[Note: Today enjoy a free excerpt from STILL NOT DEAD that both stands on its own and gives you a flavor for the bigger journey that I hope you will take.}

My Mother Says…

“Why don’t you send somebody from the local field office to interview Bultema?” Michelle asks.

“We hop in the jet and we’re there in an hour. This is too important. I want to see and hear her myself,” Rich says. “The jet’s fueled up and the pilots are waiting for us at Reagan.”

“Not that I mind fieldwork or spending time with you, but 240,000 skilled people work for DHS. You can’t do everything yourself.”

“My mother always said, ‘If you want something done right…'”

“OK, but I’m not sure how they made you a director. A director manages and delegates.”

“Never mind that. Let’s go. Car’s waiting downstairs.”

Michelle grabs her jacket, and they head down to the black SUV out front. The December sun breaks through the clouds and glistens off the light snow that fell the night before. The air is cool, crisp, dry.

At 10:35 AM, they land at Greater Rochester International. The snow is a foot deeper here, but the runway and all the streets have been cleared. Another black SUV shuttles them to Bold Memorial. Rich flashes his credentials at reception. They check their guns at security and head up the elevator to the sixth floor. The R Wing door is locked. Michelle pushes a buzzer. An orderly appears. She flashes her credentials through the metal mesh security glass.

The door buzzes and they step into a 1950s throwback world of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The walls are a fading avocado green, the floors a gray linoleum. The disinfectant odor pervades. Men and women in green tattered jumpsuits wander the halls in a Thorazine haze.

“Looks like a casting call for Night of the Living Dead,” Rich says.

“Yeah, it’s creepy. Is that chloroform I smell?” Michelle says and turns to the orderly. “We’re here to speak with Phyllis Bultema.”

“I’ve been told,” the orderly says. “She has her good days and bad. One day she’s calm, the next day it’s a Category 5 mental storm. Today, who knows?”

The Interview

The orderly escorts them to a corner of the common room. Other patients circle around the two DHS agents, scanning them head-to-toe. Bultema sits in a rocking chair, swaying back and forth, staring out the window.

The orderly shoos the other patients away and says, “Phyllis, there’s somebody here to see you.” 

Phyllis doesn’t interrupt the rhythm of her rocking.

Rich nods to Michelle, and she circles in front of Phyllis. Kneeling at eye level, she says, “Phyllis, my name is Michelle. How are you today?”

“Can I get my teddy? I want my teddy,” Phyllis says.

Rich and Michelle both turn to the orderly. He smirks and leaves. 

“Teddy is coming,” Michelle says. “Can you tell me about the bus company?”

Phyllis folds her arms across her chest and huffs. Michelle stands and they wait. The orderly returns extending the small, ragged teddy bear to Phyllis, but Michelle snatches it and holds it in front of Phyllis.

“Give me teddy. I miss him,” Phyllis says.

“He misses you too.” Michelle moves Teddy’s head and plays puppeteer. “Teddy wants to know about the bus company.”

Phyllis smiles. “I’ve told you the story many times.” She reaches out to pet Teddy’s head.

“Tell me again,” Teddy says.

“I loved working at the bus company. Sometimes I would drive the children myself and sing to them. They seemed to like that. Other times I taught new drivers how to drive. I was sooo good that they made me the boss.”

“Did you have a driver named Jennie Lee?” Teddy asks, then tickles Phyllis under the chin.

She laughs. “Oh yes, she was very good with the children. Terrible what happened to her and her family. I don’t believe she could hurt them. She was too nice.”

“She used to live on South Harrison Street before they took her away, right?” Teddy asks.

“Yes, she had a lovely house. So sad.”

“And you were friends. Did you ever go out with her, for a drink or anything?”

Phyllis breaks into a broad grin. “Oh, we both liked a drink, or two, or three after work. We had a favorite place. Jen seemed to know everybody like they were family.”

“What was the name of the place?”

A Song

Phyllis’s eyes well up. “I can’t remember so good after the accident. I hit my head.” Phyllis whips her head side-to-side. “I can’t. No, no, I can’t. Don’t hurt me, please. Don’t.” She stops moving and closes her eyes.

Michelle looks at Rich. He shrugs.

She turns back to Phyllis and says in her regular voice, “Teddy would like the name of the bar that you and Jen liked to go to. Then he wants to snuggle.”

Phyllis, eyes still closed, says, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“What was your favorite drink at the bar?” Teddy asks.

“It was a Manhattan, always a Manhattan.” She licks her lips, then her eyes snap open. “The bar was named Tangos. Yes, Tangos. That’s it.”

Michelle hands Teddy to Phyllis, who cradles him in her arms.

“Thank you,” Michelle says and stands.

“I think we’ve got a lead. Where’d you learn that trick?” Rich asks.

“Back in Syria. Growing up, I volunteered in a nursing home. We used to play-act all the time. It was often the only way to communicate.” 

“Don’t try that on me.”

Michelle smiles. “I already have.”

As they thank the orderly and move to the door, Phyllis says, “Teddy, would you like to hear the song I sang to the children on the bus?”

For who knows where the time goes?

Who knows where the time goes?

Sad, deserted shore, your fickle friends are leaving

Ah, but then you know it’s time for them to go

But I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving

I do not count the time

For who knows where the time goes?

Who knows where the time goes?

-END-

To read more, check out the just-released thriller, STILL NOT DEAD
STILL NOT DEAD – paperback from Amazon – available now
Pre-Order the Ebook – automatically delivered on September 20th.

Other Thrillers by Charles Levin:
NOT SO DONE – paperback from Amazon – ships in one to two days
Order the Ebook – read immediately
Kindle Unlimited – read immediately
Audible Audiobook – listen immediately
NOT SO DEAD Trilogy – Kindle/ebook and Kindle Unlimited – Boxset of all 3 Sam Sunborn Novels.

Read for FREE some of Charles Levin’s short stories:

Florence Remembering
Love in the Park
Missing the Ghost in the Palace Theater
The Gift
Loverly
Moon Landing Memories
Zombie Phone
Word Drunk

P.S. My original fast-paced thriller NOT SO DEAD and the Sam Sunborn Series are also available on Amazon.

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