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Rick Ratner, after waking up in a mental health facility, is accused of murdering his only daughter. Could he have done it? Can he escape and prove his innocence or is there much more that Rick is unaware of?


Submitted:May 9, 2013    Reads: 25    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


SHATTERED


Jason Wallace

Copyright Jason Wallace 2011

Chapter 1

Being wheeled down a dreary, dilapidated hall, Rick Ratner's head bobbed up and down onto his shoulder. He was half conscious but had no idea where or when he was. He had never seen this place before but soon felt himself being strapped to a chair in a dimly lit room.

Outside, a tumultuous storm was brewing. Lightning could be seen through the windows of each room Rick passed. The thunder crashed like sonic booms. A tree banged hard against the building, creating a loud bang and then, a very eerie scratching sound that toyed with one's ears and mind like a crazed madman playing with his prey before the kill.

"Hello, Mr. Ratner. I'm Doctor Selis. Do you remember killing your daughter?"

"Killing my daughter? What the hell are you talking about," smirked Rick.

"Your daughter, Nataly… She was brutally murdered, Mr. Ratner, by you," retorted the doctor, as if Rick had been convicted already.

Sitting in the stiff chair, unable to move from shock, and from heavy restraints, Rick could think of nothing else to say. Trying to process what he had just been told seemed like some impossible task had been set before him.

The doctor, exacerbated by Rick's lack of cooperation, moved her chair a little closer to her desk and added, "Ok, Mr. Ratner, let's try a different approach. Do you remember the night your daughter was killed?"

"I don't remember my daughter being killed at all. I do remember bits and pieces of the last time I saw her. I remember… cooking dinner. I remember Nataly telling me she got a new job, a job in Chicago. I remember not being able to deal with it… I mean, my little girl, my only child, moving so far away from me like I wasn't important anymore. I remember dropping the pan I just took off the stove. I remember realizing, after about thirty seconds, how much my foot hurt from a heavy pan being dropped right on it." Rick sat in his chair, his mouth still gaping open after finishing his story. As everything played out in Rick's mind, the best that he could remember it, he tried to imagine the brutality of his daughter's killing. There must have been blood everywhere. She must have screamed so hard. Why would no one come running over and bust in the door, he thought.

"Mr. Ratner, your daughter was stabbed. She died from a knife tearing through her spleen and from a massive loss of blood, hemorrhaging," replied the doctor. "Do you remember the knife? It was a kitchen knife. You and your daughter were in the kitchen. You grabbed a knife and stabbed her. Do you remember any of that?"

"No! I DID NOT kill my daughter! I don't remember everything in detail, but I remember a knock on the door. I remember opening the door. I remember someone pushing past me. I remember Nataly and this strange man yelling at each other. I remember stepping toward them and trying to get between them and then being pushed down and hitting my head. I can't remember it all the greatest, but I remember small pieces… enough to paint a picture in my head." Rick responded as if he were being accused while on the witness stand in a courtroom.

"Mr. Ratner, you have been here in this hospital for a week now. You have required a heavy amount of sedation because you have been completely uncooperative and even violent. This is the first opportunity I've had to really speak with you about what happened. Mr. Ratner, we are trying to help you to accept what happened. What we know is that there was no man. It was you, all you. You stabbed your daughter. There were no signs of anyone else in the house but you and your daughter. Your fingerprints were on the knife that was used to stab her. It was her blood that covered your clothing. The police have little else to go on, but all evidence leads to that one conclusion and that one conclusion only," the doctor said calmly yet so firmly that Rick still felt like he was being examined by a prosecutor.

Rick knew courtrooms well. Having spent nearly twenty years as a litigator, there were few techniques that could be used against him that would be alien to him, even if they did come from a psychiatrist.

Rick couldn't help but think, "What does she think she's doing? Does she really think she can get me to admit to something I never did?! Like I'd fall for this! Like I don't know how interrogations and examinations work!"

"Look… I did none of this! Now, how in the hell can I tell you details about something I never did? You're trying to get me to admit to a crime, a crime I never committed. If I were to ever kill someone, not that I could actually do that, but if I did, IT WOULD NEVER BE MY OWN DAUGHTER! Nataly was everything to me! She was my life!" This was all Rick could get to come out of his mouth, still shocked and angry at the accusations.

"Mr. Ratner, are you familiar with Multiple Personality Disorder," replied the doctor.

"Yes… I mean, kind of," responded Rick.

"Well, Mr. Ratner, a person can develop the disorder and show few signs of it until an event that is too traumatic for them to handle presents itself. At that point, the person's other personality or personalities can manifest and make the person do unspeakable things. It is as if they are an entirely different person at that moment because psychologically speaking, they are. I believe this may be what happened to you, Mr. Ratner," added the doctor, so sure of herself and her diagnosis.

"Well, "Doctor," Rick retorted, "If I had this disorder, as you believe I do, would signs of it not have manifested years ago, perhaps when my wife of nearly twenty years left me for a younger man? Would that trauma not have been enough, especially when compounded with having to raise a child on my own?! If you want to pinpoint a moment of "manifestation," "Doctor," that probably would have been it," snapped Rick.

The doctor, seeing she was making no headway with Rick, responded snidely with, "Perhaps, that is so, but at that point, you did not kill anyone. As the evidence of the scene suggests, and as the disorder I believe you to have suggests, you did kill your daughter one week ago."

By this point, Rick could take no more and saw no reason to do so. "Ok, doc. I want a lawyer then. Whether I'm locked up in a jail or in this excuse of a hospital, I'm entitled to a lawyer if I'm being accused of a crime!"

"Alright, Mr. Ratner. Have it your way. I will see to it personally that you get a lawyer. If that means that you are refusing to talk to me any further until such time, so be it… But I must warn you, there is little we can do for you to help you deal with the trauma and stress of this situation if you won't accept it and confront it head on," added Dr. Selis, having calmed down from the frustration caused by such a lack of cooperation.

Rick began to fidget in his chair, mumbling incoherently. Dr. Selis, too, started to move nervously. "Are you Richard Ratner? Is that who is still here with me," Dr. Selis asked. She got no reply, only more mumbling.

In her notes, the doctor added,

The patient remains completely disassociated and refuses to acknowledge true personality or accept what happened. Many more sessions required to absolve patient of feelings of guilt and re-establish reality. The patient is still exhibiting at least one alter.

Rick was soon escorted back to his room and given a powerful sedative. He had been ruled uncooperative and a danger to staff and patients because of supposed fits of violence. He awoke the next morning, still trying to make sense of everything he had been through lately. That was just it… nothing made sense anymore. His whole world was shattered, and the remaining pieces had been tossed about like a ship in hurricane season. He was still lying in bed, unable to move much because of the restraints and could not help but think, "How could a whole week go by without me remembering anything at all? Well, there's no way this could get any worse. They have me locked up in a psych hospital, restrained, heavily medicated, accused of murdering my only child. What else can they do to me? If I'm "proven" as mentally disturbed as they say I am, at most, I'll be locked up here forever." What little did Rick know that things could actually get much worse for him.

Just off the property of the hospital, in a black sedan, sat two men, watching the hospital. A phone rang. The driver of the car answered it, and all that could be heard was, "Ok. Good. I'll pass it on." Turning to the other man, the driver said, "The game is on."

Rick could vaguely see a shadow through the small window on his door. The door suddenly began to creak open, and in walked a very burly orderly. "Ratner, your lawyer's gonna be here in an hour. I'm gonna release you and take you to the dining area to have breakfast and then take you to the shower. You gotta make everything quick… and no biting this time."

The last thing Rick could think about at this point was eating. "I'm not hungry."

"Not your choice, Ratner. You're gonna eat whether I have to shove the food down your throat or you voluntarily pick it up and put it in your damn mouth," joked the orderly, adding, "I'm tired of messin' with you. You've been a pain in my ass for a week now. We have to sedate you so damn much… it's getting' to be a real chore."

The words seemed funny to hear, like the orderly was almost letting something slip. Why would they have to sedate someone all the time if that person never exhibited violent behavior before, and how could a person lose an entire week yet be so much trouble? It made no sense at all to Rick, unless either he really had developed multiple personality disorder or he was drugged the entire week and really had not woken up until last night.

The orderly quickly undid Rick's restraints and yanked him out of bed. Being almost shoved out the door, Rick found his body nearly floating to the dining area, as if some unknown force was guiding him. His will was no longer his own. He was violently pushed down into a chair and had a tray of what could only be described as garbage someone had made into food set before his face. Rick took one bite and realized that the food they served in the hospital looked much better than it tasted. The orderly kept watch over Rick, so there was no use feigning lack of hunger. Rick took another bite and soon another. He had to fight with every fiber of his being to keep the "food" from coming back out the same way it went into his body. After what seemed like hours, Rick finally finished his breakfast, and before his body could process and settle what it had just been forced to endure, Rick was quickly pulled from his chair and led down another hallway.

The shower area looked like something out of the 1950s. The showers looked greatly dilapidated, as if they would soon fall from the walls. Rick turned on the water, expecting it to turn hot. After waiting more than a minute and constantly checking the water with his hand, he realized the water would not get any hotter. Plus, the same orderly that had bossed him around for the last half an hour was standing watch, like a guard dog that knew no other purpose. Rick could not keep himself from exclaiming, though in a hushed voice, "They must have hired that guy for his brains. What a dumb prick! Hey, at least they give us all the cold water we could want!"

After barely getting more than half of his body washed and not yet being allowed to wash his hair, the orderly shouted, "Hey, Ratner! That's enough! Time to get dressed and meet with your lawyer."

Rick had never thrown on clothes so fast as he did that morning. His hope was that if he complied fully with the burly orderly, he would be saved from at least a few of the orderly's abrasive quips. Rick couldn't help but wonder, as he finished dressing, "Why did they not give me any meds? Do they want me to seem totally normal so no one realized how they abuse their patients? Or is it that they hope my lawyer will think he has a case he can build in my favor so I have some kind of hope? Who's doing this? Why do they want me to suffer? What did I do to piss somebody off this much?!"

The room Rick was given for meeting with his lawyer was the nicest one he had seen yet. It wasn't much, but it sure beat all the others… Rick's room, the dining room, the shower area, even the doctor's office. Somebody was trying to make the place look better than it was and make it seem like abuse was not occurring. Rick knew that if he were the lawyer this time instead of the defendant, he would have one hell of a case, maybe even a real shot at winning. Unfortunately, no lawyer he would be appointed would be half as good as Rick himself. It would probably end up being some court appointed public defender, some guy fresh out of law school, or, if the guy had any experience, it would probably be someone who was paid so little that he didn't care at all if he won or lost. In public defense, there is little need for effort. There is no substantial win record to make, like there is working as a District Attorney. In fact, what would a public defender gain by actually winning this case? If anything, the public defender would be working against Rick, trying to help the fellow bureaucrats that Rick so desperately despised, one of the reasons why he left such a job years ago and went into private practice.

Rick was utterly surprised when in walked not a fresh out of law school man but a woman, and not just any woman. This woman looked seasoned, prepared, and like she might not even be a public defender. She was tall, slender, and had dark brown hair tied in a bun. She looked almost too professional.

"Hello, Mr. Ratner. I'm Denise Hunter. I heard about your case, and out of respect for what you've done in the legal world, I'd like to volunteer my services… if that's ok." These words from Denise's lips almost fell on deaf ears. Rick wasn't exactly what Denise expected either. Obviously, being locked up in a hospital and accused of murder would change anyone, but Rick looked so languid that it was shocking. It was as if he had no life left in him.

"Ummmm…. Yeah. Sure. Sounds good. But I can't help but ask, what are you getting out of this," something anyone would wonder, and Rick, being the veteran lawyer he was, had to ask.

"Good question. Well, to be honest, nothing financially. And again, to be honest, I am hoping that if I win, it will boost my career. But really, it's because I believe you are innocent, Mr. Ratner. I know lawyers aren't supposed to care if their clients are guilty or innocent but only whether or not they can be acquitted. I believe in what you do, or… in what you've done. I think the cases you've won on behalf of ordinary people are astounding. You are the epitome of why I went into law. I think that too much emphasis is placed on money and power and not enough on helping people. I've tried to do something similar to what you've done, help people by defending the innocent. Sure, I haven't gone after big corporations like you have, building class action lawsuits, but I have defended people for crimes they have been unjustly accused of, usually minorities," responded Denise, almost out of breath from so many words.

"So, I really impressed you that much that you'd take a case pro bono," asked Rick a little jokingly.

"Pro bono? Many of my cases have been pro bono, Mr. Ratner. I don't believe a person should have to pay twice by being accused unjustly of a crime and then paying money they can't afford, though I'm sure in your case, money isn't a problem. I know you've won some pretty astounding cases in your career. But still… I'm not asking for money here. I just want to do what's right and help an innocent man clear his name." Denise said these words almost without feeling herself form them. She was so transfixed on Rick that she seemed in a daze.

Rick found himself somewhat transfixed on Denise as well, like they had known each other for a long time or a woman was finally having the effect on Rick he'd always heard was possible. The suspense got to be too much for Rick to take any longer. "Have we met before? You look so familiar."

"I don't think so, Mr. Ratner. Like I said, I've been following your career. I'd remember meeting you, believe me! Plus, I am very good with faces," these words from Denise again trance-like.

"Ok. So where do we start, Miss Hunter?"

"Well, why don't we start with the events of the night your daughter died," asked Denise, a little puzzled why a veteran attorney would not assume to start with such details.

"I remember Nataly coming over. I remember us sitting in the kitchen, talking. She kept talking and talking, and I didn't want to interrupt her, so I started to fix dinner while she stayed at the table. She said she was offered a great job in Chicago. I told her that Chicago might as well have been a million miles away, that she was all I had, that I didn't think I could make it without her around, that…"

"Mr. Ratner, let me stop you right there for a second. Unless asked on the stand, I wouldn't say anything about the Chicago thing. A prosecutor will look at that as motive… a distraught father dealing with new-found grief by lashing out violently, especially given what Dr. Selis is putting as your official diagnosis. I know you know this stuff, but I just feel I should remind you," said Denise, quite casually, having regained her train of thought and finally being able to focus.

"So, there I was, cooking dinner… not knowing what to say next. The phone rang. I answered it, but no sooner than I said hello, some man I'd never seen before burst through the front door and started to argue with Nataly. I threw the phone down and rushed into the other room and got between them. He looked as though he was going to push her or hit her. I nearly lost it. I was about to grab him and throw him out the door when he shoved me down. I vaguely remember hitting my head, but I didn't wake up until last night, here in this hospital." Rick had to fight to keep back tears as he said these words, thinking about what had happened to his only child, the love of his life.

"Not to sound inconsiderate, Mr. Ratner, but as I'm sure you're well aware, juries eat up sad stories. It would definitely help you to shed some tears on the stand when you retell this story. Just make sure to leave out the Chicago part of it. If it's somehow brought up after the fact, say you forgot with all the stress of the situation and sadness of what happened to your daughter. You didn't tell anyone about Chicago, did you? Please say you didn't," these last words sounding almost strangled as Denise found herself placing her hand on Rick's wrist.

"I… I think I told the doctor."

"Not good. Definitely not good. Well, still… try to leave it out, and just say you forgot if asked. Don't bring it up, under any circumstances. I know all of this is old hat to you, but I still have to remind you just to make sure," responded Denise, feeling herself becoming more and more sympathetic.

"I would've never told anyone. I know the cost of such a thing. But when I met with the doctor, it was the first time I can remember being conscious for a week. I was still so drugged up. It took me a while before I could really control myself or my words." Rick could feel himself start to choke as these words were uttered.

"Ok. So, here's what the police have on you, at least, what they say they have on you. They say they a kitchen knife, the murder weapon, with your prints on it. They have…"

"Of course they have a kitchen knife with my prints! It was my knife! It was from my kitchen! I was cooking dinner!" Rick could feel unquenchable anger with every word.

"No, Mr. Ratner. I'm not accusing you. I'm just telling you what evidence is being used. Anyway, they have the knife. They have your clothes soaked in your daughter's blood. They have a witness that claims to have heard fighting… And, with what you told me a minute ago, they may very soon have your doctor's testimony, perhaps even notes from last night's session, attesting that your daughter was moving far away… again, motive." Denise hated saying these words. She felt so much sympathy for Rick. She also found herself feeling more and more some kind of animal passion that she was not used to feeling. "Mr. Ratner, can you think of anyone who would want to put you away? Anyone who ever made threats against you… anyone whose career, business, or personal life you may have damaged through legal or personal means? Someone is framing you, and they're doing a damn good job of it."

"Thanks. That's very reassuring," quipped Rick almost angrily.

"I'm on your side. I wouldn't be here right now if I weren't. But this is going to take some real work. Please, Rick, can you think of anyone?"

"Wow. You called me Rick." Rick couldn't help but chuckle from hearing it. "I really can't think of anyone who's threatened me, but you take your pick of people I've ruined. I've won countless class action suits and other lawsuits against large corporations. CEOs have been fired. Fortunes have been nearly ruined. Hell, one guy I won a class action suit against nearly went bankrupt."

"Wait. Let's start there. Who?" Denise felt a rush as she thought real ground might be gained.

"Ummmm….. I think his name was Michael… Yes. Michael Morlowe. Majority stockholder of Eldona Pharmaceuticals. Of course! The guy's company nearly folded… but I heard that there was some miracle drug he came out with later that catapulted the company back to the top, or was going to. I don't know if it happened or not," said Rick so excitedly he couldn't help but beam with a smile bigger than he'd shown at any time since childhood.

"Great. I remember that case, too. Wasn't he testing some drug that killed several people in its trial run," asked Denise jubilantly, starting to feel Rick's level of excitement.

"Yeah. Killed seven people and made a lot of others extremely ill. Two people are going to require lifelong medical care because of it," chimed back Rick, hoping this would lead somewhere monumental in his case.

Denise was enthralled, seeing Rick snap back into action, like he was pursuing a case as the great attorney he was, not as the defendant. "We don't really have anything to go on or much we can do except to prove your innocence with the facts that we have. I'm just wondering if this can be that simple. And even if it is, it wouldn't do much good to try to prove someone is out to get you or who that person is. I don't think a jury would buy that."

"What I'm wondering is if one person could really act alone to do all of this. I know the guy is rich and powerful, but still… Does he have the means to pull something like this off? If he does, what does he gain from this? Why not just have me killed? It'd probably be cheaper and a lot easier." The look on Rick's face as he said these words astonished Denise. She followed Rick's career but never saw him in action before sitting at the table with him.

Denise's mind was starting to work like Rick's, attempting to re-create the scenario from the perspective that someone was actually setting him up in order to get revenge. "Ok. So, you were fighting with the man that burst in. Did he say anything that indicated he knew your daughter, knew her personally?"

"Yes. He was saying that she couldn't leave him… that she couldn't move halfway across the country… that what they had was too good to just throw away. And that's when I got close to him, thinking of throwing him out the door and when he pushed me down, causing me to hit my head." Every word out of Rick's mouth brought another tear. The thought that he had lost his daughter was too much to bear. He laid his head on his arms and sobbed like a baby. Denise felt so bad for him that she put her arms around him and held him as if she hoped to transfer his pain into her.

"Rick, I am so sorry about all of this. I wish you didn't have to go through this, but obviously, someone wants you to suffer. It's not enough to get you out of the way. Someone wants you to be completely discredited and lose everything. I know this is tough, but we have to make some headway here. The prosecution is building the case against you pretty quickly, I'd say. I'm going to go get some coffee and give you some time… but as much as I hate to say it, we're going to have to get back to work soon. We have to build the defense quicker than the prosecution can build their case against you." After saying these words, Denise felt horrible and could barely lift her arms off of Rick. She mustered all the strength she could find and finally got up and walked out the door. Rick continued sobbing and began crying out, "Nataly! Nataly! How is this happening?! She was just a child!"

When Denise returned, Rick had composed himself and was sitting up, looking over the notes Denise had written, making a few additions to them. Denise set a cup of coffee in front of Rick, but he didn't even notice she had returned. "Hey, Rick. You alright? I brought you some coffee. I thought it might lift your spirits a little."

"Huh? Oh. Yeah. Thanks." Rick barely raised his head as he spoke these words.

"What are you writing there, Rick," asked Denise, puzzled that Rick seemed to be taking over, as if their roles had been reversed.

"I remembered some things. I remembered seeing a black sedan driving by my house that night. It drove by right when Nataly came in, and I remember seeing it again a while later… like someone was casing my house. It wouldn't make much sense that some random guy my daughter was dating did this and was able to frame me for it or had much motive to do so. I'm thinking we might be onto something with the Morelow angle… but he had to have help. This guy was pretty smart, but not smart enough to plan all of this. He had help… if it's even him behind it all." Rick's hand began to fly furiously, making notes about every tidbit of information he thought might be a lead. "And if my prints were on the knife, it had to be the knife I was using to make dinner or one I had used not long before. The real killer must have worn gloves! It's the only way it could work. Wiping prints clean doesn't work as well as people think. If the guy wore gloves, he was a professional. Who could afford a professional but someone with lots and lots of money?!"

"Done!" Rick's eyes began to bulge out of his head, realizing he had accomplished so much so quickly.

"Ok. Well, is there anything else you can think of I should know," asked Denise, hoping there was more to use than one page of notes.

"Ummm… not that I can think of. Not right now anyway… but I'll think this over, believe me. I'll try every angle I can think of and every lead I can think of and let you know." Rick, too, was hoping there was more to go on because the prosecutor would already have more against him.

Suddenly, Rick's eyes blazed with all the fury of an inferno as he added, "Wait! They never Mirandized me!"

"Not once," asked Denise, somewhat doubtingly.

"No! Never! How could they? I mean, I've been here ever since, unconscious til last night!"

"Well, that may be true. It's not absolutely certain, but highly probable. I've seen police corruption plenty of times. Anyway, they have it on record that they did, indeed, read you your rights. If they really hadn't, and we could prove it, there'd be a good chance the whole case would get thrown out. According to the police, you were still conscious when they arrived on the scene and that you didn't lose consciousness until some time later but that you even said you fully understood your rights," declared Denise, wishing she could actually prove what Rick was saying. "Anything else you can think of besides what we can't prove? I'm not trying to sound mean by saying that. It's just that we have to analyze only the facts that are on our side. That one's not, and we can't make it so because the police have the power of evidence, fabricated or not."

"None that I can think of right now," voiced Rick, sounding completely dejected.

"Alright. Well, I'm sorry, but since you can't think of anymore to tell me right now, I need to get back to the office. Plus, I'm finishing up what I can of another case before I turn it over to another attorney… but don't worry. I should be turning it over very soon and working solely on your case." Denise felt ashamed to have to say these words. She wanted badly to be working solely on Rick's case. At the same time, however, she felt absolved because there was not much she could do for Rick. All she could do was research some of the information Rick gave her and hopefully, interview the witness the prosecution had. Walking out of the room, Denise darted a sympathetic yet almost flirty glance back at Rick. Denise noticed that Rick looked as if he might cry again, and she longed to hold him and relieve some of his grief. All she could do was mutter, almost incoherently, "Take care, Rick. Hang in there."

Denise walked by an orderly that had been posted outside the door and said in passing, "We're done. He's yours again."

Denise would not have worried, except that she heard the orderly say, "About damn time! Now, I get to take this asshole back. Woo hoo for me!" Denise hoped all the orderly exhibited was contempt but that he would not take out his contempt on Rick. She knew there was little she could do at that point, but now, she planned to discuss Rick's treatment in detail with him next time.

The orderly slammed open the door and grabbed Rick abruptly by the arm. "Come on, Ratner! You're either goin' back to your room or to the rec room."

"Can I have some paper and a pen in my room," asked Rick, already knowing the answer would probably be a resounding, "No!"

"A pen? In your room? You're considered a close watch. You can't have anything you could use as a weapon. If you wanna write, write it in your head." The orderly laughed hysterically as he said these words.

Rick felt like running, but he knew there was nothing at all he could do. Resistance was absolutely futile. Rick had never before been in a place like that, but working so long as part of the legal system, he knew how it worked. If he ran, he might make it to the end of the hall and possibly down another, but sooner or later, he would be found, forced into submission, straight jacketed, and still led back to his room.

The burly orderly still held a tight grip on Rick's arm and pulled him along, despite the fact that Rick was in no way uncooperative. It felt as though his arm might rip off from the strength of the orderly. Finally, he could take no more and felt he must speak. "You know… I'm totally complying! You can stop being so rough with me."

"You really think this is rough? If I wanted to, I could be a hell of a lot rougher on you. Deal with it!" Rick figured speaking up would do little to nothing at all, but he now felt a little better having tried.

"So where you goin', Ratner? Your room or the rec room?" Rick being asked this by the same person who was seemingly killing him made Rick not care or pay attention.

"Ratner! You goin' to your room or to the rec room? Ratner!" Each time Rick's name was said, it was louder than the previous. "I ain't askin' you again, Ratner! Have it your way. I guess you'll be goin' to your room, and you ain't gettin' a thing in that room. There ain't no t.v. There ain't no paper, no radio, no computer… nothin'! Let's see how much fun you have like that, Ratner!" Rick heard these words but still didn't care. At least, being alone in his room, Rick could think through everything that was going on thoroughly. He still wondered why he'd not been given medication, but if they weren't going to drug him, he wasn't going to protest.

The orderly shoved Rick into his room and slammed the door shut. Rick thought how the room might not be so bad if it at least had a window, other than a very small one on the door that only looked out onto a drab, depressing hallway.

It wasn't long before Rick could hear the other patients clamoring down the hall to go to lunch. He wondered why he was not summoned, but he expected such things to occur, given his treatment so far. He eventually heard the same patients heading back to their rooms, being the ones who were generally antisocial and self-confined to their rooms. Rick was happy in a way. He didn't want to see the abusive orderly or to have to socialize with anyone. He especially did not want to deal with people who were in the hospital for genuine reasons. They would make him feel too much sympathy and be continual reminders of the fact that he did not belong in such a place. Finally, there was a light rap on Rick's door. He looked out the narrow window and saw the same burly orderly he so despised. He momentarily questioned why the rap was so light, until he looked past the orderly and saw other patients in the hall. Rick thought, "Oh. He can't treat me like he usually does. Someone might see and start to question things, maybe even say something to someone that's not supposed to know." Rick saw the other patients walk away and knew that his stint of fair treatment was finished.

"Ratner! The doc wants to see you! I'm takin' you down to her office." The look on the orderly's face was not a welcome one. Rick could tell the orderly was having a bad day, which meant his handling of Rick would be no better than usual, perhaps worse. That, however, seemed hardly possible.

The orderly again slammed the door open and grabbed Rick with monstrous force. Rick was getting so tired of being treated this way. "You know. I'm getting really sick of the way you're treating me! You grab me hard all the time, push me around, boss me, yell at me, don't take me to eat lunch, threaten me. I'm not taking it anymore, Pal!" Rick couldn't believe he'd actually said these words, but he felt great for having done so.

"Ratner, that better not be a threat. Number one, I have every right to use physical force to restrain you. Two, I'm a hell of a lot bigger and tougher than you. All I have to do is kick your skinny little ass and say you were fighting back. There's plenty of places here with no cameras. Plus, you really think the doc or anybody else cares what I do to you?" The way the orderly said this, Rick realized he was right. There was nothing at all he could do. Rick stood up to the orderly without expecting it to accomplish anything, though. His actions were a direct result of constant mistreatment, and it was as if his mouth reacted independently of his mind. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Rick hoped to not do such a thing again, but it was almost impossible to stop.

"So, is there a number three? Maybe that you're a closet homosexual, and you really want to take me to one of these secret rooms to do something to my ass other than kick it?" The laugh Rick let out as he finished the question was so guttural that it seemed to almost scare the orderly for a brief moment.

"Ratner, I ain't puttin' up with this shit. You have any idea what kinda day I've had so far? Outside these walls, if somebody said some shit like that to me, he'd be lucky if he was walkin' afterwards. Now, get walkin'!" The orderly hadn't even finished the command before he had Rick yanked out the door.

Rick had seen the dreary corridors, offices, and patient rooms of mental hospitals in movies, but nothing could have prepared him for this. The longer he spent in the hospital, the more depressing it seemed to be, but Rick had not seen the corridor leading to the doctor's office before that day. When he went to the doctor's office the night before, he was still so drugged up that he didn't gain consciousness until he was strapped into the chair across from Dr. Selis. The rooms he was able to peer into on this journey and the hallway itself would have made horror writers reconsider any place they had ever described. Not only was paint peeling everywhere, but the ceiling was drooping, almost completely collapsed everywhere, the entire floor was missing half of its tiles, pipes and wires were exposed along every wall, and the screams emerging from this wing of the hospital were so curdling that Rick actually felt like they were in his own head. He began to hope that the screams were not actually inside his head. He suddenly had the thought cross his mind, "What if there is some truth to all I've been told? It can't be… but those screams couldn't be real. They were too unbelievable."

"Almost there, Ratner. I'm so glad I don't have to see your ugly face for a while."

"Oh. You're so sweet. Maybe I was wrong about the homosexual thing. You do like women, right?" Rick could feel himself grinning from ear to ear. He hoped that these words wouldn't end up causing physical abuse. He knew he was treading on thin ice, but the orderly made him so mad that all he wanted to do was lash out in any way possible. Since he couldn't lash out physically, he was lashing out verbally every chance he got. He wondered if maybe he shouldn't just do this every time the orderly spoke to him. What was the worst that he could do?

Realizing that the moment of witty banter was over and that he would soon be unable to think to himself, he started to pay even more attention to the screams and realized that they were definitely real and definitely not coming from inside his head. "So, what goes on in this part of the hospital? With the kind of shape it's in and the horrible screams, I'd have to guess that this is where you take patients that are "out of control" and do all kinds of funky experiments on them. Am I right or am I right or am I right?"

"Ratner, that ain't none of your damn business what goes on around here. You about to see the doc, and that's all you need to worry about. Of course, if you keep pissin' me off like you're doin', you might just find out what goes on. And it ain't gonna be a happy experience. I can guarantee you that." Until now, Rick hadn't realized how much pain the orderly could really cause him. Having asked so many questions and having caused the orderly so much trouble, he was suddenly grabbed harder and harder. The grip on his arm was getting so intense that it felt like blood vessels were being shredded to pieces. Somehow, it continued to intensify. It began to feel as if the limb were actually being severed with a dull instrument.

They reached a room that from the outside, hardly looked like an office at all. However, the door read, in giant letters, "Dr. Kimberly Selis." The orderly opened the door and shoved Rick through it. Obviously, Dr. Selis cared nothing about Rick's treatment.

"Do I need to strap you down again, Ratner? You gonna be good for the doc?" The orderly had a horrific grimace on his face, and Rick knew that he would do exactly that, strap him down like he was a violent criminal. Rick was being accused of being a violent criminal, but he knew that he was no such thing.

"Albert, that will not be necessary. I think that Mr. Ratner has calmed down enough and will be of no trouble. I will ring the alarm if I need assistance. Thank you, Albert." As she finished saying the orderly's name, she motioned for him to leave.

Albert, as Rick now learned his abuser's name to be, seemed perplexed and upset at not being allowed to inflict further pain upon Rick. "Ok, Doc. Whatever you say. I'll be right outside."

Dr. Selis seemed just as upset at Albert proposing his own rules. "Not necessary, Albert, but thank you anyway."

Albert began to walk out but soon shot Rick a death glare and pointed two fingers at his own eyes and then to Rick, as if to say, "I'm watching you, Ratner, so don't be stupid!"

Dr. Selis gave Rick a puzzling look, so indiscernible that it nearly made Rick feel nauseous. Of all the people in the hospital, the doctor was the one Rick feared most. She had command over the abusive orderly and could say or document whatever she wanted about Rick, and it would be accepted in court. Rick hoped she would not speak to him much. He wanted to get the meeting over, but he also wanted to delay the questions he knew she might ask, especially about the night of the murder.

"So, Mr. Ratner, how are you enjoying your stay so far?" Dr. Selis smirked so self-assuredly as she asked this that Rick couldn't help but want to reach across the desk and strangle her. He knew, of course, that he couldn't. Not only would that prove what the doctor was saying about him, but he was never the kind to actually turn such urges into actions.

"Enjoying, huh? Well, the concierge was nice. Room service is excellent. How you people manage to have lobster, cracked crab, and caviar at such amazing prices is beyond me… but I'm not sure I like the bellboy, and the pool could be a bit bigger." If he had said these words to anyone else and not been saying them about a mental facility, Rick might have laughed hysterically. Being where he was and speaking to whom he was speaking, however, he felt no desire to laugh or smile.

"Well, at least, you have a sense of humor about you after all you've endured. I must apologize for Albert. He can be very abrasive and sometimes rude, but he means well. He's the best orderly we have." Rick could not believe that Dr. Selis had said these words.

He found Albert to be so unacceptable and unforgiveable that he thought a homicidal maniac might be better suited for the job, but then he thought, "A homicidal maniac is the one that got me here in the first place." "Apologize for him? There is no apology big enough for an asshole like that!"

"I'm sorry you feel that way, Mr. Ratner. Until you go to trial, and the judge decides what to do with you, you're stuck here with Albert… and with me." The smile these words brought to Dr. Selis' face bore an uncanny resemblance to those of the clowns that frightened Rick so much as a child when his father would take him to the nearby circus.

"You're talking like I've already been convicted. For all you know, I might have a chance to beat this thing. I have a damn good lawyer on my side," Rick shouted back, not caring what repercussions it might bring.

Dr. Selis appeared to be keeping her composure, despite having Rick yell at her as if he were the one in charge. "I really don't think any lawyer is going to get you out of this, Mr. Ratner. It seems to me that it's a pretty open and shut case… but anyway, I just wanted to bring you here and see if you could remember any more of that night and see if you're making any progress in adjusting to your new surroundings now that you're fully awake."

"No, I don't remember any more of "that night," and I'm not making "progress." Dr. Selis seemed quite annoyed when Rick made finger quotations, but at this point, Rick didn't care much what the doctor thought.

"Mr. Ratner, I really am trying to help you. With my testimony, you'll have a good shot at serving your sentence in this facility or one similar. It will save you from a lifetime in prison." As soon as the sentence was finished, Dr. Selis began to stare down at her desk, guiding her pen down a sheet of paper that Rick could only assume was part of his file. "You can go now."

"Thank God this is over. You know, if I have to stay here so long, at least, get Albert to lighten up and not be so rough. And it'd be nice to be given lunch."

"You weren't fed? I'm sorry, Mr. Ratner. I assure you that won't happen again. I didn't really give Albert detailed instructions on what to do with you. I guess I should have told him to treat you the same as any other patient. I'll be sure to speak to him," replied the doctor, smiling. This time, however, the smile was not so menacing. It was more like she was trying to be genuinely nice. Rick doubted that there was any way for the doctor to actually be nice. Everything he had experienced so far taught him to question as much as possible, even if he could not voice the questions.

Although Albert had been told not to wait outside the door, not surprising to Rick, Albert was there. "Have a good session, Ratner?"

"Yep. It was great. I love every second I get with you people. It's like being in a five-star hotel. But if you're expecting a tip, you're gonna be disappointed." Rick felt a chuckle building, and the next thing he knew, he was laughing harder than he had the last time.

"Well, Ratner, I wouldn't expect a damn thing from you, except smartass comments like that. But… like I said, I could always take you to a room with no camera and have some real fun. We got plenty of those back here." Albert didn't even laugh as he said these things. Rick would have felt a little at ease with laughter, almost like he and Albert were developing a friendship, but hearing no laughter at all, Rick began to be a little scared that Albert might be serious.

Albert grabbed Rick in the usual manner, grabbing him so hard he wanted to scream. Unfortunately, no one would hear his screams over those of whoever was being tortured, and even if Rick's screams were heard, he was sure no one would care but him.

Chapter 2

With so much going on and so many worries, the rest of the day was a blur. Rick tried to nap, hoping voluntary sleep would make him feel better and perhaps give him ideas for his case. Every moment of sleep thus far had been drug-induced, and it was unwelcome to Rick to even think of using over-the-counter drugs to sleep, let alone high-dosage narcotics. Rick seldom used any kind of drugs. In fact, he was such a health freak that he was often made fun of by colleagues, friends, and family.

Rick tried so hard to sleep that the more and more he tried, the further away sleep seemed to be. All he could do was worry about his case, worry about his treatment in the hospital, and think of how much he missed Nataly and couldn't believe what had happened to her. How anyone could kill such a sweet, innocent girl was beyond the ability of Rick's mind to process.

Occasionally, the thought of food crept into Rick's mind. He knew he hadn't eaten anything at all since the very dreadful breakfast he'd been nearly force-fed. The food was so bad that it made Rick think of the gruel that used to be served in orphanages. Rick thought, "Maybe gruel wouldn't be so bad. It definitely couldn't be worse than the horse shit they boil in here and feed to us. Maybe they actually hire a local farmer to save the shit from his livestock."

Rick was completely lost in thought when a loud bang was made on his door. He looked up, and lo and behold, it was Albert. The look on Albert's face was quite typical, as happy as if he'd been punched in the face. "Ratner, Doc says I gotta feed you."

The door, once again, slammed open with amazing ferocity. Rick had slammed many doors open in his time, but the power behind Albert's slamming was gut-wrenching. If he could do that to a door, the things he could do to a person would border on super-human. It was not something Rick wanted to imagine. He thought briefly, "Maybe I shouldn't keep giving him shit." As Rick stood up, he couldn't help but say aloud, "Naw! He deserves it."

With arms crossed and an extremely agitated look on his face, Albert chimed, "Who deserves what?"

Still a little scared, Rick replied, "Nothing."

"No, Ratner. You said, 'He deserves it.' Who's he, and what does he deserve? You must've been talkin' about me. You don't get it. I'm not the guy you wanna piss off. You piss off one of these other crazies, and who cares? You piss me off, and I gotta straighten you out. Is that what you want, Ratner? I'd be happy to straighten you out."

"Don't you have to be straight to straighten someone else out? I think you have the roles reversed. I should be the one to straighten you out." Rick wished he could take back those words, but it was too late. If ever there were a time to be afraid, it was after saying something so offensive.

"Ratner, damn it. Shit. You can tell the doc whatever the hell you want. She ain't gonna believe you over me. You ain't gettin' shit to eat tonight." Albert stormed out of the room and slammed the door even harder than he had slammed it open earlier.

Rick was both afraid and angry from such a reaction. He wanted food so badly that he was tempted to eat anything he could find in his room, even if it happened to be pieces of himself. He understood that if mental patients were not insane when they came into such a place, they definitely would be after a day of such treatment. "Hey. Hey! Albert, I was only joking, man! C'mon! I need to eat! I take it back! Just let me eat!"

Rick was about to go back to his bed when he heard someone shout, "Albert! Albert! You can't let this patient go hungry! Get over here and let him out!"

Rick looked out the narrow window of his door and noticed that it was a doctor who had ordered Albert to open the door, not Dr. Selis, but a different doctor. Rick hoped not only that he might be let out but that he could get a chance to speak to this other doctor. If he could speak to him, he might convince him to either ask for Rick to be transferred to him or, at least, to put in a good word for him with Dr. Selis. Given the circumstances Rick had awoken to recently, he could not afford to miss opportunities.

Albert slowly and very reluctantly traipsed back to Rick's room and unlocked it. This time, to Rick's amazement, the door did not slam open but was gently pushed open. "C'mon, Ratner. Let's go eat." These were by far the kindest words Albert had spoken to Rick. Even the manner in which they were said was astonishing. Rick realized that, even if it was forced by a doctor, Albert had an ability to display compassion and kindness.

Rick strolled out of his room, feeling triumphant. As he turned his head, first toward the dining room, and then to the right, he realized the doctor was nowhere to be seen. This meant that his chance to speak to the doctor had passed but also meant that Albert could treat Rick however he wanted. Rick extended his arm toward Albert so that he could grab it in his usual, forceful way, but Albert shook his head and laughed. "Nope. None of that, Ratner. Dr. Selis talked to me. She said you told her what I've been doin'. I don't like bein' ratted out, but I still don't wanna get in trouble with the hospital, so I'm gonna take it easy on you from now on… but you best not be pullin' your smartass shit. Ok?"

"Whatever you say. I only did it because of how you were treating me. If you didn't start right off the bat being so mean to me, I wouldn't have done it. But if it makes any difference, I'm sorry. I'm not usually like that to people." Rick couldn't believe it, but he actually felt better for apologizing to Albert.

Albert walked in front of Rick and never once grabbed him. The immense relief that washed over Rick made him feel so alive… at least much more than he had felt thus far. Each step toward the dining room wore off a little more of Rick's euphoria. He knew that if he was in the dining room for long, he would surely have to talk to someone.

Rick found a table that had no one else sitting at it and took a seat. This was the first time he had sat in the dining room with other people around, besides Albert. Someone began to work their way toward Rick, and he felt a bit apprehensive. There had not been any good experiences since he had woken up the previous night. The closest he had experienced to a good time was his brief meeting with Denise. She was the only person that had treated him like a human being.

Rick suddenly realized that the person walking toward him was another orderly. "You must be Rick."

Rick nodded his head in approval but still felt like it was more talking than he wanted to do.

"Ok, Rick. Well, tonight, we're havin' fried chicken, mashed potatoes, rolls, and apple sauce. It'll be here in a minute. You get your choice of coffee, tea, milk, juice, or soda." As he went through the list of drink options, the orderly showed Rick the beverage cart. Rick pointed toward the soda.

"This? Soda," the orderly asked, unsure what Rick was pointing to because his hand was shaking.

"Yeah," Rick replied, hoping he would finally have silence.

"Ok, my man. Here you go," the orderly responded, handing Rick the can. "I'll have your food for you in a bit."

Rick got his wish and finally had a moment of silence as the orderly pushed the cart away, but the moment was short-lived. Another patient picked up their tray from their table, and to Rick's dissatisfaction, set it down at a spot across from Rick. Rick let slip the words, "Should've known. Can't be left alone." As he finished the second sentence, he hoped he hadn't said the words loudly enough to be overheard.

"Hi. I'm Martin. What's your name?" The expression on the other patient's face was priceless, a strange mix of being overjoyed, nervous, agitated, and perhaps, constipated.

"Hi. I'm Rick," Rick darted back, somewhat agitatedly.

"How long you been here? I've been here for five years, I think." Martin's strange smile remained, and the longer it remained, the more it made Rick feel uncomfortable and nervous.

"I've been here about a week or a little more. Not likin' it much." Rick attempted to smile as he spoke to Martin, but smiling felt completely alien to Rick. Smiling in such a depressing environment seemed contradictory and perhaps, even paradoxical.

"It's not so bad once you get used to it. I hated it the first few months I was here, but then, I got to know everybody, and there hasn't been a single person here I haven't liked. I like the doctors, the orderlies, all the patients. I try to look at it like this… You come to a place like this, and you're guaranteed to be here for a while. You've got people bossing you around, medicines you don't wanna take, food that's good about half of the time, and hardly any freedom. Why complicate that more by having a bad attitude or fighting with the staff? It does absolutely nothing. They label me insane and send me to a place like this, but I sometimes think that everybody else is insane for purposely living miserable lives. I've made the best of a bad situation, and most people don't even make a little good out of a good situation. You know what I mean?" Though Rick didn't really want to talk to anyone, he found these words from Martin inspiring.

Rick thought, "Maybe he has a point. What good is it going to do to fight with anybody? If I can just keep working with Denise, maybe it'll all be ok." He felt like things might begin to look up for him, but he started to think about Nataly and wished she were alive. If she were still alive, it would make none of this horrible reality real. It would mean that life was continuing the way it had for years. Even if Nataly did move away to Chicago, he'd still see her from time to time and probably still talk to her often.

As hard as he tried to fight it, tears began to stream down Rick's face, faster and faster. Soon, it was a torrent, seeming to build so fast that it was gaining the force of a waterfall. Rick couldn't feel happy. He was locked up in a hospital that was meant to cure diseases but only seemed to cause them. His daughter was gone. He was facing charges for her death. Nothing made any sense, and nothing felt comforting or normal. His entire life was taken from him by some evil, vindictive person, and there was little to nothing he could do to fix the problem.

"What's wrong, guy," asked Martin, the first person since this morning who seemed genuinely concerned about Rick's well-being.





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