First Do No Harm: Part One

Submitted by C B Wright on
Curveball, by Christopher B. Wright
TriHealth, Uptown

There’s one TriHealth building in Farraday City. It’s uptown, which means it doesn’t cater to riffraff. It also makes the organization look shadier than it already did. Large companies don’t stay large by being naive, and a company that opens an office in Farraday Uptown is doing so because of the advantages the location brings. Some of those advantages look good on a ledger. Other “advantages” never show up on a ledger, or on any official documentation for that matter. Those advantages come with certain expectations that are plainly, and occasionally painfully, communicated.

It’s not impossible to find an honest company in Farraday City. The downtown business district is full of them—well, it’s full of businesses who are willing to pretend they don’t know who runs the city because they want the tax breaks, but aren’t particularly eager to break the law themselves. That’s about as honest as it gets in the city. But uptown—uptown business zoning is reserved for preferred partners.

The TriHealth building is a modern looking, glass-and-steel design. It’s not very tall—ten or eleven stories at most—but it’s fancy. A long series of steps surrounds the building, putting it up on a pedestal in the middle of the richest, most corrupt part of the most corrupt city in America. The row of revolving doors in the front are recessed into the building, so after climbing up the pedestal to enter, people have to essentially walk underneath the building to get inside. It’s an interesting psychological effect: it conveys authority, stylishness, and modernity all at the same time.

It’s exactly, CB thinks, what you’d want your health care provider to convey.

The lobby is a clean, spacious, well-lit area with a long, polished receptionist desk facing the door. It travels the entire length of the far wall, ending where the lobby connects to a wide, short hallway with elevators at the far end. The hallway turns a corner and continues on behind the lobby wall. The black marble tile floor gleams and shines to the point that it’s almost a mirror: CB can see distorted reflections of everyone in the room. There are cameras everywhere. Sophisticated cameras… more sophisticated, CB thinks, than a health insurance provider would normally justify purchasing. He glances over at the security desk to his left—a much simpler desk than the receptionist’s desk, but taller and with a lip at the edge, so you can’t see the top. The guard stares down at his desk, apparently lost in thought. CB suspects the guard is probably staring at a bunch of monitors obscured by the desk.

“Can I help you sir?”

CB is standing next to the receptionist’s desk. An attractive, well-dressed woman looks at him with a polite and entirely fake smile. CB immediately notices the employee badge hanging off her jacket: it has her picture and the name Lauren Millany under it. The outline of a computer chip can be seen in the upper right hand corner of the badge.

Lauren is trying very hard not to look uncomfortable, but today he dressed for the part, and she’s finding it difficult to keep her smile from sliding into a grimace.

He’s in his “guy from the skids trying to dress for success” outfit: along with his trench coat he’s wearing a grimy white button-up short sleeve shirt with a slightly frayed collar, a bright red clip-on tie that’s far too short for his frame, scuffed brown leather loafers and a pair of navy blue work pants with oil stains around the cuffs. The clothes look ridiculous, and the shirt stinks—nothing about his appearance says he belongs here.

Of course, the same could be said about his usual appearance, but he’s trying to set off a very specific trigger for the upper middle class.

“What?” CB blinks at her rapidly and rubs his eyes in a sudden, slightly frenzied motion. “Sorry? I’m trying to find the lawyers.”

“I said, can I help you? Do you have an appointment?” Lauren’s fake smile stretches to nearly menacing proportions.

“Uh…” CB looks around, adopting a lost and bewildered expression. The security guard is still staring down at his desk. “The law firm. I think I have a three o’clock?” He starts scratching the back of his head furiously, and whirls around to glare at nothing in particular behind him.

Her smile falters for a moment. “This is the TriHealth building.”

CB nods. “Right. I know TriHealth is here but I’m looking for… hold on a moment…” he makes a show of going through his trench coat pockets, then pulls out a folded over piece of paper. He unravels the paper, then squints down at it. “Mueller and Donally? Lawyers? They’re here too, right?”

Lauren stares at him blankly. Her smile becomes even more forced. “I’m sorry, sir, but I think you have the wrong address.”

CB steals a glance at the security desk. The man is mouthing something. Talking into a microphone, probably.

“No!” CB raises his voice, adding a bit of desperation. “224 45th street! That’s what this says!” He flashes the paper to her, too quickly for her to see anything written on it. “Mueller and Donally at 224 45th street!”

“Sir, I’m sorry, but there’s no one here by that name.” The smile is gone now. “This is the TriHealth building, and only TriHealth uses it. If you don’t have an appointment, I’m going to have to ask you to leave…”

At that moment two security guards step out of the hallway, move purposefully past the receptionist’s desk and close in on him.

CB pretends not to notice. “Stupid!” He smacks his forehead. “So stupid. I should have known. It was too good to be true, I should have known.”

The guards aren’t carrying guns. They are, however, carrying tasers, and he thinks he recognizes the modifications that were made to them.

“Sir,” the receptionist says, “if you’d just step away from the—”

“Do you know how long I’ve been trying to get a goddamn job in this city?” CB lets his voice crack, just a bit, and focuses his attention on a well-dressed, bearded man wearing John Lennon glasses making his way past the guards, to the hallway beyond. The man quickens his pace while trying to pretend he hasn’t noticed anything.

CB turns back to the receptionist. “I’m sorry. My buddy Mitch told me to go here. Some friend, right? I bet he’s standing outside laughing his ass off right now.”

A firm hand closes on his right shoulder. An equally firm hand closes around his left bicep. CB forces himself to relax and give in—he’s in much better shape than the kind of guy he’s trying to portray, and while he doesn’t expect a receptionist to notice, the security guards might. CB looks to his right, then to his left. They don’t look like the typical uniformed rent-a-cops you see in malls and department stores.

“Let’s go see if he’s there.” The guard on his left, a slim black man in his early thirties, has a warm, friendly voice and smiles at him in a fatherly, reassuring manner. The guard on his right, a freckled red-head with a build like a linebacker, has a neutral, businesslike demeanor.

They have employee badges just like Lauren’s. The friendly guards badge identifies him as Ray Jennings. The red-head is Curtis Hagan.

CB gapes at Ray, keeping his expression slack and confused.

“Come on,” Ray says. He tugs gently at CB’s shoulder, and CB allows himself to be led meekly out of the lobby, through the double doors, down the steps. It’s not until they reach the bottom of the steps that Roy and Curtis let go of him.

“You see this guy Mitch?” Curtis’ voice is gravelly. Heavy smoker, CB guesses. Ironic for a health insurance company.

CB looks up and down the street, then stares intently at his feet. “No.”

“Well, that was a real rude thing your friend did to you,” Ray says. “If I were you I’d let him know exactly what you thought of it.”

CB nods sullenly. “I thought you were going to… you know.”

“What?” Curtis sounds slightly amused. “Beat you up a little?”

CB nods again.

“There’s no need for that.” Ray smiles broadly. “This was just a misunderstanding, right? We don’t waste our time with misunderstandings. Now if you were to turn around and go back into that lobby and make another scene…”

“Yeah,” CB says. “Yeah, I get it. Sorry for the trouble. I… I’m gonna just go.”

“I think that’s a good a idea,” Curtis says.

Neither of them move.

“Right.” CB walks, keeping his head down, until he reaches the crosswalk at the corner. He looks over his shoulder once—Ray and Curtis are still there. He crosses the street, and by the time he reaches the other side Ray and Curtis are gone.

CB frowns, reaches into his trench coat pocket, and pulls out a cigarette.

“Service entrance,” he says.

He stays on the opposite street, crossing from block to block until he faces the back of the TriHealth building. There’s a cafe on that block, and the window booth is empty. He ducks into their bathroom to change out of the collared shirt—the primary source of the smell—then parks himself in the window booth and orders lunch.

For the next few hours he orders enough to keep his waitress happy and pretends to read the newspaper while he watches the comings and goings of the service entrance. All the trucks that pull up to unload supplies are unmarked, the people flash credentials before being allowed to unload, and everyone involved wears a badge of some sort. It is, CB thinks, an awfully paranoid way to run a health insurance company.

He manages to get the license plate numbers off two of the delivery trucks. He pays for his food, uses the bathroom, then asks the manager if they have a payphone.

The manager is a stout, gruff woman with blonde hair pulled back into a severe bun. “Payphone? What is this, the 80s? Use your cell like everyone else!”

CB sighs, then asks for directions to the public library.

He has to pay for another cab, which aggravates him, but the uptown public library is nice, and the Internet terminals are semi-enclosed. The library is mostly empty at that time of day, so he has plenty of privacy. This is a good thing: it would have been awkward to explain how he managed to get access to the FCPD police network, and even more awkward to explain what he was doing with it.

He runs a search on the first license plate and finds it’s registered with a company called Elmuth Shipping. The second license plate returns the same registration. Elmuth Shipping has a local address in midtown.

CB sighs again. He’s going to have to hire another cab.

Comments

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spelling

"He’s gong to have to hire another cab."

Like the gong show, big noisy gong to hail the cab? ;)

It had a nice beat...

... but he couldn't dance to it. :-)

Thanks for pointing that out! Fixed now.

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.