Free to Leave
Mickey J. Corrigan
The woman rises from her plastic
chair and approaches the reception desk.
Instantly, Lehigh wakes up the
computer and pretends to search the files. She clicks aimlessly, making the new
patient wait before she looks up.
The woman is maybe forty with
thick blonde hair swept up in a loose bun. She's dressed in an expensive silk
blouse and black skirt, leather ankle boots with five-inch heels. Her face is
by Botox. Her purse, Gucci.
Lehigh stares blankly. The
paying and staying carry designer bags, so you always admit them. Their
insurers will cover them for weeks, sometimes months. This is worth a lot of
The woman tries to smile, fails.
"I'm sorry to bother you, but I've been waiting for close to two hours. Do
you have any idea when I'll be able to talk to someone?"
Her manicured hands flutter,
jingling gem-heavy rings. She's concerned about the long wait. The sane ones
She shivers. "I can't stay
here all night—"
Lehigh holds up a hand, nods
curtly. "You've already filled out the forms, so you need to stay until
you're able to talk to an intake counselor. Dr. Jonas should be here any
Dr. Jonas has a useless PhD in
English literature from Southern Florida Community College. He is, in reality,
Lehigh adds, "He had an
emergency but should be here soon."
An emergency in his pants,
probably. Guy's out cruisin' on weekend nights, who knows where. When the woman
turns around, Lehigh texts him again. Better
hurry, she's on her way out.
Jonas texts back. Oh shit. On my way. Don't lose her.
The woman has reseated herself
and is flipping through last month's People
Magazine, so Lehigh says nothing more. This one could mean serious points.
Once Lehigh has enough points, she can get off the midnight shift, work days.
With enough points, she'll be promoted to intake counselor. After that, she can
quit her part-time gig at Lucky Dog Bonds. Life will be easier. She's been
working her ass off for way too long.
Lehigh checks her phone. Four
more hours until dawn. Six more hours until she can go home. When she looks up,
the woman is staring at her with an odd expression. Fear? Clarity?
The lady stands up. "I'm
feeling much calmer now. I think I'll go home."
Lehigh comes out from behind
reception desk. "I'm sorry, but you can't do that. Our rules don't allow
it. Once you've filled out the admission forms, you are no longer free to leave.
Not until you meet with one of our counselors. And Dr. Jonas—"
Her frown deepening, the lady
says, "I don't care about your rules. My panic attack has fully subsided. It's
two o'clock in the morning! I've got a luncheon to attend today and I'm
exhausted. Please tell the doctor I'll be in touch if the symptoms arise
Lehigh texts Blaine. Runner in reception.
The only technician on duty
tonight, Blaine is most likely hanging out back by the dumpsters, smoking and
playing games on his phone.
The woman clutches her purse
her side as she marches to the exit. When she pushes against the glass door and
it does not move, does not revolve, Lehigh prepares herself for the explosion.
Her heart speeds up. Dammit, she needs those points.
The woman screams at her. "Hey!
The door's locked!"
Lehigh speaks slowly, as if to
tempestuous child. "I'm sorry, but now that you've told us you have
suicidal thoughts, you are not free to leave. Not until a counselor has
determined you are no longer a threat to yourself."
The woman snorts. "Don't be
ridiculous. You can't hold me here. Do you know who my husband is?"
A rich dude, Lehigh guesses.
Probably at least twenty years older but with Ferraris full of cash.
"Please take a seat, ma'am. The doctor—"
"Fuck the doctor! You let
me out right this minute, young lady, or my lawsuit will include you."
hyperventilating. I think you need a sedative. Let me get you something."
The lady stamps her spiked boot
on the tile floor. "You don't tell me
what I need, missy. Now unlock this door. You can't hold me here against my
Lehigh says calmly, "You
signed the forms voluntarily admitting yourself, ma'am. There's nothing I can
do now. If I let you out, I'll lose my job."
She'll lose points, is what
she'll lose. Where the hell was Blaine?
The woman shakes her head
fiercely. "I didn't know what I was signing. I was freaking out, upset and
scared. So I came here to talk to someone, not to admit myself as an
inpatient." Her pretty hair is mussed up, her face a boiled shrimp pink.
"You tricked me, you little bitch!"
When Blaine lumbers in from the
ward, big and hard-bodied with a shiny shaved dome, the woman's face blanches.
She bangs on the exit door like a madwoman until he gets her in a chokehold.
Lehigh advances in order to
assist while Blaine administers the butt shot. The struggle is ugly but
Outside the glass doors, an owl
hoots. The sound is alluring, primal and haunting.
"You almost lost yourself a
hundred points, babe," Blaine says after the woman's eyes bang shut.
"This one looks like she's got top of the line insurance. She'll be in
here for months."
Lehigh sighs. "I'm so tired
of these rich bitches. The paying and staying are always such a pain to
Blaine lifts the unconscious
woman in his muscled arms. "Our job is to admit and retain, not to whine
or complain," he recites from the mental health technician's manual.
Lehigh laughs, then bends down
to retrieve the Gucci bag from the floor.
Originally from Boston, Mickey J. Corrigan writes hard-boiled pulp
fiction from a female point of view. Her novellas and novels have been released
by publishers in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. Poetry chapbooks
include The Art of Bars (Finishing Line Press, 2016), Days'
End (Main Street Rag Publishing, 2017), and the disappearing
self (Kelsay Books, 2020). Project XX, a crime novel, was
published in 2017 by Salt Publishing in the UK. What
I Did for Love was released by
Bloodhound Books UK in October, 2019.