In terms of organization, there were few places in more hopeless shape than Gentle Pastures. Jack had once walked into a grocery store with dirt tracked thirty feet into the building, but while that was a mess it wasn’t a mess that was likely to be fatal. Stan ducked under the door and cracked his knuckles, standing behind Jack and mentally preparing for the job at hand.
“You know the routine, Stanley. They all have a number on the pocket on the left side of their uniforms and the uniforms are color coded. If you have any questions you can ask an orderly. If you have any important questions, find me.”
Stan stiff-armed a patient who came running at Jack with a plastic spoon and picked him up with ease one handed and gently slung him over his shoulder, ignoring the plastic spoon jabbing into his shoulder. “Them patients get more charmin’ every year.”
“Someone has to class the place up.” With that, they split up. Stan headed for the pastel warning zone and Jack headed for the lighter colors. For the rest of the morning, Jack gently policed a variety of patients in a variety of stupors into their cells. It was a bit like herding slightly befuddled sheep who sometimes thought they were Napoleon. Most of them were completely non-violent and those that were violent managed to be completely non-effectual. After a long morning of shuffling patients into their appropriate pastel colored playgrounds Jack headed to the cafeteria for lunch. He found Stan hunched over a tray of food, examining both the food and the tiny plastic fork in his enormous hand. His hair and shoulders were covered with a bright yellow sticky liquid.
“How’s your end going, Stanley?”
“Good point.” Jack hovered his finger over Stan’s tray before Stan nodded. Jack dipped his finger into the food and took a brief taste. It tasted like a turkey which had overdosed on antipsychotics before it was butchered, which was likely the case since Gentle Pastures made all their own food in house. Jack banished any thoughts of the inmates and food and moved on to the progress report on his end, “I’m mostly done with the lighter end, now we just have to worry about the jungle.”
The jungle, as Jack and Stan referred to it, was the only place that was well and truly awful in terms of organization. It was like the junk drawer of the facility, people who were too active to be around the ones totally lost to reality, but far too crazy for the really active and aware ones. The mixed bag made for interesting herding, since they tended to move in the most erratic patterns when they were let out. On top of that, the orderlies there got bored very easily and tended to let the patients out whenever it suited them, which happened to be all the time, if prior experience was any indicator. This meant that even as Jack and Stan were putting patients back in their cells the orderlies would be letting them out again. That is, unless Jack gave them some chocolate pudding first. No need to tell them the pudding came from the patient’s kitchen until they were both sound asleep.
“Them inmates from the bad side know how to use them spoons.”
“They spooned you good, huh?”
“If it weren’t me, them spoons woulda’ hurt.”
The rest of the lunch passed in silence with both Jack and Stan looking ruefully at the heavily laced food, “Alright, those patients won’t put themselves back in their own cells, though Lord knows it would save a lot of time if they would just do that.” Getting up and stretching, Jack gestured to Stan, “I know the perfect way to end this, it’s a wonder I didn’t think of it last time.”
Most people got easily confused by the facility, and indeed Gentle Pastures sprawled on purpose at quite a few odd angles. Between the color coding and the amount of times they had been around the place though, Jack and Stan managed to find their way to their next location relatively quickly. Jack reached into his pocket and took out a baggie he had snagged from the kitchen. It contained something labled, “Chocolate pudding and absolutely no sleeping pills, this time we swear.” There was a small kitchen for orderlies right before the office and Jack used the small space to serve up the desserts for the hungry guards.
For a sleeping pill free pudding, the guards went down quick. Once the guards were out, Jack stepped out into the hallway and hesitated for an instant. Was it really this simple? “Marco…” Jack only had to wait an instant for a chorus of “Polo’s” rang out down the hallway. Jack sprang into action and quickly collared a few patients, scruffing them by the back of their shirts, looking for the right cells for each one. Stan had lumbered off in the other direction and had already found a few patient’s homes. They repeated this tactic over and over until only one or two patients remained.
Despite the relative quiet in the jungle, Jack had cleaned here before and knew better than to trust the lack of noise. One year a patient had been tucked quietly in a corner, pretending to be a plant. Unfortunately for one of the orderlies, that plant had been a Venus Mantrap. The list in the orderlies office, now the nap room, confirmed he had found most of the patients. Jack was surprised to see that he recognized one of their names. It was a hunter who had worked for the Goodbody family regularly since before Jack had been born. Jack always suspected he was a few Amish short of a barn raising, but the man had seemed grounded enough to have his troubles under control. Clearly that was no longer the case, or maybe it never had been and Jack was just learning about it now.
Smilin’ Jimmy. Jack could still remember meeting Jimmy when he was a boy. He had been a tall, lanky old man when he was a kid and time had not been kind to him since. When Smilin’ Jimmy was younger, someone had told him that people like getting bad news better when you smile. Jimmy was always smiling. It’s not that he had a dour perspective on everything, he was more of a practical glass half empty type. Some years ago, he had left on some work and never come back. Maybe he had been here. Live and learn.
Finding him wasn’t difficult. Even amongst the crazies, a normal person wearing a false smile that never reached his eyes was disconcerting at the best of times so most people gave him a wide berth. He was sitting in a common room with a few folding tables and chairs and a couch that looked like it had come with the building and then caught on fire at some point. Jimmy was staring vacantly at a chess board. He apparently had no opponent since nobody else was in the room and it was likely he hadn’t even started a game since all the pieces were in their original positions.
Jack sat across the table from him and made the first move, “Jimmy, what are you doing here?”
Jimmy smiled at Jack, “Oh Jack! So good to see you, I wondered when you would show up here.” He made his first move in return.
“I wasn’t interrupting anything was I?” Jack moved another piece.
“Nothing that can’t be finished later.”
They continued their game for a while, Stan sat down on the couch, which groaned under his weight, “So how long have you been here?”
“Long enough to get sick of the pudding.” The game continued awhile longer, “I have something for your father, Jack. I need you to take it to him.”
Jack sighed and nodded. Somehow, he figured it would come down to this. Nobody ever wanted to take bad news to his father. Jimmy slid a metallic spoon across the table. It was made of silver and the handle had a highly stylized “D” engraved on the end of it. “And I suppose you want me to take this to him as well?”
“I only managed to find one after years of hunting but…”
“It’s a spoon, Jimmy. Lots of people have spoons.”
Jimmy smiled a bit wider and Jack braced himself. Smiles from Jimmy always led to bad news. “This spoon came from the Devourer Set.” Jack’s puzzled looked confused Jimmy so he tried to explain, “You’ve learned how items like, say a spoon or a car can take on attributes of their owner’s right? That’s why you went into cleaning.” Jack nodded absently, trying to decipher the board and figure out his next move, “Well, this is part of a set of silverware used by the Denavi family, your father wanted me to gather the set so he could put it into the family vault.”
For Jack, the world came to a complete halt, “This spoon belongs to the Denavi family?” Jimmy nodded slowly, still waiting for Jack to make a move.
Stan shifted on the couch, the creaking and moaning sound made Jack almost jump out of his chair, “What’s the deal with them Denavi’s anyways? I never hear nothin’ about them from you.”
Jack shuddered, “Back when our family first moved to America we moved over with a group of other families to help us set up here to hunt. One of them was the Denavi family and they quickly took on the role of assassins, getting rid of problems our family couldn’t, or didn’t want to handle. They’re totally insane, the lot of them. One minute it’s sunny and the next it’s pouring rain, you never know where you stand with those green-eyed maniacs.”
Jimmy nodded, “Any Denavi you meet is bad news.” He smiled widely at this, his face crinkling everywhere except where laugh-lines around his eyes should have been.
Jack threw up his hands, “They aren’t just bad news, they’re a history special on bad news.” Jack knocked his king over, there was no point in continuing a game when he had this information to take in.
Jimmy rose from his seat and cracked his knuckles, “Time for me to head back on the road. Send your father my best.” Jack nodded absently and let him leave. Jack stayed in the room staring at the board.
Stan rose uncertainly after around ten minutes, “Shouldn’t we stop him? He’s onea’ them patients we was cleanin’.”
Jack waved a hand dismissively, “We couldn’t have stopped him if we wanted to. No reason to get hurt for a job like this.” The moment after Jack said that, the alarms went off sending the facility into a joyous panic. “And that’s our cue to leave.” He caught the look on Stan’s face, “Hey, how was I supposed to know Jimmy would break out while we were cleaning up? And that man is not subtle about his breakouts.” The whole facility rocked in a massive explosion, “No sir, not subtle about his breakouts.”
Jack took the spoon and the note and stuffed them into his vest pockets, “Time to get out while the getting is still getting bad, “He edged to the door and looked out into the hallway. The riot had yet to spill into this wing, but Jack was willing to bet in the red pastel zone things were getting ugly. Gesturing to Stan, he let him go out into the hallway first. Better to use Stan as a mobile assault platform under the circumstances than to try and get out any other way.
Sadly for their cleaning efforts, the orderlies had already opened the cells back up and ruined all their hard work. Jack facepalmed and turned to Stan, “Remind me next time never to clean here again.”
Stan sagged a bit, sloping his massive shoulders, “If I knew which one of them hospitals we were cleanin’ I woulda’ warned you.”
Jack nodded and peeked out from behind Stan, “Next time I will.” Suddenly, Jack yanked on Stan’s coveralls to bring him to a halt, “You know what? I don’t feel like going out the front entrance.”
Stan cracked his knuckles and tapped the wall next to them, feeling it out for weaknesses, “Want I should make an exit?”
“Yes. Let’s just go home.”
Stan tapped the wall a few more times before pulling both fists back and beginning a flurry of punches that left a hole large enough for them to climb out into one of the courtyards, “Which home are we talkin’ about here boss?”
To his surprise, when he tried to answer the question Jack was no longer sure himself which one he had referred to. The courtyard led around to the front of the building where they had left the van. The van was now surrounded with a crowd of multicolored patients being roughly manhandled by orderlies dressed as flying pugs. Jack found himself grinding to a complete halt as the spectacle unfolded before him. Dr. Hammond ran by the front entrance chasing a small gaggle of patients wearing a black pointy hat and cackling about how she was going to get her pretties back.
“Let’s never speak of this again.”
“Sounds good, boss.”
Despite their desire to leave, Jack and Stan waited until the struggle had at least moved away from the van to the rocking chairs in front of the building. Some of them had already been thrown down the stairs, leaving Jack to wonder how they had been pulled up when they were bolted to the concrete. After mulling it over in his head, Jack decided he would rather not know the answer to that question he chased it from his head to join the other forgotten thought trains as Stan ploughed through the gate. Not exactly their finest hour but not quite their fault either so far as Jack was concerned. He patted his vest pocket and the journey home began.