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The Devil's Music

Stephen R Drage

Published by Stephen R Drage at Smashwords

Coppyright 2018 Stephen R Drage

Ather titles by Stephen R Drage

Mud Lane

Hot Heads

Mountain Misery

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Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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The Devil's Music

Chapter 1

John Mars sat on the newly painted wooden bench and watched the late summer breeze tease the top branches of a distant pine. The blistering Georgia heat had burned itself out and was now surrendering to the promise of the cooler, shorter days of autumn. Nature would begin a gradual slide into dormancy, as it prepared for winter.

As with nature's transition, John Mars was also feeling a calm stillness – his major writing project had concluded. One hundred and six thousand words of mystery, blood and heroism. The last chapter of the final book in the “Danny Blade detective series Trilogy” had been e-mailed to John's agent. In this concluding volume the intrepid detective had once again confronted the most notorious elements of society, only to prevail and dodge death in the final chapter, as the criminal inevitably faced the abrupt justice of Danny Blade's well used pistol.

John had enjoyed the writing process of his books. Not so much hammering out the clichéd pulp of Danny Blade's universe, but the research. Danny Blade used multiple high-tech gadgets and advanced technology to ensnare and capture the bad guys, and John had enjoyed learning about these cutting edge toys. Then there was the focus. Hour after of hour as his keyboard clicked and the words and pages formed, there was, in this mundane ritual, some sense of achievement and release. And that was the part he now missed. His life now had no structure or habit. He yearned for another project, not one where Danny Blade performed the impossible to save the world, but something new. Something different.

John cut his writing teeth in Florida where he worked free-lance as an investigative journalist for the Miami Herald. Back then Miami was a smorgasbord of vice, corruption and drugs. You could always find a story barely hidden under the the trash that littered Flagler Street or Little Havana. Three years ago, after deciding to try his hand at novel writing, John moved to Georgia and managed to write one book a year. His latest book had been written almost entirely in the office of his two story colonial styled house, nestled in a North Atlanta community, overlooking a steep bank populated with towering trees of oak, beech, and hickory. The house offered the perfect setting to write, and when he needed to get out, he'd head to one of the walking trails in Creekside Park.

The Park was a recent addition to the community. About a hundred and twenty acres where brush-filled meadows were crowded with old-growth forest. A previously unkempt area where the city had recently decided to create a community park. Its overgrown and wild scrub land had been trimmed, manicured and paved, resulting in a pristine parkland where affluent residents walked their pampered pets or jogged in fashionable sports attire. This sort of community re-engineering seemed to be happening all over Atlanta now, as the entire country crawled out of a decade of downsizing and austerity. The congested working class communities like Cabbage-Town and the old-Fourth-Ward were being strung together by the new belt-line trail as it snaked its way through the revitalized east-side neighborhoods. Sleek new electric trams shuffled tourists between Olympic Park and the Martin Luther King historic district. New construction, both residential and commercial was emerging out of a tired landscape.

A distant dog barked John out of his daydream. About twenty yards in front of him a black and white collie sprang into the warm morning air to catch a red Frisbee. The young woman who had thrown it clapped and shouted enthusiastically, as if her child had just taken its first steps.

It wasn't always like this, you know.”

John was startled by a gritty sounding voice.

A man was standing behind him.

What's that?” John asked, surprised and feeling as if he had been thrown into a conversation without a beginning.

This place,” came the reply. The man appeared to be in his late seventies. The hazy blue eyes were unfocused and seemed to belong to a different time. The face was worn and weathered.

The man was tall, thin – almost bony – with skin like pale tanned leather, stretched over high cheek bones and clinging to the deep hollows of his eyes. His hair was thin and fine, more white than gray, and his clothes, looked rather shabby.

What do you mean?” asked John.

This place.” repeated the old man. “It wasn’t always a park.” Again John noticed the blue eyes that seemed to look right through him.

Yes,” replied John. “I was just thinking that. This is a nice place just to come and sit.” John was very aware that he was simply making polite conversation.

Not always a nice place.” said the gritty voice.

The old man was staring out into the meadow toward the woman and the Frisbee catching collie dog, but his gaze went somewhere beyond them, as if seeing something that resided only in his past. John could see now that the man was not as old as he had first thought, an estimate that had missed the mark by perhaps a decade.

It wasn’t?” John asked. He couldn’t tell if the man wanted to talk or not, but after an uncomfortable silence the stranger finally broke his gaze and answered.

Used to be a hospital. All through these woods.” He waved his hand in a sweeping motion.

Really?” John said, surprised at the lack of any evidence of such a building.

Yep,” insisted the man nodding his head vigorously.

When was that?” John asked.

Oh, twenty or thirty years ago,” said the man earnestly. And then, without warning, he suddenly leaned his head so close that John could feel the heat of the man's breath. Stale and old. “It was a hospital for the cra-zy people,” he whispered loudly, tapping on the side of his white hair with his crooked index finger so hard that John could hear the impact on his skull.

John thought this was becoming quite an odd conversation – and it was beginning to get in the way of a reasonable exchange with this peculiar old man whose odd recollections seemed, at the same time, both sincere and unlikely. He thought that what he probably needed to do was make a polite excuse, bid the man farewell, and leave.

John instinctively looked at his left wrist, despite having no watch.

Well, I”

Yep.” continued the man. “Horrible place.” he began the frantic head-nodding once more, and then came the loud gritty whisper. “A lot of people died here. Bad place. Bad place.” His nodding was replaced with a similarly violent head shake.

John looked away again. The woman and her dog were walking toward the raised boardwalk that meandered through a stand of pines. The strange man was also walking away, back in the direction of the parking lot.

John sat on the bench in silence for a few moments, then decided to return home. Realizing that the path to the exit was in the same direction that the old man had walked, and wishing to avoid any further encounter with him, he decided to walk in the other direction, where the woman and her dog had gone.

The boardwalk's pine-sheltered promenade reduced the bright afternoon sun to dappled splashes of light. John's measured tread sounded heavy and dull in the still forest. Soon, the decking gave way to a mulch path, and despite the uneven surface of the shredded bark, a subtle feeling underfoot alerted John to his untied shoelace. John crouched to re-lace it, as he caught a brief glimpse of a squirrel foraging in the dead leaves and broken branches off to his left. But wait, there was something else there. Squinting, he strained his eyes for a better view and could just make out a pattern of horizontal lines in the dense tangle of branches and shrubs.

Climbing the wooden guard rail of the boardwalk he jumped down into the soft earth. He slowly picked his way forward, ducking under the greenery and avoiding rotting tree-stumps. He could make it out more clearly now. It was a low section of crumbling brickwork.

Most of the concrete slab that had once been the building’s foundation was broken and cracked, clear evidence of an attempt to demolish it. About five feet of brickwork varying between two and three feet high were all that remained of the building, now covered with dark tendrils of English ivy and bright green moss.

Could this be the remnants of the mental hospital that the old man had talked about? Suddenly the forest seemed very quiet and for the first time John sensed a solitude and loneliness that was quite unnerving. Probably just his imagination, he reasoned as he made his way back to the boardwalk.

* * * *

John entered his house, threw his keys on the kitchen counter and immediately bounded up the stairs to his office. The unusual encounter in the park made him wonder; What if there had, in fact, once been a mental hospital in the park, and what if there had been some unusual or mysterious deaths there. What could have been the cause? Who might have been responsible? John immediately opened his laptop and began a search on “Creekside Park.” The first few pages returned only public records from the city council members as they debated and voted on walkways and tree plantings, but nothing to indicate what went on before. He could find no city plans or aerial photographs online, and nothing in the local newspaper archives. The online records for the Atlanta Journal Constitution only went back to 2005, but he knew there was microfilm available on the top floor of the downtown public library – where he might find relevant articles. He did leave messages on discussion boards for the local preservation society and historical groups indicating his desire to investigate Creekside, and he also posted questions on a Facebook page dealing with local history. He searched through budgetary requests and funding issues, and then in one lengthy but obscure city report there was a mention of a land transfer from The Georgia Department of Human Services.

He began a new search on “Georgia DHS”, and after numerous false leads he found a reference to Farfield Hospital in North Fulton County, Georgia, but was this the place? Next he searched on “Farfield, Georgia” and hit the mother lode. He began following links and slowly the shape of a mid-century, multi-building complex for the treatment of incurable mental disorders, arose from the peaceful walkways and playing fields of Creekside Park. A “treatment center” with three-hundred beds and a staff of thirty-seven, that opened in 1952 and closed in 1982 because of a lack of funding.

Oddly, the records, press cuttings and Court transcripts often showed a conflicting picture of Farfield. The complaints were abundant, allegations of brutality and cruelty, lawsuits against the state for abuse, and mistreatment of patients appearing alongside letters of commendations to the doctors and staff, and state reviews of exemplary conduct. Then he noticed a search engine result that read “Charges of widespread abuse at Farfield mental institution, Norcross, Georgia.” At first he thought it was just one more sensational headline that probably re-hashed what he had already discovered, but he clicked on it anyway.

The screen filled with a scan of the Rome Gazette newspaper, where an article on page seven reported the center's superintendent, Peter Gregson, addressing the allegations. It wasn’t at all surprising that Dr. Gregson claimed there was no basis for the complaints, that was politics. What was surprising to John was the horrific extent of the details which Dr. Gregson so vehemently denied. A tragic story of pain and desperation, torment and abuse, and a state investigation concerning multiple suspicious deaths in the winter of 1980.

* * * *

Chapter 2

Ghosts of Madness – by John Mars

North Georgia. 1980

Mike Ratner increased his grip on the steering wheel of the 1974 Buick and leaned forward a little, straining to see through the rain-soaked windshield. He realized that the department was understaffed, but was it really necessary for him to drive at night, and in a blizzard? The rain was freezing into a wintry mix, shining in the headlights of oncoming vehicles like gems in the black coldness of the night sky. Through his windshield where the wiper blades had carved out an arc of visibility on the ice crusted glass, he saw a signpost and braked a little too quickly, causing the car to momentarily slide on the frozen back-roads east of Roswell. He reversed a few feet to read the signpost, which said “Norcross,” and then made the sharp left turn onto the narrow road that he had almost missed.

Mike was no stranger to this weather. He had grown up in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains before moving to Georgia, where he found employment as a research analyst for the State Department of Human Services in Dawsonville – otherwise known as DHS Satellite office number 19. Dawsonville was a small town situated in the North Georgia mountains a little more than an hour from Atlanta, and a hundred years ago it had been home to the moonshiners, living outside the law with their hopped up, barely legal race cars and their illicit stills, hidden away beneath woodland canopy near cascading crystal pure waters washing their way down the Appalachian foothills. Satellite 19 was a small office with only four employees. It dealt with mostly clerical issues and case file review. So when the call from the Atlanta office came through requesting someone to help with what they called a “Procedural Audit,” he had been given the job. He didn't want it, but had he known that it would mean driving for nearly three hours in an ice blizzard, he would have been even less enthusiastic.

Mike was at that age that might be called mid-life. The type of temporal paragraph that is usually associated with some form of crisis. He was midway through a life that Mike felt had never really begun.

Mike had a troubled existence. His father left when he was six years old. He had only the vaguest recollections of a big, cheerful man who would bounce Mike on his knee and tell him stories of travel and adventure. Much later Mike would come to understand that his father's good cheer was delivered one bottle at a time, a personal failing that created a deep and irreparable fracture in his parent's marriage. His overly religious mother was only partially successful at raising a boy alone. His early years were spent resenting the world and everything in it, including himself. Behavior that eventually led to his examination and treatment. An unpleasant memory that Mike had pushed deep into the darkest recesses of his mind. But as he grew into manhood his outlook had improved. He had adjusted to the mundane existence of a nine to five government job and entertainment provided by television and often a little too much alcohol. But as the years rolled by, he never forgot the thrill of listening to the adventurous stories his father told, nor did he completely eliminate the envy he felt for his father, running, escaping, getting away.

Over the last half decade, his mother had become sick, and much of his energy had been spent as her caregiver. A task not made easier because some part of him blamed her for his father leaving, as well as the darkest, most painful, episode of his youth. But his mother was gone now, and he was left alone. Alone with the despondency of a life not yet begun. A need to live his father's stories of travel and adventure. A need to escape his small rented apartment and his crappy job with no future. And so, Mike Ratner, in his mid-life, continued each day's ritual and waited for something to happen.

At the bottom of a long descent, where the two lane highway crossed the Chattahoochee River, flashing lights cutting through the relentless sleet told him something was wrong. He slowed to a halt behind three other cars and opened the driver's window to see what was happening. Two cars had tried to occupy the same piece of road at the same time and were now tangled together blocking both lanes on the bridge.

Despite the weather he got out of the car to investigate. He turned up the collar of his coat as he walked and tightened the scarf around his neck, blowing hot breath into his cupped hands as he approached the wreck. The freezing rain stung his face, and he regretted that he hadn't the foresight to wear thicker pants. A policeman was attending to the drivers, who both seemed unhurt, but until the cars were moved, it was clear that he wasn't going anywhere in a hurry.

Need any help?” he asked the officer.

The cop drawled his response in slow, southern style, “No, We just have to get these vehicles clear of the bridge. The tow-truck is working on it now. Best just to stay in your car.”

Mike nodded and walked back to the Buick. Leaning over to the passenger seat he released the catches on his brown leather briefcase and opened it up. He removed that morning's Atlanta newspaper and leafed through it. The front page on February 10th, 1981 was dominated by the story of another murdered child. Although not an Atlanta resident Mike was as aware of the Atlanta child murders as everyone else in the country. Was this the ninth or tenth? And still no sign of catching the one who was doing it. The story contained comments from city officials claiming to be doing everything they could, and on the facing page, quotes from community advocates saying that if the kids were white, the crime would be solved by now. The murders had been going on for nearly a year, but it wasn't until last fall that the FBI became involved, and now there was talk of the new president, Ronald Reagan, who had bested Georgia native Jimmy Carter last November, pledging federal funds to help the investigation.

Mike threw the newspaper on the back seat, and removed a brown folder from the briefcase. The front of the folder was labeled “Farfield Hospital” in blue ball point, and inside was a collection of mismatched papers and notes that Mike had assembled to help with the procedural audit. He looked at the fiasco on the bridge again. He watched the flashing light from the police cruiser get splintered into a thousand red luminous dots by the rain, and with an almost imperceptible shift his memory spilled into the recent past, and he was back in Ron's office at Satellite 19.

Got a special assignment for you, Mike.” Ron Katz was the local director and he had called Mike in shortly after receiving the call from Atlanta.

That was Rich Benson on the phone.” Rich was Ron's boss in Atlanta, and had visited satellite 19 only twice during the three years Mike had worked there. He was a big imposing man with a shock of blond hair and a cheerful, almost boisterous personality. In a different life he could easily have been a college quarterback, but in this one Mike pegged him as more of a politician, possessing the overt friendliness and social manipulation skills that, no doubt, propelled his rise to the lofty authority where he now resided. Beyond that Mike really didn't know him very well.

And what did he have to say?” asked Mike.

Well, apparently there is a DHS mental hospital just outside Atlanta called Farfield, and it's been having some...” he hesitated, taking time to extinguish his cigarette in an overflowing ashtray, and looking for the diplomatic words that would have come more easily to his boss. Eventually he concluded “...problems.”

At the words “mental hospital,” Mike shivered as memories of his youth fought their way out of the gloom. He hoped it wasn't noticeable.

What kind of problems?” Mike was already curious as to the reason he was being told this.

There have been some...” he looked at the ashtray again. Another pause. “...complaints.”

From who? About what?” asked Mike. Ron seemed lost in thought. It was unlike him.

Well, the complaints are mostly from family members and relatives, but last month GBI got involved.”

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating one of our hospitals?” Mike was shocked. “I haven't heard anything of this, have you?

No,” replied Ron, “but this was back a couple of months ago when the country was lost in election-mania. Bad news tended to get pushed to the bottom of the stack.”

Even so,” said Mike. “It seems we would have heard about it. What were the complaints about?”

Oh, the usual stuff,” replied his boss. “Abuse, mistreatment. Nothing we haven’t heard before.” Ron gazed out of the window, at a sky of threatening gray hugging the distant hills.

So, why did the GBI show up if all this is so typical?”

Well,” said Ron, “It’ll probably turn out to be nothing, but three patients have died.”

Now it was Mike's turn to pause. He thought this conversation was starting to generate more questions than answers. It was true that facilities like Farfield always had a complaints from people, mostly staff and family members, but usually they didn't amount to much. Not multiple deaths anyway, and certainly nothing that would attract the attention of the GBI. “Is there any truth to the complaints? Three people dying is a little unusual – something's not adding up here.”

Who knows?” said Ron. “That's what you're going to find out.”

Me?” Mike's voice was raised in surprise. There were those memories again. “Wait, I have to go there?” questioned Mike. Until now, he had assumed it was research work, It hadn't dawned on him that this was to be a site visit.”

Yes, you.” Ron nodded.

Can't someone else do it? Richard is a good man. I'm really not qualified.”

I've got no one else available. You'll be just fine.”

Mike was unhappy with the assignment, but didn't feel like explaining why – his painful past was not public knowledge. He had hoped that he would never again have to visit any place like Farfield. Although he didn't really understand his own fear of it, he did realize there was no way to avoid the job. He quietly nodded.

But what about the deaths?” Mike asked, trying to hide his nervousness.

Accidents happen.” Ron said. “Patients get into fights, they hurt each other, some hurt themselves. Like I said, it's probably nothing.”

Mike nodded. “Do we have any reports or notes, maybe the GBI report?”

No. It's all at the hospital – which is why you're going there to do a procedural audit.”

Why doesn't the Atlanta office deal with it. It's their mess.”

Ron held up his hands. “Hey, don't blame me – I'm just the messenger here. It's head office that wants us involved, maybe they think a report looks more impartial if it comes from another office.”

How soon do I have to leave?” Mike asked.

As soon as you can,” Ron replied.

Mike rose from the chair. Another wave of panic hit him, feelings he didn't understand. He didn't want to do this. He wished someone else had the assignment. But it was done. Decided

As Mike left the office, Ron had called after him, “Remember, we need to cross all the i's and dot all the t's on this one.”

The extended blast from a car horn expressed the frustration of a driver further back in the line and brought Mike back to the cold darkness of the present. It looked like the cop was towing one of the cars off the bridge. The traffic should be moving again soon.

* * * *

Farfield Hospital lay hidden behind a military style checkpoint that now had a faint dusting of white snow on the roof. An overhead spotlight illuminated the rolling steel-mesh gate, a dozen feet high. It seemed more typical of a prison than a hospital. Mike slowed the Buick to a halt beside the fogged up window of the guard shack. A heavy-set uniformed man leaned forward slightly.

Can I help you?” he asked politely.

Mike cranked down the driver's side window. The wintry night assaulted his senses.

My name is Mike Ratner, I'm here from satellite 19.” He removed a letter from his still open briefcase and handed it to the guard.

The guard held the introductory letter under a desk lamp and squinted at it.

Could I see some ID, please.” he said.

Mike handed over his DHS ID card, to which which the guard gave equal scrutiny, and after a moment the official handed back the documents and the steel gate began to slowly open. In the spotlight, Mike could now see that a coil of razor wire adorned the top of the gate.

Proceed down this road until you see the administration building on the left,” the guard said, pointing down a frosty road. Winter has stripped most of the leaves, leaving the twisted skeleton branches to claw at the night sky. Mike drove forward slowly, and the clanking sound of the gate closed behind him. Mike felt his options evaporate and apprehension crawled at his skin.

The road followed a slow curve to the right and down a slight hill. At the bottom, situated in a clearing off to the left, was the administration building. The brick exterior of the two story building was wrapped in shadow, the only lights coming from three adjacent windows on the ground floor, and another of the yellow spots over the porch that shrouded a glass front door.

Mike parked the car close to the door, with only three other cars, each adorned with a dusting of sparkling frost. Buttoning up his coat again, Mike grabbed his briefcase and headed briskly to the door. He now noticed that the glass was criss-crossed with embedded wire – security glass. Someone was already crossing the room to meet him. The man in khaki dockers and a bulky green polo-necked sweater opened the door.

You must be Mr. Ratner,” the man stranger said, smiling.

Mike,” he corrected, placing his briefcase on the floor to accept the outstretched hand.

My name is Jim Blake, I'm the deputy supervisor here. Welcome to Farfield.”

Pleasure to meet you,” said Mike, unbuttoning the heavy coat and peeling off his scarf.

And this is Barry Spires, our head of security.” Jim said, half turning to introduce a stocky man in his mid-30's.

Mike shook Barry's hand, a firm grip, a curt nod, a steady eye. Barry had the look of an ex-cop or retired-military.

Probably not a very good trip in this weather?” said the deputy.

A lot worse than I expected, and a wreck on the bridge didn't help.”

Yes.” said the security officer. “We heard on the radio that southbound 400 was shut down. Seems like people just can't drive in this weather. We were expecting you over an hour ago.”

Yeah, sorry about that,” Mike said.

Oh, it's not problem, really.” Jim said – motioning for him to follow. “We usually lock the place down at nine. Kept the gate open specially for you. Come and have a cup of coffee or something. Warm yourself up.”

The three crossed the cavernous foyer that served as a reception center. In a back corner, couches had been arranged in a formal square to serve as a waiting area, the glowing red light on a coffee machine guided them in. The three sat on the aging, threadbare green furnishings.

So tell us a little about your visit, Mike. How long do you plan to stay and how can we help?” Jim said.

Well, my brief is to conduct a procedural audit – which is simply a review of your operating procedures, so I'll probably be checking your policy handbooks, patient records – that sort of thing. I could use a place to work, a spare desk perhaps.”

We already have you set up with an office. We're a bit cramped so I'm afraid it's in one of the outbuildings – near Jim's office over in security. I hope that's OK.” Deputy Jim Blake had an almost apologetic tone. Mike instinctively liked his humility.

That'll be fine,” Mike said,” I understand you've arranged for some accommodations for me?”

Yes,” Barry replied. “Most of the staff go home every night but we have a dorm here with a limited number of beds – for round the clock staff. We have you in one of those. You'll be quite safe.”

Thanks,” Mike said, realizing that for the next few nights he would be locked in a mental hospital behind a razor wire fence.

I'm sure safety won't be a problem.” he said. “The security here seems pretty strict.” Mike looked at the security officer when he said this and tried to make it sound more like a question than a statement.

Yes. Thanks to Dr. Gregson. You'll meet him tomorrow, he made sure security was top notch when he took over this place last year. Before that you could pretty much walk in and out of the hospital at will. Back then patients had to be confined to their rooms much more so that they didn’t escape. The new secure perimeter means much more individual freedom for the residents here.”

So, how long have you been here, Barry?”

I came last February, so – about a year. Dr. Gregson had already beefed up the fence and access gates. I took care of a lot of the other internal stuff.”

What about before then?” Mike inquired. Do you have a history with security?”

Six years head of security at the GM plant in Doraville. Before that, Military Police at Ft. Benning.” Barry's was visibly proud when he mentioned his military background.

How about you, Jim? Are you a recent addition too?”

Jim stretched in his chair and stifled a yawn. “No. Fourteen years for me. I came back in '67,” he said.

So what is your take on the increase in complaints and the recent deaths?” Mike felt that sooner or later he had to get the conversation on track.

I don’t know,” Blake said. “Yes, there have been more problems lately, but most of them are multiple complaints about the same thing from the same people, so the results are a little skewed. Where we find evidence of problems with the staff, we deal with it very seriously and very quickly. Despite what you might think, we do run a tight ship here.”

Yes, I'm sure you do.” said Mike.

Barry jumped in with his less diplomatic approach.

Obviously if someone dies we investigate it thoroughly, but here is the reality. Families that don't have the time or energy to look after crazy-cousin-Frank deliver him to state to be locked away in a dark and invisible corner of society to be forgotten – a place where the government looks after him and the taxpayer foots the bill. Then, they have the nerve to complain that their abandoned kin isn't getting his fair share of ice cream on Sundays.”

Mike's comment had touched a nerve with Barry, so he decided to push him a little further. “But what about the recent deaths?”

Accidents happen.” Deputy Blake intercepted the question. “Out there in the real world, on any given day, people fall down stairs, step in front of cars and suffer all kinds of unexpected catastrophe. In a place like this where many of the patients require constant supervision – but don't get it because of a limited budget – the chances of accidental death are much greater.”

The two men made a convincing case for for the problems at Farfield but was there more to it?

What about the GBI investigation?” Mike asked.

Barry seemed a little irritated now, probably because this happened on his watch and he was tired of answering questions about it. “OK, here is what happened. Late last year a patient got hold of a kitchen knife – no one knows how. It happens, this place isn't exactly a church social group. This patient, Daniel Hempel, ended up committing suicide out in the woods. One of the family members, his brother, wouldn't let it go. He bombarded us with complaint letters and demanded an investigation, which we had already done. He practically camped outside the front gate to harass staff and visitors. And he called GBI. GBI came out and were satisfied with the investigation that we had done. They left the same day. It was a minor inconvenience to us, but it created a political shit storm.”

Mike sat back in his chair and exhaled slowly. The stress of the drive was catching up with him.

OK, gentlemen. Thanks for the information and the hospitality, but I should probably get some sleep.”

Quite understand,” said the deputy. “Barry will take you to the dorm.”

* * * *

Outside, the two men walked over to a green golf-cart. Mike threw his briefcase and luggage on to the rear facing back seat and climbed in beside Barry, zipping up the minimal shelter of a dirty white canvas canopy.

No heater in this thing, huh?” Mike asked, trying to maintain an air of levity.

Negative,” replied Barry. “The dorm is only accessible by a foot path. It's not far but if you don't know where your going it's easy to get lost.”

They listened in silence to the electric hum of the golfcart as they followed a winding concrete path, leaving tire tracks in the frosty dew.

There are seven buildings in the complex,” explained Barry. “That's the admin center, where we just were. There are four patient wards that hold between fifty or eighty beds each, and the dorm – on the top floor of this building just through these trees. It's situated over one of the minimum security wards. At the end of the main road is the treatment building. We have our security center in Building Four, that's where your office will be. We moved some patient files over there this afternoon.”

It had started raining again by the time they reached the dorm – a cold freezing rain.

Here we are.” Barry handed him a key. “It's number six.” He pointed to the red diamond-shaped plastic key tag. “Need any help?”

No, I'll be fine.” Mike said. “I'll get a good night's sleep and then start looking into these complaints, although it's the three deaths that concern me the most.”

Three?” Barry said, raising his eyebrows.

Yes?” Mike's answer sounded like a question.

No,” Barry said, “It's been eight. Eight people have died.”

* * * *

Chapter 3

John worked feverishly into the night to complete the first chapter of his new novel. He had not been able to stop reading the newspaper story from the Rome Gazette, and quickly realized that it provided enough content for him to not only write a first chapter, but also set the stage for the entire novel. Rome was a small town seventy miles northwest of Atlanta and back in 1980 the alleged patient mistreatment and deaths at Farfield were a big enough story for them to run, and yet John could find no mention of it in the local press.

As well as reporting the “large number of complaints” against the center, the newspaper also mentioned the interview where Dr. Peter Gregson, the hospital's superintendent, showed a surprising lack of concern, despite the fact that the GBI had completed its investigation at Farfield, but the deaths had continued and were now up to eight. There was a mention of a consulting physician named Williams who assisted with the GBI investigation, a case brought about by complaints from one Brian Hempel regarding the suspicious death of his brother, Daniel. Additionally, there was a “We're doing all we can” quote from Jim Blake the Deputy superintendent. At the bottom of the article was a photograph, which John knew was an essential part of the article and would have doubled the readership of the column. The grainy newsprint showed Blake, Gregson, Williams, and Barry Spires, the security officer, standing outside the newly constructed steel gates of Farfield Hospital. That would be another lead to follow along with the GBI investigation and the Hempel boy.

John felt he was was clearly on the trail of something, and quickly checked the local messages boards where he had left questions. Sadly, there were no replies – maybe after thirty-five years anyone who knew anything about Farfield had moved on – either geographically or from a mortality standpoint. Before leaving the house, John tried a few more searches, most of them uneventful, but when he tried “Old mental hospital at Norcross,” there was another string of hits.

Much of the activity came from urban-explorer sites, stories from fifteen or twenty years ago, tales of exploring the abandoned ruins of an “Old Lunatic Asylum” in North Atlanta. There were also some faded photographs of dilapidated red brick buildings, overgrown with weeds and kudzu, crumbling roof-lines and broken windows. John was even able to find a YouTube video, which had been digitized from some grainy VHS tape. It showed several shaggy haired youths in jeans and leather jackets lurking through the darkness with flashlights. “Urban exploring” was a popular hobby that existed in the shadows of respectability and skirted the boundaries of legality. John knew a few devotees of the sport, and had even accompanied three guys on an exploratory mission outside his home town in Dawsonville, where the remains of the post-war nuclear reactor lay hidden deep in the forest behind rusty chain link fencing. These kids really had a passion for this kind of thing.

Several more sites dedicated to ghost-hunting and the paranormal talked of the “Haunted Asylum.” A disused mental hospital in North Fulton county where anyone brave enough, or foolish enough, to explore after dark would likely see lights in room where there was no electricity, hear the sound of footsteps walking in empty rooms, and if they were very lucky, witness a small child weeping on the third floor of the old treatment building. In the basement of the treatment building was a morgue, complete with refrigerated storage drawers, which some people had opened and seen dead bodies.

John shuddered, grabbed his car keys and left the house.

On the way he stopped at Norcross City Hall and paid a visit to the Building and Zoning department. A polite secretary informed him that unfortunately the man he needed to talk to was on vacation – and of course, being a city government office, no one else could help. John asked the secretary if she remembered anything about the former usage of Creekside Park but she was unable to recall anything useful.

* * * *

After driving south into the city, John exited the interstate at Williams Street and drove through the congestion of downtown – a block from Centennial Olympic Park and then beneath the shadow of the Westin Peachtree hotel, still one of the highest hotels in the U.S.

The concrete exterior of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library towered over Margaret Mitchell Square. The square, named for the famed author of “Gone with the Wind,” was neither square nor impressive, simply a triangular piece of cement at the intersection of Forsyth and Peachtree that, John felt, failed to adequately honor the author. John ascended the main steps and after passing through the security checkpoint that seemed a ubiquitous component of all government buildings these days, he took the elevator to the fifth floor.

The fifth floor housed maps and special collections – including the typewriter used by Maragret Mitchell, but it was the aging microfilm machine that John now headed for. Here was where over one hundred years of Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper records were kept, and he spent the next three hours sorting through the tiny reels of film and laboriously threading them through the viewer. Starting with mid-November of 1980, the approximate date of the GBI investigation, John extended his search several weeks on either side of that date. It was a painstaking process. Not only was the local press coverage skewed toward the national election between Carter and Reagan, of which Jimmy Carter was a local resident, but also because of the still unsolved Atlanta Child Murders. John scoured every page of every copy of every newspaper for weeks on end, only to find very little new information. Several hours later, he walked over to a desk, took out a legal pad, and wrote down what he had learned.

The GBI investigation had occurred in the first week of November as a result of what some felt was the “suspicious death” of Daniel Hempel, found in the woods on the grounds of Farfield Hospital with his throat cut. After what the newspapers called an “exhaustive investigation,” the death was classified as suicide. The state investigators also found no foul play in two previous deaths, James Agra and Dorothy Mansfield, ruling them as accidental. The report also identified the name of the consulting physician who assisted the GBI as Dr. Jake Williams. Following the GBI investigation there were at least two more deaths, both deemed natural causes. But John could find no reports of the additional deaths mentioned in the Rome Gazette.

In another earlier article which appeared in the local news section, there was a story of the new head of security at Farfield, Barry Spires. This story carried the same photograph John had seen in the Rome Gazette of Barry, standing outside the wire perimeter fence with Gregson and Williams. John made a copy of the photograph and left the library.

John walked a couple of blocks down Peachtree and ducked into one of the fast-food joints on Broad Street. Ordering a coffee, he stepped outside and seated himself at a glass cafe table on the tree-lined sidewalk. Pulling out his phone he checked for messages, the ringer had been turned off in the library and he had missed some calls and emails. His agent had emailed to confirm receipt of his latest “Danny Blade” adventure, and there were a couple of junk messages that he immediately deleted. Additionally, there was a private message from Janet Hill. He had no idea who Janet Hill was, but smiled to himself when he saw the line below her name that read “Re: Your request about info on Farfield.” He opened the message and read.

Yes, Mr. Mars. There was indeed a mental hospital on the grounds of Creekside Park. My mother worked there in the late 1970's (I think – not sure about dates.) She did clerical work for the doctors. She is old now – but still active. I'm sure she could help you with your research. Let me know if interested. – Janet Hill.”

There was a phone number listed after the name which John immediately called. It rang several times before it was answered.

Hello?” a woman's voice said.

Hello, Janet?” John said.


My name is John Mars, thanks for answering my question on”

Oh, hello,” she answered as if she knew him, “yes, my mom, Martha, worked there. I sort of remember the place a bit – but I was just a small child at the time.”

Great,” said John. “Actually I'm an author and I'm doing research for a book about Farfield.”

Yes, so you said in the message. I'm sure my mom would love to help contribute to a book. She'll think she's famous.”

Well, I can't promise that, but I can put her on the Acknowledgment page.”

OK, well let me talk to her and see if I can set something up.”

Thanks, that would be great,” John said, “just let me know when.”

He opened his notebook and to the bottom of his list of names he added “Janet Hill's mother.”

The list of leads was steadily growing. And John needed help to chase some of them down. He needed the help of William Brimage III.

William Brimage III, was known to almost everyone that knew him as “Brim.” John first met Brim soon after moving to Atlanta, while attending a charity dinner where a journalist he knew was receiving an award. John had gone along to lend his support and enjoy a free dinner. He had been seated at the same table as William Brimage III, who was a free lance detective that farmed out his services to reporters in the Atlanta area. They had become friends almost immediately, bonding over a bottle of twelve year-old scotch. Brim was a big man – over six feet tall and nearly as wide, a straight talking ex-cop. Reliable. In the months that followed John would often joke that it was the only time he had ever seen Brim wearing a suit, the big man usually preferring a Hawaiian shirt and a panama hat that perfectly matched his gregarious style. The tools of Brim's trade were the very same sophisticated gadgetry that Danny Blade used in John's novels, and so Brim soon became “technical consultant” for John's writing. John spent many afternoons at Brim's office playing with pin-hole cameras, tracking devices and night vision goggles.

Brimage Investigations.” Brim's voice was rough with a granular edge to it that had not been at all refined by decades of alcohol and tobacco.

Brim, it's John.”

Hey,” Brim said, “what's the good word?”

Well, I'm into a new story,” John said, “and this one is a bit strange. If you want to get a drink I'd love to bounce it off you.”

Sure,” Brim said, “how about two o'clock? The usual place?”

Works for me,” John said.

John looked at his watch – it was noon. He arose from the glass table and began walking back to his car. His phone rang again.


Hello, John, this is Janet Hill.”

Hi Janet.”

Hi,” she answered. “Listen, I've spoken to my mom and she would love to talk to you.”

Great,” John said. He was excited that this would, at last, be a first person account of the events that went on at Farfield.

Can you be at the Hickory House in Dunwoody at four o'clock?” she asked. “That's where mom likes to have her coffee.”

Yes,” he answered. “I can do that.”

* * * *

It was a few minutes after two when John descended the cement steps onto the lower level of the Andrews Entertainment District. The lunchtime crowds were thinning out from the multiple restaurants and bars that were clustered in the three story complex. The basement felt dim as he stepped from the bright early afternoon sunshine. Ahead of him, on the left, was a phone booth – an odd sight in the age of cellar communications. But what made this phone booth even more unusual was the red cast-iron design, more representative of the streets of London than a basement in Buckhead. John entered the phone-box and faced a replica of a phone from the early part of the last century, checking a small piece of paper in his wallet, he dialed a code on the old phone.

After a moment, the entire back of the phone-box swung open and he stepped through a doorway into a windowless bar reminiscent of a 1920's speakeasy.

John scanned the room as his eyes adjusted to the soft amber glow of the luminous ceiling panels. Businessmen, engulfed in deep rich leather seating, closed deals by the light of the fireplace, a small group of tourists posed for selfies, and would be players reclined in comfort as they exhaled thick clouds of cigar smoke. He soon saw Brim, leaning up against the bar waiting patiently to be served. The barman clothed in 1920's period attire and armed with a long metal spike, soon finished his assault on a large block of ice and shared the results between two large glasses. John walked over and extended his hand. Brim shook it and immediately slid one of the glasses in front of John, beckoning him to follow to an intimate seating area. They walked across to the back wall and sat facing each other on heavily padded couches as they sipped their drinks.

We have to find another place,” John said, “this is becoming like Disneyland.”

It was true that this prohibition-era-themed meeting place saw its share of tourism, but Brim seemed to like it, probably because it exuded the ambiance of half hidden mystery that was his profession. A world of darkness and secrecy paid his bills.

So, what do you have going on?” Brim said.

John nodded and proceeded to relate the story of Creekside Park and the strange old man, the mental institution, his internet searches, and the newspaper article.

And you want this to be your next book?” Brim asked.

Yeah, well I kind of miss the old investigative stuff,” John said, “And if I have to write another Danny Blade trilogy, I'll likely be the one in the mental hospital.”

Well, it's a good story.” Brim said, and then he sat back, took a long drink from his glass and read the notes he had scribbled.

OK,” he finally said, taking a long breath. “No idea who the crazy guy in the park was – and wouldn't even know how to find out. Tracing the authors of the newspaper articles in the Rome Gazette and the AJC ought to be easy enough if they are still alive, but they probably won't remember much – to them it was most likely just a story. The GBI would definitely have a record, but you would need exact names and dates to get it pulled. The dead inmates should have a record somewhere, but the staff members, Gregson, Blake, Spires and this Williams guy? Well, that might be tricky, unless you can get something from your internet girlfriend's mom.”

John rolled his eyes at Brim's attempt at humor. Brim thought for a moment while he chewed on his pencil.

OK,” he finally said, “you follow up with Janet Hill's mom and the reporters. Leave the GBI investigation with me – I might know someone over there in records that could help. If you find anything about the staff members let me know, and when we have some of this stuff nailed down we can follow up on the victims.”

Works for me,” John said.

The only thing is,” Brim hesitated, “I've got a lot on my plate right now, so I'm going to have Colin look into it. He works with me sometimes – he's a good kid, and sharp too – probably better than me.”

That's not hard,” John said with a laugh.

They shared another drink and talked about old times – football and other trivia – but the conversation repeatedly circled back to Farfield and the mysterious deaths there.

* * * *

John felt somewhat fortunate that he had the appointment with Janet Hill, which prevented him from joining Brim in his steady immersion in alcohol. He pulled into the parking lot of the Old Hickory House a few minutes before four, and was able to claim a parking space near the door. John walked in between the tables, searching for guests that matched the description of Janet Hill and her mother, but not finding them he sat in a vacant booth and ordered black coffee.

It was ten after four, but still no sign of them – he thought that they were going to be a no-show. He considered calling Janet and removed his phone, but she beat him to it. As he heard his ring-tone, a middle-aged woman, two tables from him who was holding a phone to her ear, looked over and waved. He walked over to join her.

Hello, there.” John said.

Hi,” said Janet, half standing.

John reached for her hand, smooth and well manicured. Janet Hill was about his age, in her forties. She was alone.

I am so sorry my mother isn't here,” she began apologetically.

Why, what happened?” John asked. “Is she OK?”

The waitress arrived and John ordered a refill on his coffee.

Yes, she's fine.” answered Janet. “When I first told her that you wanted to talk to her about a book you're writing she seemed thrilled to meet you, but just as we were about to leave she asked me again – she's old and a bit forgetful, you know.”

It happens,” John said.

Well, it was the oddest thing,” Janet went on, “but when I mentioned that you wanted to know about her time at Farfield, she just sat down and refused to move. I asked her what was wrong and she just kept shaking her head and refusing to answer. When I explained that I had promised to meet you, and if she didn't want to come I would have to go alone, she just looked at me and said, “Tell him some things should stay forgotten. He'll be in great danger if he writes that book.”

* * * *

Chapter 4

Mike Ratner's watch said 7:20 AM. The dorm room was cold and he had a growling hunger in his belly.

The unlikely idea of eight people dying in the same number of weeks tumbled end over end in his head. He raised the blinds and looked out the window. The storm had subsided but an overcast gray sky veiled the threat of more rain. Two of the hospital buildings were visible from his room – utilitarian structures that had an appearance of neglect. Sporadic patches of moss clung to the roof, a broken gutter hung at an odd angle, weeds grew along the base of the walls. He could see a line of small windows on the second floor, each covered with narrow rows of bars – a legacy from a less enlightened time. Beyond the buildings, twisted branches of bare trees faded in the foggy distance.

He washed and dressed. On the nightstand, beside his bed he found an ID tag. It had his picture, his name, an internal control number and in orange block letters the word “UNRESTRICTED.” He hung the chain around his neck and picked up his room key and his coat. As Mike walked over to the door, something caught his eye. On the floor, just inside the door, face down on the blue carpet, was a yellow piece of paper. Mike picked it up and turned it over. In thick black marker ink the message read, “Breakfast – Dining room – 6.AM to 8.30AM.” Mike wasn't sure who sent the message but it was welcome information.

Retracing his steps from last night, Mike walked down the stairwell and out of the external steel door. On both sides of the door were large red signs that read “KEEP LOCKED AT ALL TIMES.” Mike found that the door closed and locked automatically, but did as instructed and checked anyway.

Mike followed the path through the trees that he and Barry had taken the previous evening and rounding a stand of pine trees, their frozen needles sparkling in the icy morning air, he saw the administration building. He followed the sound of conversation and cutlery down a corridor and found himself in a small dining room with a buffet style breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast and coffee. He walked over to the chrome pans placed over Sterno tins, and helped himself to some food.

Jim Blake waved him over to an empty seat.

How did you sleep?” Jim asked.

Out like a light.” Mike replied.

Jim Blake looked in turn at two other people sitting at the table.

Oh, this is Marty Helms and Freddy Miles, two of the doctors here. Gentlemen, meet Mike Ratner. Mike is from the Dawsonville office. He's conducting an investigation into our recent troubles here. Hopefully, it will silence the critics for good.”

I hope so, too,” said Mike, taking the empty seat. He managed to get two whole mouth-fulls of eggs before the questions started.

So, Mike, how long do you plan to be with us?” Dr. Miles asked.

I'm not sure yet,” Mike replied. “The GBI investigation only took three days. I'm going to try and beat their record.”

The doctors laughed. Mike suspected that it was from a sense of relief that they were not dealing with some stuffy bureaucrat.

Of course,” Mike continued, “ the GBI only had to deal with three deaths. I have eight.”

The doctors glanced at one another and Mike felt the tension return.

You think the other five will be any different from the first three that the GBI looked at?” asked Dr. Helms. He didn't appear challenged by Mike's answer – he seemed genuinely interested.

I don't know, guys,” Mike replied. “Look, I just got here, I haven't even started yet.”

Yes, let's give Mike a little breathing room, shall we?” said Jim Blake.

Sorry, Mike,” Dr. Miles said. “It's just that investigations of any kind put everybody on edge.”

Mike nodded. “Understood, Just remember I'm not the enemy here.”

The four men ate breakfast while they discussed the weather and the front page of the AJC, which lay open on the breakfast table. A few minutes later , Mike decided to try again.

So, regarding the allegations of abuse?”

Do you mean the staff getting abused by the patients?” Dr Helms' comment brought a chuckle from the table.

Well, no, not exactly – ” responded Mike, but before he could finish Dr. Helms jumped in again.

“– Because not only is abuse against the staff much more common, but it tends not to get reported.”

How much of a problem is it?” Mike asked.

This year alone I have been...” Dr. Helms gazed upwards and frowned, “...punched, kicked at least three times, spat on – ”

I was bitten twice last week,” interjected Dr. Miles.

Jim Blake came to Mike's rescue.

Look guys, I'm sure you're all assaulted by some deranged maniac on an almost hourly basis, but that's not what Mike is here for.”

They apologized again, which Mike felt was sincere, and then they excused themselves to continue their rounds.

We should be getting on as well,” said Jim. “Let's give you a tour.”

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