A short story whipped up for the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition. 8 days to write 2500 words including the following:
Genre: Crime Caper Subject: Bankruptcy Character: A Gardener
Here was my response to this challenge:
The Gardener’s Rows
by Nicolle Browne Jamet
SYNOPSIS: When Gavin is in trouble his old crew resurfaces. Will his alternate personalities succeed in bankrupting Rivendall Psychiatric Hospital?
* * *
Jakes was somewhere in Eastern Europe shacking up with a stupidly wealthy widow that owned half of Budapest. Pinch was off the grid after having been flagged by the Gendarmerie in Paris after a heist gone wrong. The Gardener was not right here sitting on the vinyl covered bench seat outside of Dr. Hambley’s office, pecker waving with the spring breeze as his gown flapped open. Or so Gavin believed until a few moments ago. He felt himself wilting away while The Gardener was taking over the not-so-fertile soil of Gavin’s mind.
Nurse Judy hollered as she came up the hall towards him.
“Whoa! Mr. Gavin, put that thing away. We don’t need to be seeing no one’s personal bits.” Her breasts bounced along with her thick thighs as her pink clogs hit the linoleum. He loved how her hair wisped out of it elastic as the day went on. He didn’t mind seeing her jiggle either. She brightened up the ward’s monotonous days and the 1970’s institutional yellow paint.
The Gardener gave her a big smile and with a wink crossed one slippered foot over the other.
“Just trying to brighten your day love.” he replied with an amused grin. Gavin’s gone for a nap Sweets.
“You being a charmer today? You know I’ve got a good man waiting on me to come home tonight.” Her deep belly laugh filled the muted yellow hallway. The she added, “Seriously though, don’t let the warden see you like that or I’ll have to sedate you…got to keep the job you know.”
Hambley’s door swung open. His face pinched like a mean little ferret. Beady sharp eyes looking through thick lenses for their next target. No wonder you don’t like this guy Gavin, The Gardener thought.
“Take these over to Accounting. See nothing gets lost.” Dr. Hambley, esteemed Psychiatrist, barked shoving a stack of files toward Nurse Judy without so much as a glance. He turned back into his office with a frown, calling over his shoulder, “Well do hurry up Gavin. Useless…”
* * *
“The only way out for Gavin, for us, is if this place goes under. The only way this place is going under is if the money dries up. No freedom til it does.” The Gardener paced the length of the men’s common washroom, head cocked to the right.
He stopped in his tracks and stood like a concrete block of let’s-get-this-shit-rolling. “So let’s make it dry up.”
The Gardener pivoted and looked directly in the mirror, “Gavin, how do we get this place to lose money?” No answer.
He pulled on his left earlobe and repeated, “Gavin!”
Gavin tried to disappear into his pale cotton robe. “I’m not good with plans, you know that” he squeaked. Why was Gardener asking him anyway?
The Gardener had a hard earned reputation for being the brains of the crew. Sowing the seeds, tending the crops and always coming back with a bountiful harvest. No one stood a chance if The Gardener had his sights on ‘em. Unfortunately it was The Gardener’s last escapade that landed Gavin (and company) in the psychiatric hospital. During the trial, Gavin’s ‘alters’ emerged due to his heightened stress.
“You’re the accountant Gavin, so account! What is one of the biggest ways for a company to go bankrupt?”
“Well embezzlement obviously but we’re not in a positon to do that…um…” Gavin scratched at his left ear. “Maybe accounts payable?’ Why am I in the washroom? He looked around puzzled.
“Go on,” Gavin said, “You’re on the right track.”
“Like, they are always complaining about budgeting? So what if they have to replace things? Necessary things. But a lot of them?” his voice questioning his own skill.
“Well we can’t steal the patients. All we have here are people and papers. Or meds. But no way to get our hands on those.” The Gardener shook his head and resumed pacing.
“The biggest expense of running a company besides salaries is actually in Accounts Payable – Office Supplies.” Gavin offered.
The Gardener’s face lit up and he nodded.
Pinch broke in then, eyebrows pinching together, hand up to stop the lame idea. “There’s no challenge in that.”
Gardener shut him down. “Think of the big picture. We’ll all be free.”
Pulling at his left lobe, Gavin spoke into the room. “I’m so tired. I have to go see Dr. Hambley for my session…”
That’s okay Gavin.” The Gardener replied. “I already went for you while you were napping. Go on back to sleep. Pinch and I have some seeds to sow.”
* * *
A female voice reverberated down the hallway, cutting into the sound of the spring rain bouncing off the windows.
“How on earth can we not have any bed pans left?” Nurse Judy demanded.
The Gardener could hear her opening and closing the rows of cupboards behind the nurse’s station and in the supply room.
He lifted himself off his pale blue bed and watched from the hall.
A new patient was standing by reception in a self-made puddle.
He’s not going to last long in this ward, The Gardener remarked. This was not the full-care ward. Diapers not allowed.
Nurse Judy voice cut in again, bellowing to someone in the Nurse’s station. “Order more bed pans for the love of my sanity!”
* * *
Pinch woke up to the sound of the hourly check. He kept his eyes closed. The door opened and a small penlight flashed in the general direction of where his head ought to be. Satisfied, the Care Aid’s footsteps got softer down the hall.
“Your turn Pinch.” He said swinging himself up off the bed. He had spent the past 5 weeks listening, staking out and prowling the building at night. Jason was the main staff in this wing tonight and he tended to pass by once an hour. On the in-between times he liked to drown himself in YouTube with his headphones on in the staff office. The 4th floor west wing was generally free-flowing except for the exit routes – needed a badge for those. The patients tended to be somewhat stable and played well with others. Although they did have a curfew, none were in lockdown on a ‘healthy’ day. Unlocked doors were one of Pinch’s favorite things. He was about to play.
He stepped out into the hallway and sidled along the length towards the front desk. Using his shirt as a basket he loaded up all pens, highlighters, scotch tape, and Post-it notes. He scooped the digital calculator too – that might cost a bit, he smiled. He loved moving through the moonlight silently. He felt he could become part of the night just like the Pink Panther.
“Da-da, da-da, dadadadadaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa de da da…” he whispered the tune while tip-toeing towards the cleaning closet. He stepped inside and coaxed the door closed without a sound. Once inside, he paused to allow his eyes to adjust to the dim light entering through the small pane of glass along the top of the door. His breath caught and he gagged.
“How does a cleaning closet reek of urine?” He gagged again and then held his breath. Pinch quickly lifted the grate off the back corner of the closet and gently placed the resources he had appropriated inside the vent. Tonight’s hull wasn’t much but it was the fifth such trip in as many weeks. And so far, right on plan, the supplies had been replaced by the next afternoon. Ka-ching!
He had to take a breath.
“Oh God. It’s so,” his gag reflex kicked in lurching his chin forward and his mouth open. “I have to get out of here!”
He started opening the door when Jason’s light flashed at the end of the hall. Pinch froze. He had a heightened capacity to remain still and silent in a pinch. A skill that helped him do his job – pinching things. But the odor wafted up, his gag reflex kicked in again and this time Gavin’ dinner came up with it. He turned quickly and pushed his face into the mop head muffling any noise. Jason’s footstep came up the hall, slow as can be. Pinch froze again except for the contracting stomach muscles. Jason continued up the hall and then finally down the connecting hallway on the left.
Wiping bits of corned beef hash off his chin with the hem of his t-shirt, Pinch scurried back to Gavin’s room and tucked back into bed. He felt his head tilt to the right as his head hit the pillow.
“Nicely done Pinch. Our rows are lining up. At least go brush your teeth, yeah?” The Gardener said.
“Nah, it won’t be me waking up to it.” He chuckled and faded out.
* * *
The raw tang of bile and coted teeth were offensive on Gavin’s tongue. Was I sick last night? He looked around himself on the bed. No signs of it. Weird.
“Am I having black-outs again?” he asked aloud and then got up, checked around his private toilet and sink. Nothing there either. Acid reflux? Bad hash? The corned beef always tasted a little off here.
After freshening up and polishing off a large bowl of oatmeal, Gavin felt compelled to stay in the day room. The Gardener gave him this one task to do each day. Observe the staff in administration and reception. And so Gavin observed. Tina, the full-time girl was perched behind the white desk searching for a pen.
“Where the hell do all the pens go?” she asked aloud rifling through several drawers and lifting pads of paper, checking underneath.
Looks like Pinch could’ve taken the paper too. Gavin thought. No sense in telling The Gardener, he was always present.
Tina stormed off to the supply closet swiping her badge to get in. Moments later she returned with a shiny new Bic pen and returned to her reporting. Ka-ching!
Next, she did something-or other on the computer and hit print. She scooped up the fresh pages, tapped the edges even on the desk and then reached for her stapler. She stopped, her hand hovering over an empty spot.
“Seriously?!” she demanded aloud and then jabbed at the phone key pad connecting with someone on the other end.
“Yeah, this is Tina from 4th West Wing. My stapler has gone walking, can you order me a new one?” her voice short and matter of fact. A boisterous muffled voice came over the headset.
“Yes, again.” She affirmed and then listened again. “Well, over budget or not, I need things like staplers and pens to do my job… Yeah, thanks. You too.”
Gavin felt his shoulders square themselves. He massaged his earlobe.
“Ka-Ching! Ka-Ching!” The Gardener whispered in his ear.
* * *
Gavin stood in line with the other patients to take his little pink pill. Nurse Judy smiled as his turn came. She stopped midway and nodded toward the reception desk. “Why are the police here?”
Gavin followed her gaze. The HR lady was heading toward Dr. Hambley’s office. She was flanked by two uniformed police officers. Gavin felt The Gardener take over, his head tilting ever so slightly to the right.
“Time for the harvest.” The Gardener said, blue eyes twinkling.
“How’s that now Gavin?” Nurse Judy turned to look him squarely in the eye.
“It ain’t Gavin honey. Hasn’t been for a while.” The Gardener looked from Nurse Judy to Hambley. “But that bastard has this coming, yeah?”
It took a whole two minutes for the officers to arrest Hambley and march him off the ward in cuffs.
* * *
Two weeks had passed by and everything had gone back to normal. Minus Hambley. Even the office supplies had stopped disappearing. Gavin also seemed to be more rested and was back to his usual self. He was sitting in the day room playing scrabble against himself.
Nurse Judy leaned against the reception desk and wondered who was winning. Such a bizarre turn of events, she thought. She looked back at the cream coloured official Rivendall letter.
“I’ll be damned,” she said aloud, shaking her head with a half-smile. “That little son of a gun pulled it off.”
“Pulled what off?” Jason approached, thumbing his envelop open.
“Well you know how I caught Gavin stealing office supplies?”
“Yeah,” he let out a laugh. “Only there wasn’t much to catching him. Like a ridiculous circus clown, tip toeing and peaking around corners all day and night.”
“Right, well. I asked him what he thought he was up to,” she scanned the room to be sure no one would overhear, “and he said he and ‘his crew’ were going to take down the hospital via bankruptcy!”
“You don’t mean his alters do you?” Jason asked tapping his temple.
“The very same. It seems that putting up with Hambley’s abuse brought out his other personalities over the past couple of months. And they hatched a plan to get poor Gavin out of here. And looks like they gone and done it.” Judy smiled. “Can’t say I blame them!”
“But how does that lead to bankruptcy? Sure he had a good hull going in pens, bed pans, paperclips, sheets and stuff. But that’s hardly going to break this place.” He nodded his head toward the open space.
“Well,” she said leaning in as if she were going to divulge a good juicy one. “You know Sue from HR?”
“She told me over drinks last night that Hambley is definitely being charged with embezzling. And,” she paused, “Rivendall will be officially bankrupt by the end of this quarter. All our patients, Gavin included, will be transferred to half-way houses in the community. But don’t you worry none, Jay. We’re going to be just fine. They’ll need more staff to accommodate the influx of residents.
“What does that have to do with Gavin?” Jason asked scanning his letter again.
“All those missing supplies had to be repurchased. And, what none of us unimportant people knew is that there was already some numbers that didn’t add up. Gavin’s crew’s mischief created just enough of a problem to warrant an internal audit.”
“Well isn’t he crafty.” Jason remarked.
“Indeed his is.” Nurse Judy replied gazing back to the man playing Scrabble.