I, Robot: To Protect Book 1, page 24
Sharicka was there, too. She jerked at Susan’s hem. “What’d they say? Am I going home?”
Susan took Sharicka’s sticky hand and led her back to her room. Once there, she released the girl, who hopped up onto her bed. Susan closed the door behind them. “Sharicka, home visits aren’t easy things to arrange. They have to work into everyone’s schedules: both parents’, yours, your brother’s, your sister’s, the nurses’, mine. Everyone’s.”
Sharicka tried to guess. “So, I’m not going home?” The look of sheer disappointment on her face twisted at Susan’s heartstrings.
Susan clung to professionalism to harden her stance. “I don’t know yet, Sharicka. We’ll know soon, but I want you to understand something.”
Sharicka did not allow Susan to finish. “I know. I know. I have to be good.”
“You have to be on your best behavior, or there might not be another home visit for a very long time. You have to take all your medicine and listen to what your parents tell you.”
The months that had passed without a step beyond the playground or the unit had to show Sharicka the seriousness of Susan’s words. “I will. I promise. I’m going to be good from now on. You’ll see.”
Susan did not want to build up false hopes. “No one is good all the time, Sharicka. We don’t expect perfection.” Susan did not want the child abandoning all principles after a minor slipup. “But you must treat others with kindness and respect. A bad word, a stolen cookie — those things can be overlooked, as long as you apologize and are truly sorry. But you cannot, under any circumstances, hurt a human being or an animal, Sharicka. Those are not mistakes; those are deliberately evil actions.”
“No hurting people or animals,” Sharicka repeated, legs swinging. “I won’t do that.”
Before Susan could say another word, Shaden burst into the room. “Guess what, Sharicka?”
Sharicka sprang to the floor and clutched her hands to her little chest. “I’m going home?”
“You’re going home,” Shaden confirmed, not bothering to contain his excitement. “It’s just a home visit, but it’s a start.”
“I’m going home!” Sharicka danced around the room with the unself-consciousness only children can muster. “I’m going home!” She rushed past Susan and Shaden. “I have to tell Monty! I’m going home!”
“Monty?” Shaden said, then laughed. “She must mean Monterey.”
Susan had assumed that. She had heard Monterey’s mother call her Rey-rey and Monny, but she had never heard Monty before. Since Monterey still seemed to enjoy playing with Sharicka, she must not entirely despise the nickname. “Do you think we’re doing the right thing?”
Susan did not expect an answer, but Shaden gave her one. “I’m sure of it, Dr. Calvin.” He put a friendly arm across her shoulder. “At some point, you have to trust that even a mentally ill child is a child, and love really will make the difference.”
Love. Susan bit her bottom lip. Is Sharicka even capable of it? She tried not to think too hard about it. If Sharicka was not, there was no hope at all for the girl or her family.
The day finished smoothly, without new admissions or emergencies, and Susan even managed to get a reasonable amount of sleep that night in the on-call room she shared with three other psychiatry residents serving other units. Their snuffles, snores, and Vox calls proved a nuisance, but she did not begrudge them. At least she did not have to go traipsing off to the Emergency Room or to a unit as each of them did at least once during the night.
Susan’s turn came at a little after six a.m. Her Vox buzzed to life, startling her from a vivid dream involving a million-dollar bet and a billiards table. Only after she had confidently laid down the bet did she remember she had no particular skill at the game or the money to gamble on it. Susan sat up and tapped the Vox before it could start making noises that might awaken her fellow residents. She looked at the display. Unsurprisingly, the call had originated from the PIPU.
Susan clambered off her cot, straightened her white overnight scrubs, and ran a hand through her hair. Quietly, she threaded her way through the darkened room, turned the knob, and stepped out into the hallway. She pulled the door shut behind her before making the return call across Vox.
It was picked up immediately. “Dr. Calvin?” Usually, the unit clerk answered with the fictitious unit number of the PIPU they used to hide its purpose and location for confidentiality reasons. This time, someone had clearly stood by the phone, waiting for her call.
“This is Susan Calvin, R-1. How can I help you?”
“It’s Justin, Dr. Calvin.” It was one of the night nurses, an older man with white hair and a complexion still scarred by adolescent acne. “Sharicka’s back. The police brought her. It’s … not good.”
Susan saw no reason to discuss the situation over Vox. Her heart rate shot up, and she could feel an uncomfortable tingling in her chest. “I’ll be right there.” She ended the call, running toward the PIPU without worrying about her morning toilet. She dashed through the mostly empty hallways, taking a corner too fast and nearly slamming into an empty gurney. In less than four minutes, she was ringing the entry button and pounding on the locked PIPU door.
It was opened almost immediately. Susan found herself in the usually empty hallway between the locked doors, now filled with people. Two uniformed police officers stood with four of the night nurses. There was no sign of Sharicka, or any other patient.
Susan did not care that she interrupted at least two separate discussions. “I’m Dr. Calvin. What happened?” Dread crept up her spine, and a sudden wash of ice overcame every part of her. She had to focus to remain in control.
Both policemen turned to look at Susan. “Are you the guardian of one Sharicka Anson?”
Susan saw no reason to launch into technicalities. The Ansons remained Sharicka’s parents and guardians, but the hospital currently had physical jurisdiction over the child. In crisis situations, only judges and physicians could take over instant custody of a minor. Susan had learned that during her pediatrics rotation, when an abusive parent had insisted on taking his daughter home and the clinic had had to call for law enforcement backup. “I am. What has she done?”
The other cop said, “She killed someone, Dr. Calvin.”
Susan found herself unable to breathe. Light-headedness swam down on her before she forced her chest to expand and the air to flow inside. For the first time in her life, she had to focus on the act, had to remind herself to inhale and exhale. “Who?” she finally managed, her voice a squeak.
“A girl named Misty, ma’am.” A blatter of noise over the policeman’s radio made Susan jump. “Her sister, apparently. Stabbed her multiple times with a butter knife.”
Susan wished she did not have to concentrate so hard on breathing. She found herself unable to speak, unable to harbor coherent thought. She could only stand there, speechless, and attempt to process the words spoken in her general direction.
“Then she went after her brother. Stabbed him a few times before her father wrestled her to the ground.”
Susan knew she had to say something. “Where … is the family?”
“They’re in the ER,” the officer explained. “The boy’s being admitted, and the father’s getting patched up. They said to bring her here.” He added firmly, “If you plan to send her anywhere else, you need to contact us first.”
Susan nodded. She had no idea what would happen next. Clearly, they had caught Sharicka in the act, but the police had brought her back to Manhattan Hasbro rather than to a jail or a juvenile facility. She supposed the law would not allow a minor to remain in adult detention, and she had never heard of a serious crime committed by anyone under the age of twelve. A locked psychiatry unit familiar with Sharicka’s history, in a tertiary hospital setting, might well prove the safest place to keep her for all involved.
Susan addressed the nurses. “Get Sharicka out of anything with blood on it.
A small woman named Rietta said, “They’re do
Susan continued. “Make sure she gets and swallows her morning meds immediately. Keep her in the Self-awareness Room until I’ve had a chance to talk to her.”
Susan looked at the officers. “We’ll have those clothes out to you in a moment. If you need anything else, let us know.”
The policeman who had done most of the talking addressed Susan once more. “We may need to question her again. Obviously, she can’t leave town.”
Susan raised and lowered her head once, firmly. “She may not even get to leave her room.” Her vision grew blurry, and she rubbed her eyes, surprised to find them moist. The moment she realized she had started crying, a rush of emotions assaulted her. Agony clawed at her guts. Guilt rushed down on her. I told them to take her home; I wanted them to do it. Rage accompanied it. She tricked me, too. Seized by the sudden urge to tear Sharicka’s head off, she bit down on her lip until she tasted blood.
The officers thanked everyone in the room, then walked to the outer door, where Rietta let them out with a key.
Susan waited for Rietta to return and let her onto the unit. She did not want to meet with Sharicka. Not ever. The idea of looking into those demonic eyes, of facing that childish smirk, made her crazy. She realized how lucky Sharicka was that the Ansons had adopted her. Her biological parents had a history of impulsive, negative behaviors. By now, they would have chopped her into pieces small enough to fit through a sieve.
Susan tried not to dwell on that thought too long. Sharicka just might be the youngest conduct-disordered child in history, but she was certainly not the only one. The Ansons were highly intelligent and educated people with a well-above-average understanding of normal and abnormal child behavior. What happened to the children with conduct disorder raised by parents who had little or no education, who probably had psychopathology of their own? Might that explain the inexplicable: parents who murdered or abandoned their children? It all seemed just too terrible to contemplate.
Yet Susan had no choice but to contemplate one thing. The Ansons had suffered a trauma so horrible, most people could not imagine such a thing. It must have happened in the wee hours of the morning. The father had promised to glue himself to her, but even he had to sleep. Likely, Sharicka had chosen the only weapon she could find. Any thing obviously lethal would have been well hidden. The Ansons had worked so hard for their family, had suffered the long anguish of infertility, had been put through the wringer to adopt, had raised their three beloved children through crisis after crisis. Now, one was dead, another would need permanent psychiatric care, and the last was hospitalized with potentially life-threatening injuries. And the cause of all the recent trauma awaited Susan in the so-called Self-awareness Room.
For one horribly selfish moment, Susan wished the whole thing had happened just two hours later. Rounds would have finished, and she would have gone home for the entire day. She could have dined and skated with Remington, none the wiser, and taken up the cause on Tuesday. Despising herself for the bare thought, she abandoned it instantly. She knew the Ansons did not have that luxury. The incident had happened on Susan’s watch, had occurred because the family had faith, not in Sharicka, but in Susan’s ability to evaluate Sharicka. Now, Susan realized, she was not the hero the nurses had once heralded with balloons. She had made the worst mistake of all, and it had cost at least one child her life.
Susan wondered if she could ever sleep again, could ever trust her own judgment. Her own words cycled through her mind until she could no longer stand to hear them: “If we believe she’s trying, and I know I do, then home visits are the necessary first step toward working her back into the family.” What have I done? A picture of Lucianne Anson filled her mind’s eye, her face open in uncertainty and hope. “Dr. Calvin, I trust you.” Why? Why did she have to put her faith in me?
As she stepped onto the unit, Susan’s feet felt like lead. She heard the door clang shut behind her, so loud, so final, and the noise echoed through the subdued confines of the PIPU. Most of the nurses were in the charting area, nearly all of the patients asleep. That accounted for the quiet hush that seemed so out of place on a unit where children regularly shrieked and threw tantrums. She dragged herself to the Self-awareness Room. A nurse named Hanniah stood outside of it, looking through the window.
“What’s she doing?” Susan asked.
“Nothing.” Hanniah did not look away. “Just sitting there, picking her nose.”
Susan peeked through the window. As if sensing the new presence, Sharicka slowly raised her head. A slight smile played across her lips, and she met her resident doctor gaze for gaze. Susan felt like a hunted animal beneath that killer stare. The idea of going into the room with Sharicka seemed madness. She’s a four-year-old child, Susan reminded herself. She’s barely half my size and currently without a weapon. Susan knew, logically, Sharicka could not harm her. She took a deep breath, then loosed it slowly before announcing, “I’m going in.”
Unlike when she had decided to confront Diesel Moore, the nurse made no protest. She stepped aside and allowed Susan to open the door.
Susan tried to look nonchalant as she did so, strode into the padded room, and allowed the door to close and latch behind her. Seated on the floor, Sharicka glanced up at the doctor, looking for all the world like an innocent four-year-old child. “Hi, Dr. Susan.”
It seemed ludicrous to simply return the greeting, but Susan could think of nothing better to do. “Hi.”
Sharicka wiped her fingers on the clean clothes she had changed into on the ward. She wore a pair of black sweatpants and a Craft-a-Critter T-shirt. “How’s Rylan doing?” She posed the question with the casualness of a sister asking after the health of a brother with the flu. The query seemed strangely genuine.
Susan found it difficult to look at the girl. “I don’t know.”
“She’s dead, Sharicka. You know that.”
“Can I see her?”
Susan looked away. Was it actually possible Sharicka did not understand the finality of death? “Never again. She’s dead.”
“Can I see her in her coffin?”
The question seemed so odd, so unutterably antisocial and wrong. Susan looked sharply at Sharicka.
The girl’s expression did not compute. Susan read curiosity and a faint hint of pleasure.
“You can’t see her, Sharicka. Not ever. You killed her.”
“I’m a murderer.” Sharicka rolled the word in her mouth, as if testing it.
Susan did not indulge the recognition. She did not want Sharicka to identify herself with evil, to view the act as an accomplishment. “Why, Sharicka? Why did you do it?”
Sharicka could no longer hold back the smile. It slipped past her guard to light her entire face. The dark eyes went cold, and even the sockets seemed to shift right before Susan’s eyes. “We all have to die sometime.”
Susan could not stand to look at Sharicka for another second. Rising silently, she left the room and told the waiting nurse, “She can go to her room now.” She wanted to put the child into a straitjacket right out of an early-twentieth-century movie. The death penalty had existed for people like Sharicka, the homicidally incurable, those most despicable and desperate. Desperate. The word clung to Susan’s memory. Activating her Vox, she zipped off a bitter text to Doctors Goldman and Peters: “Found stdy pt.”
Susan managed a quick shower and change before rounds, discovering two messages on her Vox when she finished. The first came from Ari Goldman, requesting the details of the study patient. She typed in some basic information about Sharicka in reply, then moved on to the second. This one came from Remington: “B L8. E! Boy stb/chke by 4yo? Dad?”
Susan groaned. The E! meant an emergency. If Rylan Anson needed the on-call neurosurgeon, he had sustained serious spinal or head wounds. Susan would need to explain Sharicka and clear poor Dr. Anson. The last thing he
Susan went to the staffing room, hoping to find at least one of the other psychiatry residents. To her relief, Kendall sat in a chair, leaning so far back, its headrest was braced against the table. She walked over to him, and he sat up quickly. “Good morning, Calvin. How was your night?”
Susan shook her head. “Quiet until about two hours ago when I had to deal with the police.”
“I heard.” Kendall leaned forward. When the nursing shift started, it was the sole topic of conversation. “So, Sharicka murdered her siblings on a home visit.”
“The brother’s still alive. I need to go down and see him. Can you cover for me at rounds?”
Kendall stared. “I just got here. I’m supposed to sum up what happened all day yesterday?”
Susan did not want to waste time bandying words. “Nothing happened all day yesterday, except little things documented on the charts. As far as my patients, Monterey is talking more, and you know about Sharicka.”
“I only know what the nurses are saying,” Kendall reminded Susan. “I have no idea why or what you plan to do about it.” He gave her a smile that, somehow, did not seem patronizing. “Besides, I think the great Susan Calvin should own up to her first mistake.”
Susan realized Kendall made a good point. “It’s hardly my first mistake, but it’s definitely my most horrific.” Guilt clamped down on her again, and she closed her eyes to keep from succumbing fully to it. “I should never have asked them for a home visit.”
She heard the scrape of Kendall’s chair, then felt his arms wrap around her and the warmth of his body against hers. “I was just kidding. I’m always kidding. It’s not your fault.”
Susan fully lost her composure, bursting into tears and clamping her arms tightly around Kendall. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” The force of the crying jag prevented more words, and she collapsed against him.
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