Darker Than You Think (31 page)

BOOK: Darker Than You Think
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"You
know the rules," the nurse reproved her.

"You
know we can't—"

"Sam
will pay you!" she gasped desperately. "And he'll be glad
to explain to the doctors—because my warning will save his
life. And so much more—" Her thin voice caught, and she
started sobbing. "Call a cab—borrow a car—steal
one!"

"We'd
like to help you, Mrs. Mondrick," the stout girl said
indulgently. "We'll send Mr. Quain any message you like."

"No!"
Rowena whispered. "A message won't do."

Barbee
gulped and started forward again, about to speak. The two nurses
still had their backs to him, but Rowena had turned so that he could
see her staring blind lenses and her stricken face. Pity for her
caught his throat; tears blurred his sight. He wanted urgently to
help her.

"Why
not, Mrs. Mondrick?" the tall nurse was asking. "And what
could harm Mr. Quain?"

"A
man he trusts," the blind woman sobbed.

Those
words halted Barbee, like a glimpse of something dreaded leering from
the dark. He couldn't have spoken, because terror clutched his
throat. He retreated, silent on the damp lawn, listening unwillingly.

"A
man he thinks a friend," Rowena gasped.

The
short nurse looked at her watch and nodded at the other.

"We've
walked long enough, Mrs. Mondrick," the tall girl said
pleasantly. "It's time for us to go back inside. You're tired
now, and you ought to take a nap. If you still want to talk to Mr.
Quain this afternoon, I think the doctor will let you call him on the
telephone."

"No!"
she sobbed. "That won't do."

"Why
not?" the nurse said. "Surely he has a telephone."

"And
so have all our enemies," the blind woman whispered hoarsely.
"All those monsters, pretending to be men! They listen when I
talk, and intercept my letters. Turk was trained to sniff them out,
but now Turk's dead. And dear Marck's dead. There's nobody left for
me to trust, except Sam Quain."

"You
can trust us," the tall girl said pleasantly. "But we must
go in now."

"Very
well," Rowena said calmly. "I'll come—"

She
started to turn, as if in quiet obedience. As the two nurses relaxed,
however, she pushed at them desperately, twisted savagely free, and
darted away.

"Now,
Mrs. Mondrick! You mustn't do that!"

Both
the startled nurses ran after her, but she moved with a frantic
agility. For a moment she gained, and Barbee thought she might reach
the trees above the river. He had almost forgotten her handicap, but
she tripped on the nozzle of a lawn sprinkler before she had run a
dozen yards and fell hard on her face.

The
two nurses picked her up carefully. Holding her lean arms with a
gentle firmness, they turned with her back toward the building.
Barbee wanted to run when he knew they would see him. For Rowena's
madness matched his own peculiar dreams too well, and he was shaken
with a sudden terror of the cold frantic sanity he thought he
glimpsed beyond her wild disturbance.

"Hello,
Mister." The tall nurse looked at him keenly, keeping a firm
grip on Rowena's angular elbow. "What can we do for you?"

"I
just left my car." Barbee nodded at the parking space behind
him. "I'm looking for Dr. Glenn."

"Back
through the hedge, please, sir." The tall girl smiled
watchfully. "There's a walk around the building to the front
door. You should see the girl at the desk about your appointment."

Barbee
scarcely heard. He was watching Rowena Mondrick. She had stiffened at
the first sound of his voice, and now she stood silent between the
two nurses as if in frozen fright. The black glasses must have been
lost when she fell, for her empty eyesockets were uncovered and
hideous, turning her white stricken face to a dreadful mask.

"It's
Will Barbee." He didn't want to talk to her now. He had
overheard enough to know that anything she told him would only drag
him deeper into that dark web of monstrous doubt. He felt cold and
ill with terror of her—but he couldn't stop his own hoarsely
rasping voice.

"Tell
me, Rowena—what's your warning for Sam Quain?"

She
stood facing him, tall and gaunt in her black, shrinking back from
him almost as if those ghastly scars were eyes that looked upon
intolerable horror. She shuddered so violently that the two nurses
gripped her scrawny arms. Her pale mouth opened as if to scream, but
she made no sound.

"Why
did that black leopard attack you in Nigeria?" That question
seemed to gasp itself out, with no volition of his own. "And
what kind of leopard was it?"

Her
white lips set.

"What
was Dr. Mondrick really looking for—there and in the Ala-shan?"
He knew she wouldn't answer, but he couldn't stop the breathless
questions. "What did he and Sam bring back in that wooden box?
Who would want to murder them?"

She
cowered back from him, shaking her dreadful head.

"Stop
it, Mister!" the stout nurse reproved him sharply. "Don't
annoy our guest. If you really want to see Dr. Glenn go on around to
the front."

The
two nurses turned hastily away, with the shuddering woman between
them.

"Who
are those secret enemies?" Barbee couldn't stop himself from
running after her, or choke his frantic croaking. "Who are those
killers in the dark? Who would harm Sam Quain?"

She
twisted in the strong arms that held her.

"Don't
you know, Will Barbee?" Her dull, shuddering voice seemed as
hideous to him as her scarred face. "Don't you know yourself?"

Terror
seized Barbee and took his voice.

"Better
stop it, Mister," the tall nurse warned. "If you have any
business here, go on to the front. If you haven't, get off the
grounds."

The
two marched hurriedly away, with the blind woman stumbling limply
between them. Barbee turned shakenly back toward the opening in the
hedge, trying not to wonder what Rowena meant. He clung to the feeble
hope that Dr. Glenn could help him.

In
the reverent hush of the cool, austere reception room, that slim dark
priestess of old Egypt turned gracefully from her switchboard with a
dreamy little smile of welcome to her temple. Barbee was shivering
still; he couldn't forget Rowena's dreadful face, nor shake off his
old vague terror of mental diseases and mental institutions.

"Good
morning, Mr. Barbee," the priestess cooed. "May I assist
you today?"

Barbee
gulped in vain for his voice, and whispered that he wanted to see Dr.
Glenn.

"He's
still very busy," she purred serenely. "If you've come
about Mrs. Mondrick, I believe she's responding splendidly. I'm
afraid you can't see her, though. Dr. Glenn doesn't want her to have
visitors, quite yet."

"I
just saw her," Barbee rasped grimly. "I don't know how
splendidly she's responding, but I still want to see Dr. Glenn."
He swallowed hard. "It's— about—myself."

Her
misty smile was a dreamy caress.

"Wouldn't
Dr. Bunzel do? He's the staff diagnostician, you know. Or Dr.
Dilthey? The head neuropathologist. Either one, I'm sure—"

Barbee
shook his head.

"Tell
Glenn I'm here," he interrupted hoarsely. "Just tell him I
helped a white wolf bitch kill Mrs. Mondrick's dog. I think he'll
find time for me."

The
exotic, long-skulled girl turned gracefully. Her swift ivory fingers
plugged in a line at the switchboard, and she breathed into the
transmitter at her throat. Her dark, limpid eyes came back to Barbee,
luminous and unsurprised.

"Dr.
Glenn will see you right away, Mr. Barbee." Her voice was a
liquid minor melody. "If you will just wait
a
moment,
and go with Nurse Graulitz, please."

Nurse
Graulitz was a muscular, horse-faced, glass-eyed blond. Her nod was a
cold challenge, as if she intended to administer bitter medicine and
make him say he liked it. Barbee followed her down a long, quiet
corridor into a small office.

In
a muffled foghorn of a voice, she asked him a series of questions,
among them who was responsible for his bill and what diseases he
admitted having had and how much alcohol he drank. She wrote his
answers on a cardboard blank, and made him sign a form he didn't try
to read. Just as he finished a door opened behind him. She rose and
boomed softly at Barbee: "Dr. Glenn will see you now."

The
famous psychiatrist was a tall, handsome man, with wavy black hair
and sleepy hazel eyes. He held out a tanned, well-kept hand, smiling
cordially. Barbee stared at him, caught with a curious, fleeting
impression of forgotten close acquaintance. He had met Glenn, of
course, when he covered those lectures for the
Star.
It
must be only that, he told himself; yet he couldn't quite shake off
the feeling of something older and more intimate.

"Good
morning, Mr. Barbee." His voice was deep and oddly restful.
"Come along, please."

His
office was expensively simple, airy and attractive, with few things
to distract the attention. Two big leather chairs, a couch with a
clean white towel over the pillow, clock and ash tray and flowers in
a bowl on a little table, a tall bookcase filled with formidable
medical volumes and copies of the
Psychoanalytic
Review.
Venetian
blinds gave a view of the brilliant woods and the river and a glimpse
of the highway where it turned.

Barbee
seated himself, mute and uneasy.

Glenn
dropped carelessly into the other chair and tapped a cigarette on his
thumbnail. He looked reassuringly competent and unworried. It was
queer, Barbee thought, that he hadn't felt that sense of recognition
when he interviewed Glenn at the time of those lectures. The feeling
expanded swiftly into a confident liking.

"Smoke?"
Glenn said. "What seems to be the trouble?"

Barbee
took courage from his calm, and blurted, "Witchcraft!"

Glenn
seemed neither surprised nor impressed. He merely waited.

"Either
I've been bewitched," Barbee told him desperately, "or else
I'm losing my mind."

Glenn
exhaled pale smoke.

"Suppose
you just tell me about it."

"It
all started Monday night, out at the airport," Barbee began
speaking awkwardly at first and then with growing ease. "This
red-haired girl came up to me while I was waiting for the Mondrick
expedition to land in their chartered plane—"

BOOK: Darker Than You Think
7.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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