Night Shift Page 32


“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“It’s Mamie,” she said. “I don’t want to give you bad news. But she’s not flourishing.”

They’d been strolling toward the left wing where Manfred’s friends were housed. Now they stopped to face one another. “Tell me,” he said.

“I’m not a nurse yet,” Estella said. “But I’ve worked here a while now. Mamie’s getting weaker. She’s not walking much anymore, even with a cane or a walker. She’s not eating enough. I know she’s eightyfive, but this seemed to come on pretty suddenly.” She paused. “She’s losing her grasp, Manfred.”

Her grasp on life. Manfred understood. “What can I do?” he asked.

“I don’t know if there’s anything specific worrying her,” Estella said. “If there is, of course taking that load off her would help. Otherwise, I think it’s going to be time for her, soon. Again, I’m not a nurse, and I may be speaking out of turn. But that’s my take, and I’d feel really bad if I didn’t tell you.”

“You think losing Mamie would be really hard on Tommy and Suzie?” he asked.

To his astonishment, Estella looked dubious. “It might,” she said. “But sometimes the very old can seem . . . surprisingly offhand about death. In fact, about any disaster happening to someone else. I think it’s because they’re so close to the end themselves, and they’ve lost so much by the time they get there.”

“My grandmother, Xylda, wasn’t that way. But she wasn’t nearly as old as Mamie,” Manfred said. He found himself smiling, despite the bad news. “Xylda was flamboyant to the end,” he said.

“What did she do?”

“She was a psychic, like me. In fact, she taught me the business.”

He was pretty sure Estella had already known what he did for a living. He could see the staff talking about him sometimes; he was a fairly unusual-looking visitor.

“How long ago did you lose her?”

Manfred had to think. “It’s been at least two years. Maybe longer.”

“I’d like to see a picture of her sometime,” Estella said.

“Totally doable. Can I have your number?” He held his breath, while trying to look like he was perfectly at ease.

“My friends call me Stell.”

“Stell, are you ever free to have time off?”

“What’s that?” She laughed.

“You work. You go to school. You study.”

“I might be able to arrange a little free time,” she said, smiling back at him.

“Can we spend some of that time together? So I can show you my grandmother’s picture?”

“I think I can spare a few minutes,” she said, to his vast relief and excitement.

He put her on his contacts list, and she wrote his number on her arm with an ink pen.

“I’ll put it in my cell phone when I’m off work,” she said. “By the way, I’m traditional—in some ways. I’ll wait for you to call me.”

“Good to know the rules.” Manfred was feeling positively buoyant. He was having to struggle to keep his smile under control.

“Okay, I’m going home to get some sleep,” Stell said. With a final wave, she peeled off to vanish through a door marked Employees Only.

Manfred was still smiling when he knocked on Tommy’s door. “Come in, Bernardo!” Tommy called.

Tommy’s room looked like a studio apartment. It had a little kitchen area, a double bed, and a sitting area. Though the room was small, it was attractive and comfortable—if not very personal, since Tommy had arrived with only the clothes in his suitcase. In his heyday, Tommy Quick had been a leg-breaker in Las Vegas. He had had a long, varied, and colorful life. This room in this town seemed like a bland end for such a man, but Manfred had come to understand that when you reached your eighties, safety was more important than lots of other considerations.

Tommy was dressed and shaved and sitting in the strawberry-red armchair. He looked ten years older than the last time Manfred had seen him, which was saying something.

“Hey, Tommy,” Manfred said, shaking the man’s hand. Tommy still had a good grip. “How are you?”

Tommy waved his hand to show that they were going to bypass the preliminaries. “Listen,” Tommy said. “And listen good.”

Manfred sat in the other chair and listened good.

“Mamie is trying to get out at night,” the old man said.

Manfred thought, Oh, no. Please tell me she’s not . . .

“She wants to walk down the highway, get me? Walk, to Midnight!” Tommy was scared and furious.

“Why does she want to go back to Midnight so bad? Has she told you?” Manfred tried to sound casual, but he didn’t fool Tommy.

“I can tell this isn’t a total surprise to you,” Tommy snarled. “We read the papers here, you know! We’re not total ignoramuses!”

“Did she say why?” Manfred was equally persistent.

“She’s gonna kill herself there, she told us.” Tommy regarded Manfred with a cold eye. “Now, you got something to tell me?”

“You know about the suicides,” Manfred said, because that much was public knowledge. “We don’t know why they’re happening, but we think there’s some weird influence going on.”

“Woo-woo stuff,” Tommy said.

Manfred nodded.

“Can you get Mamie to quit this?” Tommy asked. “Suzie and me are going nuts, getting no sleep, trying to make sure she don’t get out of here. They were already talking about moving her to the nursing home wing.”

Manfred knew that for the residents, moving to the nursing home wing was the last step before the graveyard. Sometimes residents recovered from a fall and got to go back to the assisted-living wing, but that was rare. “Could she really get out? Aren’t the doors locked at night?”

“Yeah, except when one of the staff goes outside to smoke and forgets to lock up. That’s happened twice. And a few times, one of us walks out as visitors walk in, and no one notices. One of the Alzheimer’s ladies was out in the parking lot trying to break into a car! Chet Allen was halfway to his ranch before they caught him.”

“Do the nurses know what Mamie is trying to do?”

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