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Mickey J. Corrigan
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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.

"Yes?"

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 points.

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 usually are.

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 minute."

Dr. Jonas has a useless PhD in English literature from Southern Florida Community College. He is, in reality, a closer.

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."

Shit.

Lehigh comes out from behind the 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 again."

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 to 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 a 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."

"Ma'am, you're 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 will!"

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 blessedly brief.

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 commit."

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.

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