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James Williard sat at his chief technologist's desk in the laboratory office at Wellman Memorial Hospital thinking dark thoughts. Mostly, he wondered why he had ever taken this job in the first place. He stared at the disordered stack of papers cluttering his desk and tried to make himself get interested in them. It was no use. Shuffling papers wasn't his idea of an exciting way to make a living, even though as chief technologist there were some fringe benefits involved. One of the fringe benefits tapped at the closed door, then entered without being asked.
Williard started to douse his cigarette then held off when he saw who it was. Trisha Knight closed the door behind her then came over and plopped down in his lap. "What if Mr. Elkins catches you smoking in here?" she asked, plucking the cigarette from his hand and putting it between her lips.
He took the cigarette back from her after allowing her to inhale, then used the last of it himself, drawing the smoke deep into his lungs. "Fuck him. If he gives me any shit, I'll tell his wife where he was yesterday when we were supposed to be discussing the budget." The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals had recently decreed that most sections of the hospital, including the laboratory, should be smoke-free. So far, Williard had gotten away with ignoring the regulation but he didn't know how much longer that would last. Civilian hospitals, he had come to find out, were hothouses of politics and had more snitches per square yard than a prison exercise yard.
"Where was he?" Trisha asked. She leaned her head forward and nuzzled his neck, hoping Williard would reveal ajuicy tidbit of gossip about Dean Elkins, the hospital administrator.
"Interviewing a nurse," Williard said.
"Oh, that. Everyone already knows how he does his interviews."
"Don't listen to everything you hear." He removed Trisha's arm from around his neck. "Go 'way now. I've got to work on these OSHA regulations."
She pouted. "Don't you even want to know why I came in to see you?"
"I already know, but I haven't got time right now." Williard was wishing that he had never hired her. Or, more accurately, that he hadn't gotten carried away with her bust measurement and let her seduce him into a series of nooners the last several weeks. She was already beginning to hint that she was expecting special treatment in the matters of call duty and weekend scheduling, something the other techs would almost certainly resent if he acceded to her veiled suggestions. He knew now that he should have at least kept their liaisons out of the lab where it was impossible to keep secrets, but after Terry, his live-in girlfriend had left him, he had let his gonads get in the way of his good sense.
"What's OSHA?" Trisha said, getting up from his lap. She asked the question more as a means to delay going back to work than from any real interest.
"The Office of Safety and Health Administration. It's another fucking government bureaucracy. They want us to work safe. You know, don't pipette sulfuric acid into your mouth or mix the petri dish cultures into your coffee. Things like that."
"That's ridiculous. No one would ever do that."
"Yeah, but the government wants us to have an OSHA procedure manual handy to cover them sort of situations, just in case."
"Is that why we can't smoke in the lab anymore?"
"Naw. The Joint Commission dreamed that one up. Now our outpatients can't get near the bathrooms to collect their urine specimens because all the techs go there to smoke. By the way, you still ain't got your name tag changed."
"I want people to know my first name."
"Get it done. The government says we might discriminate if we use anything except the first initial and last name on our name tags."
"Oh, all right. Will I see you tonight?"
"No. My brother is coming in this evening. We've got some things to talk about."
"Which one?" Trish had heard about Williard's brothers, but she didn't put a lot of credence in most of the tales Williard related about them when he was outside a few too many rum and cokes.
"Jumpin' Jase, the fighter pilot."
"Oh, the one you went chasing dinosaurs with. I'd like to meet him." Trish didn't believe the dinosaur story for an instant, but she had heard so many stories of Jason's flying exploits that she was inordinately curious.
"Jerry was with us, too, and so was Terry."
"Ha! She probably flew the plane, too." Trish was jealous of Williard's former girlfriend, Terry, whom she suspected of still having the hots for Williard and vice versa.
Williard patted her on the fanny and moved her to the door, ignoring the frown that crossed her face at his summary dismissal. Terry really had helped fly their plane on the expedition, but it was no use insisting on it to Trish. She was too much of an airhead to really appeal to him, but he had to admit her other attributes were worthy of interest. She was a full-figured, dark-haired beauty, part Italian and part Arapaho Indian with a little Playboy Bunny thrown in for good measure. If his brother Jason came in alone, Williard thought he might be interested, having a nose for females with their brains mostly located below the waist. An idea suddenly occurred to him and he smiled to himself, tucking the thought into the back of his mind for later action.
He crossed back to his desk and sat down again. He stared at the OSHA forms he should be working on then decided they could wait. He shoved them to the edge of his desk. He didn't think it likely that anyone in the lab would die from accidentally sticking a needle in their eye before tomorrow if he didn't have the manual ready. For that matter, he doubted that anyone, other than a Joint Commission inspector, would ever open the manual once it was finished. The techs pretended they read the manuals and the inspectors pretended that their initials on the frontispiece proved it.
Getting the OSHA forms out of the way left room to spread out some Levy-Jennings charts from the chemistry department. More bullshit, he thought. As if running both a high and low control with each batch of tests wasn't enough. No, now the bureaucrats insisted on averaging and plotting the figures and following every minute change in value on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis up to the expiration life of the controls. He conceded that there was a remote chance that the charts might pick up a gradual deterioration in the controls or instruments used to run the tests, but any technologist with a lick of sense would spot the same thing without the charts. He glared at the stack of graphs and shoved them aside too, which made room for the temperature charts he was designing.
Shit! This was one that really irked him. It wasn't enough to open the refrigerator and look at the thermometer to see if the unit was running properly. No, now it had been decreed that all temperatures must be recorded and initialed, each and every day, not only for the bottom half of the refrigerator, but for the freezer compartments, incubators and ambient laboratory temperatures in each room as well. Next thing you know, they'll be having us stick a thermometer up our asses and recording rectal temperature, too, he thought, disgusted at the whole rigmarole.
Williard remembered his army days, especially the years he had spent in Vietnam as a medic, with fond nostalgia. Back then, he had been able to run things to suit himself. In fact, he had created his own little empire over there, wheeling and dealing so outrageously that it would have put Sergeant Bilko to shame. He missed those days, even though he had more than once come close to cashing in his chips.
He knew now that it had been a mistake to join the rat race and try to settle down with Terry, unlike his two younger brothers. Shortly after the war, the three of them had returned from the aborted expedition to the Congo in search of a mythical dinosaur -- where the myth had almost ate them for lunch. He had settled down, but they had gone on to more adventures.
Now it was 1979, almost the end of the decade and they were having all the fun, especially Jason, the ex-fighter pilot. He had been down to Mexico, filming newly discovered ruins of ancient empires for his Video Explorer Company, into the Rocky Mountains hunting grizzlies and mountain goats and up into British Columbia, panning for gold and exploring wild country seldom seen by man. He had even spent a year with a famous treasure hunter in the Bahamas.
Even Jerry, his youngest brother, wasn't stuck in a rut. He had been running charter boats out of the Florida Keys and recently bought his own boat with the proceeds. Now he was captaining diving and deep-sea fishing excursions and playing with young female tourists. But what was he doing? Shuffling fucking useless papers.
Williard threw the temperature charts into a basket, then on second thought, retrieved them and dropped them into his briefcase. He added the Levy-Jennings charts, the weekly time sheets and time cards and the preliminary figures for his laboratory budget for the next year on top of them. After that came the call schedule forms, the weekend and weekday work schedules and to top it off, the monthly inventory figures and several supply catalogs. The briefcase was so full it would barely close.
He looked down at it disgustedly. When he had first taken the chief technologist's job, it had been sort of halfway fun. His staff was mostly female and young and there hadn't been near so much paperwork. He'd had time to work at a lot of the laboratory testing himself, something he enjoyed; breaking in newly hired techs fresh from their internship was always interesting, especially the females. There was even a slush fund for lab parties, paid for by pooling unused serum and clandestinely selling it to immunological firms. Elkins had found out about that scheme, though, and put a halt to it at the insistence of the pathologist, Stanley Meekins, a young Turk on the way up, who resented the fact that Williard was listed as Laboratory Director rather than himself. Williard had gotten his credentials by virtue of his army experience and a loophole in the state laws, which grandfathered him in. Personally, he didn't think Meekins had the ability to run a decent hamburger joint, let alone a lab, but he was constantly reaching for more power over the clinical lab instead of staying in the pathology department where he belonged. If it weren't for the fact that Williard knew a few things about Elkins that the director would rather not have made public, Meekins might have already headed a coup and taken over.
Williard picked up the bulging briefcase, intending to take it home and try to get some work done before Jason arrived, knowing that it would be impossible later. Any time Jason came back to Dallas it was party time. On the way out of his office, the phone rang.
"Laboratory, Mr. Williard," he said when he picked it up.
"Jim, this is Elkins. Are you ready with those budget figures yet?"
"Hell, no!" Williard said. "I've been too busy fucking with the Joint Commission paperwork. The inspection is due in two weeks, you know."
"Well, the board wants the budget figures this week. Have them ready for me in the morning."
"Tell the board we're going to spend hell out of every cent they give us and then some."
Williard cut him off. He was in no mood to argue. "If you have to have some figures, use last year's budget plus ten percent. If they don't like that, fuck 'em. I'm going home."
"What! You can't do that; it's only Thursday!"
"You hide and watch. I've got some time off coming and I'm taking it. See you Monday if I'm sober enough to drive to work." He hung up the phone before Elkins could say anything else and hurried out of the office. At an alcove just beyond it, where his secretary lived, he stopped for a moment."
"Are you leaving, Mr. Williard?"
"You bet your ass, Miss Secretary. I'll be back Monday, maybe. If I get any calls, tell them I'm too drunk to talk. If that doesn't work, transfer them to one of the janitors in Housekeeping."
His secretary didn't answer but she smiled willingly enough. Working for Williard was much more fun than her previous job, keeping books at a small law firm. She just wished he would pay more personal attention to her now that he had broken up with his girlfriend. Williard touched his hand to his forehead in a mock salute and left the lab. He walked down the long, sterile-looking corridor, past the X-ray and Surgery departments and exited from the Emergency Room, waving to a nurse and intern on the way out.
Once on the sidewalk, he blew out a relieved breath. Thursday noon, and he was out of there. And Jason was coming. Hell, if things went the way they usually did, he might not sober up for a week, let alone by Monday. He just wished that Jerry, his other brother, could join them, but the last he had heard, he was still coining money from his boat and it was August, the height of the tourist season. Not much chance that he could get away.
Copyright © 2003 by Darrell Bain