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Chapter 2 - Amy

The worn-in Buick Lesabre sailed down the empty highway with the windows down and the speakers blaring “I want a girl with a short skirt and a loooooong jacket”. The air conditioner had crapped out years ago, but the car still ran like a beast so Theo still drove it like one. His left hand tapped the faded tan body of the Lesabre to the beat of the song and his right hand repeatedly raised to his tie, tugged at the knot, then lowered back to the steering wheel. The heat made his ‘mandatory’ dress agonizingly uncomfortable, he hated taking jobs for uppity rich snobs. Well, until he saw the look on Dorris’ face when she cashed the checks, that is. Solving this case would keep that look on her face for the rest of the year, plus it was infinitely more interesting than anything else waiting for his attention, so he guessed he could deal with the tweed monstrosity currently squeezing the life from him a little longer.

The patient and victim, Mitchell A. Walcott was in the most secure area of the Shady Acres Behavioral Facility, which was a locked seclusion room on the top floor, with security personnel and cameras in every corner, yet he’d died, with no witnesses or evidence to speak of, from a small puncture to his heart. The impossibility of the case is what drew Theo, he was so sick of catching cheaters, there was no fun in it anymore he needed a case with some substance and challenge, then he could go back to outing dirtbags for a few coins a pop.

His hand raised, yet again, to his necktie adjusting the knot, to no avail. As uncomfortable as it was, his attire could only keep his mind from the case for so long, especially as he pulled into the long magnolia tree-lined drive of Shady Acres. The drive was about half a mile long, Theo assumed that the design was to ensure the citizens of Crescent felt more secure by keeping the patients out of view. Whatever the mentality behind the design of the facility, it was astonishing. The giant red-brick facility sat in the middle of the most breathtaking garden Theo had ever seen.

There were as many plants as he could name, and a multitude more. There were all of your everyday plants that could be found in any nursery, but then there were some plants that Theo could have sworn were from some alien planet. Their vines twisted along the gnawed lower branches of the magnolia trees and flaunted giant bright purple flowers with strange lime green swirls covering the petals. He imagined that the vines were strong enough to swing from, and for a split second considered testing his theory. Under the vines were a diverse array of grass and moss. They were in every shade of green, yellow, orange, and red and some even seemed to emit glitter if Theo didn’t look directly at them. The last time he could remember being in this much awe was when he was a kid, and magic existed.

Immediately in front of the massive red brick structure was a sunlit circle of perfectly manicured grass, and several paths leading away from it like the rays of the sun. His eyes followed one of the paths and saw that it led to a dense looking forest. Another led to a path surrounded by brightly colored flower beds. The path that he’d mistakenly wandered onto was surrounded by an odd flower that he’d never seen before. It was about knee height with black leaves along the stem and bright orange flowers with tiny electric blue spheres orbiting just above each bud. “How in the fu..” Theo began aloud as he reached out to poke the strange plant when he was suddenly knocked nearly off his feet by someone colliding into him.

Before he was even aware of what was happening, his arm thrust out to catch the invader just before her head smacked the stone pathway. “Woah there” he breathed as he helped the person restore her normal stance.

The offender was just over five and a half feet tall. She had bright red hair that was jammed into a tight bun on the back of her head. Dark eyes that never seemed to stay in one place for long and pale skin that almost matched her outfit, an ill-fitting white hospital uniform with a kaleidoscope of specks and smudges spanning the front and a patch on the right breast pocket indicating that it belonged to Shady Acres Behavioral Facility . Her face was void of any makeup but was still quite stunning as her expression shifted from shock to confusion then finally settled on agitation. She looked down at her waist then looked at him over her glasses.

Theo realized that his hand was still attached to the lady’s waist, so he jerked it away in a quick motion then smiling, he re-extended the offending hand towards her. “Hi, I’m Theo. Do you, uhm, work here?”

She looked back down at her uniform, clear indication that she did, in fact, work there, then gave Theo an unamused look, “How’d you guess?” Then her expression softened and she sighed as if someone had just scolded her about something for the 100th time. “Yes, I’m a cook here. Why are you laying down on the ground?”

He lowered his rejected hand, pointing to the ground beside them, “Well I was looking at these flowers, I’ve never seen anything like them” he pointed to the strange plant with orbiting spheres.

Her eyes widened slightly and she blurted “Are you a visitor?” loud and abrupt enough to draw his attention away from the ground.

“I’m here to investigate the murder that happened here a few months ago”

He watched her face as she visibly began to get lost in tragic thoughts for a few seconds, then shook herself and replaced it with her usual apathetic scowl, “I can show you where the office is”. Before he had a chance to respond, she turned around and started walking towards the massive front doors. “Sure, that would be great” he muttered to himself then grinned and ran to catch up to the unusual woman.

Slightly out of breath, Theo asked: “So, what’s your name?”

“Does that matter?” Her eye contact didn’t shift from her intended destination

“I don’t know, just trying to make conversation” It was like he was talking to a brick wall, a brick wall that collided into him.

“Well, you can converse with the overlords” She pointed to the office in front of them. The office had a single dusty desk in the middle of the faded tile floor. Then, without a word, she turned around and began walking back the way they’d come in.

As Theo walked through the glass door into the office, he saw tan walls with a door to another room on the right and a worn couch to the left. The desk in the middle of the room was metal and had to weigh at least 300 pounds. There was an old-looking computer monitor, though much newer than Dorris’, he really needed to do something about that. Besides the computer, there were a few piles of paper and a single photo of two children. An elderly woman sat behind the desk. Her face was open-eyed and expressionless and her hands sat on the keyboard unmoving.

“Um, hello?.. Ma’am?,” Theo said approaching the desk.

The woman nearly jumped out of her chair, let out a massive snort, and cried out “OOH!” She began to compose herself as she noticed the large man standing in front of her desk, a stunned look on his face and his mouth slightly open. Then in her most sweet-tempered grandmotherly voice she proclaimed, “Welcome to Shady Acres, how can I help you?”

“Were your eyes o...” Theo shook his head, remembering why he was standing there, “Hello ma’am, I’m Theo Aide. I was hired by Mr. Walcott's' family to investigate his murder. Could you please point me in the direction of who could help me with that? Is it you?” His smile beamed brighter somehow and the old lady smiled. It looked unpracticed like she was still learning the ins and outs of human expression by mimicking emotions in the mirror. She was still working on amused laughter he could see, but that just meant that she didn’t smile enough, and he was glad he could be the one to bring it out now.

“Are those your kids?” Theo asked

The woman looked at him in unfettered confusion. “What?” she replied.

Theo pointed at the photo, realizing that this conversation wasn’t going the way he’d planned. She looked in the direction that Theo was pointing in and jumped, as if remembering something very important. “Ah yes, those are my grandchildren” She smiled then before he could ask anymore follow up questions, she continued “You can wait over there while I call Buck for you”. She smiled with her teeth clenched and pointed towards the leather couch. Theo got the hint and turned toward the waiting area. Right as he’d gotten comfortable, the door on the other side of the office swung open.

an enormously powerful looking man came out of the doors with a flourish. Theo thought the only thing missing was a curly cue mustache and cape. He looked like an extravagantly delightful man, with rosy cheeks and a smile that could bring light to the darkest caves. Almost an exact opposite from his serious and somewhat off putting secretary.

“Well hello there!” He cheerfully bellowed, “My name is Buck, and I run this place, you must be Theo.”

Not knowing how to take this drastic change in mood, but liking Buck all the more for it, Theo replied, “Yes sir, I’m here to investigate the murder of Mr. Walcott.”

“Oh thank god.” Buck muttered, visibly relieved at Theo’s presence. All we have come across are a series of dead ends.” Then thinking about his wording, Buck worriedly amended “Not to make light of the situation”.

Broadening his smile Theo proclaim, “No no, I understand, and I am here to help in anyway I can. Can you show me to the crime scene?”

“Absolutely!” Buck exclaimed, some of his radiance returning.

When they arrived to the seclusion room, Theo saw that the crime scene tape hadn’t been removed in the months since the murder happened, so he ducked under one and went into the barren white room.

“It doesn’t look like anything happened here. Can you tell me more about what occurred?” Theo asked.

“Well, there wasn’t anything to clean. There wasn’t any blood except a small amount around Mitch’s mouth, and nothing was broken into or out of” his sorrowful demeanor returning. “Mitch was loved by everyone in the facility and a model patient for the most part.”

“Then why was he in this room?” Theo questioned.

“When I say ‘model patient’ you have to understand that it means a bit less than what you might be thinking. Our patients are severely ill and sometimes they cannot help when it takes them over, but regardless of his illness, he always tried his best to be kind to almost never make a ruckus.” Buck answered clearly getting lost in happier memories of his beloved patient.

“So what did he do that day that ended him up in this room?” Theo asked, trying to draw Buck back to the present situation.

“Well, it started early that morning. He started screaming about monsters coming to get him and he refused to take his medication saying that he couldn’t be sedated for when it came for him. I don’t know who or what did this, but every day since, I have regretted not listening to his ramblings, chalking them up to ravings.”

Theo put a hand on the large mans shoulder reassuringly “Don’t worry, this wasn’t your fault. You have obviously put a lot of love and care into this facility, I took a look around and it’s as secure as anyone could ask for, hell, I got tackled just trying to look at some plants. Don’t blame yourself for trying to help a patient that sounded like he was in need of a cool-down”.

Buck looked up, hope returning to his bright blue eyes, he smiled, then confusion washed over his face “wait, did you say tackled?”

“Is there anyone else here that was close to Mr. Walcott?” Theo asked, changing the subject.

“Well Amy, she and Mitch had a great friendship, which was kind of hard to believe on both ends.”

“What do you mean?” asked Theo

Buck, clearly not expecting to be questioned about his comment began to look embarrassed. “Well Mitch was very sick, but he was easy enough to get along with. Amy, on the other hand…” he trailed off then hurriedly added “you know she is an amazing employee; never late, she always does more work than is asked.. She’s just a little.. Uhm..” he looked like he was causing himself actual pain trying to think of a polite word, ''abrasive” he finally decided.

“Well she sound interesting, can I talk to her?” Theo asked.

“I mean, if you really want to... She works in the kitchen, I’ll show you the way”. And they were off again around the labyrinth of halls.

“Hi there Ed, is Amy around?” Buck asked the fat man as he was frantically trying to pry himself out of a chair that Theo actually felt sorry for.

Finally getting to his feet, sweat dripping from his chin, he declared “Hi sir, yes sir! She is in the back, I’ll go get her right now. Please, help yourself to some cookies she made!” pointing to a plate near the end of the line.

“Oh! Today is cookie day?” Buck exclaimed and rushed over to the plate grabbing three cookies and motioning Theo over to do the same. Then headed to the closest empty table.

They sat down and Buck looked down at his cookies, Theo could almost see the entire world melting away around him. Theo thought it was a bit odd, but Buck did look like the kind of man who enjoyed good food, so he took a bite.

Then his own world melted. Theo had never tasted anything like them. They looked like your average chocolate chip cookie, they smelled the same and felt the same, if a little fluffier than usual. But Theo was used to gas station tacos and beer, so he didn’t have much to go on. As soon as he bit into one Theo was sure that he had somehow met a genie who granted him a wish, and he’d used the wish to get the best cookie ever made. His eyes shut so that his other senses wouldn’t interfere with the euphoric rush happening in the lower half of his skull.

He continued until all three of his cookies were gone and he finally let one of his eyes crack open, and he saw Buck doing exactly what he’d just finished doing. They’d finished at about the same time and Buck looked at Theo knowingly and claimed “She may be a bit rough around the edges, but damn that lady can cook.”

“This is normal?”

“Yes, most of the patients swear that her food is what heals them.” he acknowledged without a doubt on his face that they were absolutely correct.

“Well shit, I think I might agree with them if this is how all of her food is.” Theo mused still amazed by what had just happened. Then he almost jumped out of his ill fitting suit jacket as he noticed the woman from the garden sitting at the table with a single eyebrow raised staring at the pair.

“She does that.” Buck chortled.

“Hello again Ms …” He could feel his face reddening.

She rolled her eyes, as if giving in “Amy” she finished.

Theo tried his best to hide his grin, somehow understanding the battle that he’d just won. “Hi Ms. Amy, my name is Theo. I am a private investigator, here to find out who murdered Mr. Walcott. Would you be so kind as to answer a few questions about him? Any leads I can get will really help.” His usual charisma returning.

“I guess.” Amy said, looking away. Theo could tell that she wanted to help, but she didn’t want to seem excited to help.

With a chuckle and a bit of a grunt Buck picked himself up and announced, “Well, I’ll let you two talk.” then headed back over to the plate grabbing a couple of cookies on his way out of the kitchen.

“What do you want to know? You know I wasn’t one of his doctors, I’m just a cook” Amy probed.

“Well Buck told me that you were very close to Mr. Walcott, can you tell me more about that?” asked Theo

“He was one of the two only kind people in this town. So I tried to be nice back, that’s all”. Her usual sour demeanor fading just a bit, letting Theo in on a small secret that few knew about. She actually did have feelings.

“That’s what I keep hearing about Mr. Walcott” Theo confirmed smiling, “Do you know anything about what happened the morning of the incident?”

“I know he was having a bad morning, he was talking about monsters coming to get him. But that’s not as unusual as you would imagine in a place like this. I was in the middle of cooking his favorite lunch, hoping that would bring him back down when I heard the scream” she responded, her hands involuntarily moving up to her necklace.

He couldn’t see the full details, but he did see that the charm was a small circle with what looked like a tree and a moon on it. Then her hands snapped away from it and he looked back at her face, her expression returning to its normal scowl.

“That’s what Buck told me as well. Do you have any other information that I could find useful? Anything at all that you can remember about that morning?”

“No, I was in the kitchen all morning, you can ask Ed, his fat ass doesn’t move from that chair, so he was there to witness”

“You aren’t under investigation, I’m just trying to look for a lead to go on”.

Amy sat silently thinking for a few moments then declared, “Ok, I’ll go get my stuff. I’ll be back in just a minute”

Theo sat in confusion not knowing what had just happened until Amy returned motioning him to follow her to the front of the building.

As they walked out of the huge front doors Amy asked, “You got a car?”

“Uhm, yes, where are we going?”

“Were going to solve the case, but first I need to pack. So my house.”

“Wait what? What do you mean?” Theo stood there dumbstruck. He did have partners. Partners let you down, the only logical choice was to work alone. Plus, you didn’t have to share your snacks.

Clearly doing her best to dumb down the situation so that he could understand it, Amy slowly replied, “You told me that you don’t have any leads, and I don’t have any good information. So we are going to find some and solve the case.”

“So, you are just going to leave your job and solve the case?” he asked still trying to clarify what was happening.

Speeding back up to her normal tempo, Amy shrugged, “yeah, I figure, they don’t need or even really like me. Mitch was the nicest person in this town and he’s gone so there’s nothing for me here anymore.” Then slowing down her words as if she was talking to a child she intoned “I am going with you to solve this murder.”

“Well then.”

Theo raised his eyebrows and watched in fascination as the strange woman - without being told which one it was - walk to his car, then ran to catch up with her yet again.

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