Subject: the Garden of Forking Stories: Chapter 1
Date: Apr 14 2005 9:12AM
Curled and unconscious in the cracked plastic chair, Angela Cho looked even younger and smaller than she actually was; and Sergeant Schadford looked down at her with undisguised pity.
She had scrunched a hospital gown into a tight ball and wedged it between her cheek and shoulder for a makeshift pillow; her arms were hugged around her chest, her face was pale and smeared, and the fact that she was probably very pretty on a normal day made her seem, to the sergeant, just that much more pathetic. She looked underfed, strung out, and utterly helpless.
"Poor kid," he said quietly. He had a daughter not much younger than that, a son about the same age. "I thought you said she wasn't hurt."
"She was not," said the doctor, all precise and irritable. "A bit of a bruise on her left hip where she says she hit the edge of the bathtub, and that is all."
"A bit of a bruise?" said Angela.
Schadford almost jumped, he was so startled, and even Dr Gerlich flinched slightly. Angela had not moved or opened her eyes, even, but her voice was loud and clear and cheerfully indignant.
"A bit of a bruise, my ass," she said, opening one bright eye wide on them: "Try a shattered hip and massive internal bleeding. He's just too cheap to spring for some morphine."
Gerlich clucked his tongue impatiently – they had apparently had this argument already, and anyway, he was not the sort of man who enjoys being startled.
She sat up in the chair and glared at the two men, frowning black and fierce: "God knows I don't expect any privacy," she said, "But do you have to actually stand there and stare at me? I believe there's a t.v in the other waiting room," she added helpfully.
"This," said Dr Gerlich, "Is Sergeant Schadford. He will drive you home. Your friend Mr Twiffort is sleeping comfortably; you may see him in the morning."
"Your friend is going to be fine," said Schadford: "Absolutely fine, one hundred percent. He's fast asleep, and you should be too – in your own bed. And maybe on the way," he added, "We can talk a bit about what happened."
Angela got to her feet, not without difficulty. "I'm going to take a piss," she announced, waving her hand with royal dismissiveness: "Talk amongst yourselves."
When the bathroom door closed behind her, Schadford's voice took on a different quality, shedding the skin of gruff fatherliness. "Do you think she knows anything?" he asked.
"I don't think so," said Dr Gerlich. "She hasn't asked about the map at all. But I think Dr Manjiro might have seen me removing it from Twiffort's coat."
Meanwhile, in the washroom, Angela was leaning over the sink, splashing her face with cold water and trying to clear her mind.
Could all this really be about a map of a garden, one of those old-fashioned hedge mazes -- a hand-drawn map at least a hundred years old, that they had found in the drawer of that second-hand desk?
Leaning over the sink, the water dripping slowly from her face, she could hear that man's voice again, that Quiet Man with the piercing eyes, the expensive suit and all those diamond rings on his sleek, manicured fingers, talking so reasonably to them while his ugly, ape-like henchman, Bacon, rifled through their apartment.
The Quiet Man's voice sounded in her ears again, so clear he seemed to be in the washroom with her: "The offer is still open, my dear."
She raised her head, and gasped when she saw him there, in the washroom mirror, looking over her shoulder.
"You have no idea what you're dealing with," he said, with his quiet, sinister smile.
She spun around, but there was no one there: she was alone in the washroom.