limply against the hearse, his head lolling.
“There is no body.” Terry gasped, flailing at the hand that held her, “We can’t find it.”
Mr. Sauno’s expression of businesslike neutrality became creased with anger, “Is this the truth?”
Grace choked, she couldn’t look away from Eric, “Tell him what he wants to know.”
“Please.” Terry’s voice was a breathless rasp, “We don’t know what happened. It’s just gone. We called the police already. We-”
Piers Sauno tightened the grip of one of his hands. Grace heard vertebrae crack, Terry died with a whimper.
Ms. Ginnmett stepped closer to them, “What do we do now?”
“This could be the work of one of our adversaries, she may know something.”
“I doubt that.”
Grace’s voice was a desperate quaver, “Why are you doing this? I don’t understand.”
Ms. Ginnmett nodded with satisfaction, “See?”
He shook his head, “She may be lying. The only way to be sure is to process her.”
“I’ll strap her down.” Ms. Ginnmett opened the back door of the ambulance. “Maybe I can do it this time?”
“We’ll both process her, it will be faster that way.”
There were strange gleaming instruments arranged around the gurney in the rear of the vehicle, for all her years of training Grace could recognize none of them.
She kicked and clawed but Mr. Sauno dragged her along with ease.