The Phlogiston Precariousness: Chapter 1, Scene 2
Lorenzo’s third day at the hospital was the first time he could take care of his charges on his own. Orderly Mummer had gladly signed off on Lorenzo’s capability. He suspected it was Mr. Mummer’s laziness rather than insight into Lorenzo’s skills. The morning had passed uneventfully and at lunchtime, Lorenzo steered Mr. St. Eligius through the front doors of the hospital to find some food. Lorenzo considered Mr. St. Eligius to be one of his favorite patients by virtue of his quiet disposition. It was a much-needed respite from some of the other patients.
He wheeled his charge into the reception area from the outside. A rough circular desk stood sentry in the middle of the room with a direct line of sight to all of the doors. Behind the desk as well as to the left and right were hallways. A door of steel bars barricaded each one. The wheelchair’s wheels rattled noisily over the floorboards as Orderly Lorenzo guided Ignatius around the desk toward the back hallway. The day nurse sat ramrod straight in her rickety wooden chair. She swept Lorenzo with narrow, suspicious eyes. Nurse Lockett did not appreciate cheek or disorder. In her mind neither had any business in her hospital.
“Where are you taking that patient?” she said.
“Doctor Salinger has him scheduled for a treatment this afternoon. I’m just going to the mess hall.” Lorenzo replied.
“Mmmhmm.” Nurse Lockett patted the white card hat affixed to her the salt and pepper hair amassed in a tight bun. “See that you get there soon. Perhaps you could even try to be a bit quieter. There are others to consider after all.”
“Yes ma’am,” agreed Lorenzo steering his charge around the desk.
With a sharp BANG the front door burst open causing Lorenzo and Nurse Lockett to jump. A portly, disheveled man staggered into the reception area singing a dirty French tavern ditty at the top of his lungs. A black beret perched onto of his baldhead and a bushy mustache, like a well-used hairbrush, splayed out in many directions.
“Mr. Broussard!” Nurse Lockett said, seething with barely suppressed rage. “What is the meaning of this?”
“Est l’amour. Elle est le plus merveilleux de tous.”
The frown on her face could stun at six paces. “In English Mr. Broussard if you please.”
The Frenchman blinked twice with owlish eyes at the nurse. Monsieur Jean Jaques Broussard, who people often referred to as ‘The Mad Frenchman’ was one of the wealthiest men in Harrisburg. He owned interests in both the canals and railroads. On occasion, he would check himself into the hospital for a bit of rest while acting like a complete buffoon. When Monsieur Broussard felt like he had enough ‘rest’ he would simply check himself out and leave, returning to his normal life in the city.
“Ze ‘orse. She is magnifique!” the man gushed.
The disturbance brought several orderlies down to the barricades of the east and west halls.
“Is everything all right Nurse Lockett?” one of them called.
“Everything is fine thank you,” she replied. Nurse Lockett waved at Lorenzo, “You. Go and fetch a restraining jacket for Mr. Broussard, now.”
“What about Mr. St. Eligius?” Lorenzo asked.
“He will be fine here. Go get that jacket now.”
“Yes ma’am!” Lorenzo replied dashing over to the west hall. Jean Jacques pranced around the reception area pantomiming first riding a horse and then something less mentionable.
“Ze fumer is thick, like my incredible French accent, HAHA!”
Just as Lorenzo returned bearing a canvas restraining jacket the front door opened for the second time allowing a thin man wearing a light woolen suit to approach the desk. If he noticed the chaos of the orderly chasing Mr. Broussard around the room trying to get the jacket over the voluntary patient’s head, the man did not give any sign. He focused squarely on Nurse Lockett and stopped in front of her. The newcomer pushed black rimmed glasses back up his nose with a delicate finger.
“Good afternoon nurse. My name is Timmons. I represent the Mayor’s office. I am here on official business. I must speak with,” the man hesitated as Lorenzo lunged after Mr. Broussard, pinning him against the desk and started wrapping the Frenchman up in the clutches of the jacket. The east wing doorway swung open and two orderlies hustled in to assist Lorenzo, removing the still struggling Frenchman.
“As I was saying: I am here on behalf of the Mayor. I wish to speak with Doctor Salinger if you please.”
“Of course sir. I will summon him at once, please have a seat.” Nurse Lockett said.
She gestured at a worn wooden bench against the wall next to the entranceway. She peered at a banked group of brass buttons on her desk. Finding Doctor Salinger’s name she pressed the button next to it. The gentleman from the Mayor’s office gave the bench a cursory glance and stood next to it in silence. Lorenzo pushed Ignatius away from the center of the room just as Doctor Salinger entered from the back hall. Seeing the orderly and his patient moving across the floor the Doctor hailed the young man.
“Ah, Orderly Lorenzo is it not? Right on time! I’ll take Mr. St. Eligius from you,” said the Doctor.
Greasy strands of hair dangled down over his face like a willow’s tendrils. His glasses bore the brunt of his lack of overall hygiene, fogged with a permanent haze of oil. The stained lab coat hid his slight frame.
“Doctor, this gentleman is here to see you,” Nurse Lockett said to him. “I just pressed your call button a moment ago,” she added.
The man approached Doctor Saligner. “Doctor I have a message from the Mayor for you. He is keen to have a patient brought to his office. Here is the official memorandum explaining everything. Unless I am erroneous in this supposition the man I require is right here,” Timmons said indicating Ignatius.
“Ah,” began the Doctor, “I am not sure that the Mayor knows what he is asking. This man is extremely dangerous. My research has shown disturbing levels of anti-social behavior.”
Timmons gave Ignatius a thorough once over before snorting in disbelief. “The Mayor was most specific. If you will simply sign a release, I will take the patient into my own custody and relieve you of the burden.”
“Are you sure?” asked Doctor Salinger.
Timmons nodded his head.
“Nurse Lockett, will you please prepare a release for Mr. St. Eligius, to be remanded into this man’s custody,” said Doctor Salinger. He licked his lips while reading the Mayor’s note in its entirety. “Orderly, take this patient wherever directed. I must go and notate the records.”
“Yes, about those. I’ll need them too,” said Timmons in a soft voice. “If you would please reference item 1.a on the memorandum you will see that all records pertaining to this man must accompany me.”
“This is most irregular, my research findings…” protested Doctor Salinger.
“The Mayor is not concerned with regularity or your research at the moment. There are matters that must be attended and this man is who the Mayor wishes to see.”
“Of course, if the Mayor wants him, the Mayor shall have him,” the doctor said.
“Exactly,” agreed Timmons. He brushed the sleeve of his jacket then asked, “Should you not be retrieving this patient’s records for me now?”
“Of course, forgive me. I will be just a moment.” The doctor hurried out of the reception.
Standing just behind the wheelchair Lorenzo looked at Nurse Lockett and then Timmons. The nurse was shuffling the stack of release papers into a semblance of order. With a tight snap of her wrist, she presented them to Timmons. He plucked them from her hand and read over them. The slight man gave a nod of satisfaction while folding up the release and tucking it into his jacket. Several minutes later Doctor Salinger returned puffing and out of breath. Unable to speak he handed a thick folder bound in string to Timmons.
“On behalf of the Mayor’s office I would like to express the City’s gratitude. Orderly, please follow me,” said the Mayor’s officiant.
Timmons turned leading Lorenzo to the front entrance. The wheelchair’s wheels rattled back across the floor causing Nurse Lockett to grind her teeth. Lorenzo emerged into the noontime light guiding the rolling chair down the ramp. In the driveway circle stood en elegant black hansom cab with a single black stallion in the traces. Behind it was a ramshackle buckboard wagon.
A footman hopped down and opened the door to the cab for Timmons. He had one foot on the running board to enter the cab when he gestured to Lorenzo: “Just lay him in the back of the wagon. You may retain your wheelchair. We have one at our destination for him.”
Lorenzo peered into the back of the wagon. In it, a rudimentary cot was waiting for the patient. The driver came back to lower the wagon’s gate as Lorenzo bodily hoisted Ignatius out of the chair and up over his shoulder. In a well-practiced maneuver, he rolled Ignatius into the cot. The wagon driver slapped the rear closed again and swung himself up into his seat. Looking past the wagon and cab a tall cloud of dirty white smoke billowed up over the treetops to the south.
“What’s that?” Lorenzo asked.
The wagon driver shrugged his shoulders. With a click from the cabbie’s tongue, the hansom cab sprang forward around the curve in the drive and clattered off.
“Ge’ on there,” snarled the wagon’s driver at his draft animals.
Bouncing and shaking on the drive the wagon rattled in the dusty wake of the cab. Lorenzo blinked several times at the dust swirling around his eyes. Resigned to returning to work he wheeled the chair back toward reception after taking one more look at the rising cloud over what he knew was the main industrial section of the city.