Chapter 11 – Mind over Matter
Cam, good seeing-eye dog that he was, brought him as far as the shrink's waiting room before taking off. Sands found a chair and took a seat, tapping his cane on the floor distractedly as he waited in the empty room.
The contempt he felt even being here was only tempered by the fact that he was curious as to who they'd assigned to probe his mind. Did this Dr. Edwards know what they were getting into, and if so, was their purpose to help or hinder?
Oh, and his last assignment to Cam before he stepped inside OMS? Thoroughly check out Dr. Edwards. He sure as shit wasn't going to assume Edwards was one of the good guys.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Sands stopped, realizing he was making noise just for the sake of hearing something. The room was so quiet that he was starting to think it was sound proof. Not unheard of; they all dealt with sensitive information and it wouldn't do to have the wrong ears overhear.
A door opened to his left, light jazz music played softly in the background, and he gripped his cane tighter while turning his head toward the sound.
"Sands," a woman said, and he nodded once as she walked over. The woman smelled of vanilla perfume; no doubt it was an attempt to mask the lingering scent of cigarette smoke. Both her voice and scent seemed vaguely familiar as he tried to recall if he'd met her before. "I'm ready when you are," she said, a tinkle of jewelry catching his attention.
He stood, smirking. "Time to get this show on the road," he said, sweeping his hand in the direction he'd heard her come from. "After you."
She chuckled good-naturedly while leading the way and the nagging suspicion that she wasn't a complete stranger was strong. He couldn't identify where their paths had crossed, but they had.
He sat down and took note when he didn't hear her do the same. Instead she leaned up against what he assumed was her desk. "Never thought I'd see you again, Sands," she said after a moment, amusement in her voice.
Tilting his head in contemplation he kept up his bored front, concealing his frustration. "I take it we've met, then?" he asked, his voice neutral as he leaned back in the chair.
"You're a tough student to forget, Slick."
This time he didn't bother to hide his surprise as it finally clicked. She'd been a teacher at the Farm. He'd taken two of her advanced psychology classes in his final year. She was in her forties then and looked like a tall, street-hardened, aging version of Judy Garland. She was in her fifties now and he doubted that she'd lost her touch. Her last name was different than it had been at the Farm. She must have gotten married, or perhaps divorced.
She was sharp. Playing her for a fool wouldn't be a breeze.
A good flexing of the mind, then.
"Made an impression, did I?" he asked at last. With the music playing in the background, the lack of words was less uncomfortable. He was grateful for that despite it being a trick of her design.
"Oh, I never forget a student who aces my finals. Only two other students have ever done that." Chuckling, she admitted, "Blew the curve to hell."
Her confession left him smirking. "So you're assigned to make everything hunky-dory again in the world of Jeffrey Sands?"
"Please," she responded easily. "We both know it's not as simple as that."
He heard the desk creak as she stood, moving to her seat behind the desk. "So, tell me your plans."
Sands sat nonplussed. "What?" As an opener, that was one heck of an advanced question.
She clasped her hands together, a bracelet dragging along the wooden desk as she did so. "What are you planning to do when you're reinstated," she said, rephrasing the question.
A calculating eyebrow rose. "Shouldn't I be concentrating on my recovery?"
"You seem well enough to me," she said smoothly.
"I hope to become the best damn field officer the Company will ever see," he drawled, but there was challenge in his voice. "Set 'em up, watch 'em fall."
"Good," was all she said, demonstrating that two could play his game. She knew that a blind field officer was impossible, but wasn't going to take his bait. Damn.
"Nice to know my teach approves."
A gentle rustle of clothes was the only answer, and again he had trouble deciphering the sound. Was it a nod, a shrug or a simple shifting of her body? The uncertainty of her answer causing irritation to build, he gripped his cane firmly.
"You know as well as I that you don't give a shit about my approval," she said frankly. "But you do need my signature."
"True," Sands said shortly. It was pointless to deny the truth she'd laid out.
"How long you come here is up to you, Jeff," she stated. "You spin me around and this'll take longer. I don't care. I'm here five days a week either way, so if you see me for a month or for a year it makes little difference to me."
"I would lose out on all the fun of frustrating you."
"No you wouldn't. You're going to frustrate me no matter what you do."
Sands laughed at that, folding up his cane and tucking it away.
"Your plans?" she prodded, the jazz music still playing unobtrusively in the background. He needed to start playing music in his apartment. It broke through the darkness in a way that was unexpected and relaxing.
"I thought I'd return to my roots," he said at last.
"Ah," she exclaimed, apparently thankful for the honesty. "Thank God for small miracles." She stood and walked over to the corner where the music was playing, turning the volume down. Much to his annoyance, its absence disturbed him. "So, you want to return to PsyOps?"
"Yeah," was his short, unhelpful answer. "What's your first name?" he asked, out of the blue. He couldn't remember it, and wanted to derail her concentration as she had done to him.
Returning from the stereo she sat back down. "It's Sandra."
He pulled out his packet of cigarettes, tapping one out and offering it to her. No point in asking if smoking was permitted. He was going to light up either way. "Smoke?" he asked, an unlit cigarette between his lips.
"I don't," she shot back and Sands couldn't stop the smile as he withdrew the proffered pack and lit his cancer stick. Her answer was too quick and forceful to be believable, even if he hadn't smelled the smoke hidden under her fragrance.
"Ah, you better watch yourself, Sugar. I have a nose for liars." Tapping his nose he paused to take a drag off his cigarette before motioning towards hers. "Yours is likely to grow."
"Shrewd as ever," she said, her way of acknowledging his accuracy.
"Doesn't inspire a lot of confidence." Something on her desk slid towards him and he cocked his head in question.
"Ashtray," she answered. "I guess old habits die hard."
"Now I can't help but wonder if your nerves were rattled earlier today. Wouldn't be because of little ol' me, would it?"
"You give yourself a lot of credit, Slick."
Finding the ashtray he tapped his cigarette over it. "I always love a first-class mind-fuck," Sands drawled, returning to her earlier topic and reclining back in his chair. "So I think it's an excellent fit."
Simple, short and accepting answer… wasn't even any sign of disapproval in his choice of words. That made it hard for him to play off of. "I hear there's always a job opening for that sort of thing."
"What about teaching?" she asked, and her tone was so serious he couldn't help his reaction.
He barked out a good old-fashion hoot of amusement. After a solid half a minute he regained some composure, adjusting his sunglasses as he caught his breath. "For your sake I hope you're yanking my chain."
"I wasn't joking, but I'm happy you got a good laugh," she said, and he could hear her smile. "Just consider it an option."
"I did. What do you think got me rolling?"
"Why is it so funny to you?" she asked after a moment.
He scoffed at that and gestured to himself. "You can't seriously see me as a teacher, can you?"
"Let's see. I picture you terrorizing the student body while dumping heaps of information on them on a weekly basis. Sure I could. Actually, I'd love to see it."
"So would I, but there's no chance of that happening, now is there?"
"Hmm," she contemplated to herself. "Well you only can see what you want to see," she said after a minute.
He was well aware she was trying to rile him, but what really aggravated him was that it was working.
"I don't exactly have that luxury," he sniped.
Shut up while you're ahead, fucker.
"Why not?" she asked, her nonchalant tone only serving to goad him further.
"Why not…" he murmured as a disbelieving laugh escaped his throat. The disbelief was over her ability to maneuver him into bringing the subject up himself, and he'd hopped onto the train so eagerly you'd think it was taking him to Candy Land.
He inhaled deeply, cigarette burning steadily down. Smoke filled his lungs and he held it there a moment before filtering it out through his nose. "You ever see the Wizard of Oz?"
A pause. The steady rhythm of her nails against the desk the only sound disturbing the silence. "Who hasn't? What about it?"
"Do you think the wizard hands out eyes?"
"After all, he hands out brains," he finished, his voice betraying his bitterness. "You need one? Seeing as I'm on my way, I can ask him for you."
"Why don't you just say it?" she dared him.
He grimaced and stubbed out his cigarette angrily. He wasn't about to give her the satisfaction of saying what she wanted to hear. 'I'm blind.'
"This doesn't need to be some epic battle, you know," she said when he didn't respond. "We both know what you need to talk about."
"I want to chit-chat about the theatre," he drawled, his tone returning to its detached norm.
"OK…" At last he heard it, an unsure tone, as if she was hesitant to let him wander off track.
"Why is it that people wander slowly into a theatre before a show starts, yet feel the need to rush out of the theatre the moment after the final bow?"
"Uh, I don't…"
Waving his hands animatedly he interrupted her. "Wrap your brain matter around it for two shakes of a stick. Shouldn't it be the other way around?"
There was a long pause this time, no readily available answer in her arsenal. He flashed a quick smile and pointed a finger in her direction. "Solve that one and we can really talk."
Sands sat in front of OMS on the edge of a large concrete planter, coat wrapped tightly around him as he smoked a fresh cigarette. He would have to buy a new pack on the way home, especially if he was going to pull off a prime time performance for his old man.
People bustled by to his left. OMS was always busy. There was never a shortage of messed up officers and families, after all. Waiting for his taxi, he wondered about this new shrink of his. Not only had OMS commandeered the coming Monday for another mind-meld, they'd also scheduled an appointment with an Oculoplastic surgeon to take another look at his eye sockets. Something, they said, he should have done a month ago.
The only small mercy received today was the news that he'd gotten out of the Disabled Living Skills class, at least for the time being. It was small consolation.
Three quick honks signaled his taxi, and he tossed his cigarette without bothering to put it out and climbed in. First stop, 7-11 for cigarettes. Second, his apartment. He directed the driver to the first location as he removed the cell phone from his pocket and called Cam.
"Any news on the witchy woman?" he asked, and Cam spared no grumpiness when asking what Sands meant. "The shrink."
"Oh," he paused, and some typing could be heard over the line. "She seems legit so far, but I need to go a bit deeper. It's only been an hour, you know."
"I need a clean sweep of my apartment."
"Haven't forgotten. I'll do that tomorrow. I'm sure you won't be surprised if I say I'm busy today."
"Well we're all busy little bees, full of stings, making honey day and night, aren't we honey?" Sands said in a sing-song, hanging up the cell.
Sands' thoughts switched to this morning's surprise guest. If his father was as predictable as he'd always been, he'd be back this afternoon. Despite the preaching on patience, his father had always been in short supply of that virtue.
Talking in the apartment was not an option. The risk of being overheard was too high. His father could not be exposed if he was to be any help at all. They'd have to go out.
Unfortunately that meant there would be no hiding his situation… but he was just fooling himself if he thought there was any real chance of hiding it in the first place, wasn't he?
The knock on the door came too early for his liking, yet waiting any longer would have been unbearable.
Sands opened the door, this time stepping out of the way to allow him entry. "You're like clockwork," he drawled, his father yet to say a single word.
"You're willing to talk to me now?"
Sands smirked and jerked a thumb into his apartment, motioning him to get inside so he could close the door. "Don't sound so shocked."
"You always did do the unexpected."
"Well it's expected of me," he replied smoothly. Sands closed the door as his father moved into the room and he had to remind himself that this was all nothing more than positioning a pawn on the chessboard… with luck, more than one. He turned to face his father. "Spit out whatever you came to spit out."
His father sighed, but had trouble forming words. Putting him on the spot. The man hadn't even sat down. They both stood there, facing each other, about ten feet apart. Sands didn't experience an urge to make him comfortable… actually his inclination was quite the opposite. "You traveled a long way to stand there gaping like a fish."
"We need to talk about Cecelia," his father managed.
Sands breathed a silent sigh of relief that he hadn't mentioned the package first. Fifty-fifty odds always made him edgy and letting his father choose the topic gave him just that. However, if there were bugs in his apartment he couldn't let anyone listening get suspicious. Letting his father lead the conversation was a good means to that end.
"What about her?" he asked, keeping a firm check on his emotions.
"She's in an insane asylum, and you don't even visit?"
Sands took note that his father was masking the anxiety he felt with an authoritative tone that didn't ring true. If the circumstances had been different he might have laughed. "I'm not her favorite person."
"That's clear. Jeff, I want control of her care."
"You going to pay for her out of the goodness of your heart? Padded cells don't come cheap."
"I have people who can look after her better than the cold place she's in now. Have you seen it?"
"Once," Sands said shortly, walking past his father and into the kitchen. He got out a glass and filled it straight from the tap. Thinking back to when he'd first had her committed he remembered his initial impression of the sanitarium; remote and impersonal. Weren't they all? He heard his father step into the kitchen just as he took a swig of lukewarm water.
"She's not getting any better there. I don't think she ever will."
Isn't that the truth…
Leaning against the counter, he honed in as best he could on his father's voice. He wondered how long it would take for his father to mention the sunglasses, or notice an irregular movement. Playing dumb Sands asked, "And how would you know that, Father Sands? Did she confess to you?"
Sands' eyebrow rose in question.
He finally answered. "In a way… I visited her a few days ago."
"Is she free of sin?" Sands mocked, setting down his glass.
"Jeffrey, that's enough! I want to help her, which is clearly more than you do."
"You have so much faith in me," Sands said easily, crossing his arms in front of him. "It's touching."
"You still haven't let it go."
Sands smiled bitterly at the elusive reference to the past. "I wouldn't trust you to be her guardian anymore than you trust me. Leaves us both up shit creek, doesn't it?"
"Why are you holding on to her so hard, when you clearly don't care?"
Now he had to tread softly, thankful for the acting skills that came so naturally. His father needed to believe him if any of his plan was to work. He let his body slouch, and rubbed his forehead tiredly. "Who says I don't care?" he asked at last, dropping any trace of sarcasm in his tone.
"Actions speak louder than words." There was a change in his father's tone; unsure, however slightly, of his own accusation.
"When was the last time you went to see her?" his father challenged.
"If you don't take it too literally, two days ago."
"What?" he asked, sounding downright befuddled. Sands couldn't say if it was because of his choice of words, or the fact that he'd gone so recently.
"They wouldn't let me see her. Said she was too upset from my last visit." Sands paused for dramatic effect, reaching one hand up to tweak his sunglasses. "Care to explain, Pops?"
Even he had to marvel at how easily the lies flowed off his tongue, especially to a priest who just so happened to be his father.
At the nothingness that answered, Sands snickered. "Caught you with your hand in the ol' cookie jar. Needless to say, you won't be getting those sweet treats. I made sure of that."
Sands damned the darkness, because he was sure the look on his father's face was priceless. Listening to him recover the power of speech and picturing the scene before him would have to do. Life was a bitch.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked at last.
"I should be asking you that question."
An aggravated huff came from his father and Sands smiled at the irritation he heard. They never could talk to each other, even before they'd cut ties. Probably what made said process so fucking easy.
"Windhill said I hadn't been to see her since she was committed. Hadn't even checked up," his father said, recovering his composure.
"What that says to me is that you didn't get her help, you got rid of her."
Sands frowned. "And if I did? What's it to you?"
Scoffing, his father walked over to him and set a heavy object down on the countertop a couple of feet away. His father unzipped something, and the rustle of papers followed.
Christ. Don't let that be the envelope I sent him. Sands thought frantically.
"Well, take it!" his father said a few seconds later. Realizing that his father was holding something out to him, he unfolded his arms and his hands brushed against the object.
He grasped it, lowering his head belatedly as if to see what the hell he'd been given. Sands said nothing as he pulled the object towards him and ran his right hand along the side of it. Turned out it was a thick book... or an album. Fan-fucking-tastic.
Probably noticing the grimace that had appeared on his normally neutral face, his father asked, "What's the matter with you?"
"What's this?" Sands asked, waving the mystery book in his father's view.
This time the silence was a lot longer than the normal 'you threw me for a loop' pause. It was far more uncomfortable, and Sands instinctively knew his father was finally putting the pieces together.
Proving his instincts right his father broke the awkward moment, asking, "Why are you wearing sunglasses?"
"Aude sapere," Sands muttered before smiling grimly. "And they call me blind."
Aude sapere – Dare to know.