the ladder - secret hospital (part 5)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

Dr. James Di Nova – a heavyset man whose mass consisted mostly of muscle, attired with a white smock over his pressed olive Army uniform (rank: colonel), with the stern face of a senator from the days of the Roman Empire.

“I was denied access to the transcripts,” said the EPH director.

His office was a strange oasis in the wonderland maze; walls lined with file drawers and modernist shelves neatly, perhaps obsessively, stacked with psychiatry and medical textbooks as well as books on topics as varied as architecture and paleontology. A flat, uncluttered desk; a glass surface resting on an aluminum support structure. Dr. Poole was suspicious of pristinely organized offices, spaces devoid of personal mementoes, sterilized to be free of humanity. “Knick-knacks,” he was fond of telling students, “are the gateways to the mind.”

But while the Colonel could be commended for bringing a refined aesthetic to his office, especially in comparison to the drab utilitarianism of the Wonderland complex, Dr. Poole nevertheless preferred his own cave. Stacks of books, photographs, manuscripts in various stages of progress – nothing disorganized, but also nothing inhumanely classified and stored. He suspected the Colonel kept a file drawer full of nonsensical objects waiting to be fondled when in the comforting cradle of privacy. Perhaps he even kept a bottle of hard liquor.

“Yes. Classified,” Dr. Poole answered. “But you knew that.”

The Colonel nodded his square-jawed head, furrowing his brow into an expression of disapproval and suppressed irritation. Dr. Poole made a peace offering.

“No breakthroughs yet. Just small talk. It takes time to build trust.”

“I don’t like being shut out, Doctor Poole.” He slightly emphasized “doctor” as if it were an epithet.

Dr. Poole smiled with what he hoped was a reassuring expression. “I understand, and I am happy to keep you informed to the extent I am allowed to. But your facility’s record in treating Maram as an experimental subject has helped neither your military masters’ ambitions nor Maram’s mental health, which is in fact my sole concern at this moment. Surely you’re not surprised, are you?”

“I find it interesting you call her Maram.”

“You think of her as a code name?”

The two men stared at each other across the desolate battlefield of Colonel Di Nova’s desk, but Dr. Poole had no interest in a contest of machismo. Neither, apparently, did the Colonel, who cracked the silence to describe, with succinct detail, the extent of his security clearance. The Experimental Psychiatric Hospital was, after all, more secret than even the Air Force Flight Test Center. Dr. Poole was not unsympathetic, remembering his early days as a military psychiatrist butting heads with government officials over what was then a low security clearance. Sympathy could only go so far, however; Colonel Di Nova was an officer first and a healer second. Conflicting interests.

“The clearance is compartmentalized,” said Dr. Poole. “Surely you know that. I have the highest possible authority on this. The transcripts will remain sealed for everyone but authorized.”

“You answer to the highest authority. Sounds like a Hebrew National advertisement.”

Dr. Poole appreciated that the Colonel had a sense of humour, but he didn’t relent. Neither did the Colonel.

“And who is authorized, if not the goddamn director of this facility?”

“I’m afraid that’s also classified. But I’m sure you could make an educated guess.”

The Colonel turned a lovely shade of apple-red, but said nothing. Dr. Poole, seeing no further use to drag on the conversation, stood to leave. This shook the Colonel from his aggravation.

“What happened to Dr. Forrester? He seems to have vanished. Do you know anything about that?”

“I don’t know anything that would be of help to you, Colonel,” said Dr. Poole. “But while we’re asking questions, what is with this obsession with Alice in Wonderland around here?”

Eyes twinkling but filled with suspicion, Colonel Di Nova said, “You have a better name for this place?”

“How about Fortress of Solitude?”

Dr. Poole laughed softly as the Colonel looked at him, confused. The psychiatrist left the office, navigating the corridors, then the elevator, then the administrative offices on the surface. Once outside, he plucked a cell phone from his jacket pocket and, securing the call through an encrypted line, dialed.

“Delphi. I should have asked for this before, but eMail me a complete background on Colonel Di Nova. Full security, of course.”

On the computer monitor in his office, the Colonel watched as Dr. Poole made the call. Turning up the volume, however, didn’t make his words any clearer. It was if the psychiatrist were talking gibberish or in code. Annoyed, Colonel Di Nova ordered security to send a copy of the video footage for linguistic analysis only to be told, a few hours later, that they had insufficient information to determine what Dr. Poole had said.

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