“You’ve been invaluable to us, Gretchen.”
She nodded, smiling. She knew it was true and, at this point, she had no use for the pretense of humility. Mr. Hawthorne continued, “The Board and I agree that having you at the helm of RCH is paramount to our continued success.”
“Sir, thank you. I’m honored by the trust you’re placing in me. You’ve been an inspiration, and I hope to make you proud as CEO.” He extended his hand, which she shook firmly, easily, and the deal was done.
“That senile motherfucker would’ve run this place into the ground,” Gretchen muttered to herself as she looked over reports from the last ten years. RCH, thanks to her, had made some extremely profitable acquisitions. The question now was how to capitalize on her new role, and lead the company into greater expansion.
She was flying solo on the corporate jet this evening. She couldn’t recall the destination; her assistant had set it up and anyway it wasn’t important. It was the flight itself that mattered. Being alone and unreachable gave her the mental space she needed to strategize. She loved this part of the job. Private equity firms got a bad rap; with the recent demise of some beloved companies, the term “vultures” got thrown around a lot. Gretchen saw herself as a hunter not a scavenger, and there was blood in the water. A private hospital network was laden with debt, and RCH had pounced on it, ready to dismantle it and sell it off in pieces.
“Anything to drink?” The flight attendant stood quietly, watching her.
“Vodka on the rocks, please.” Her mind had twisted around itself on stratagems and legal loopholes. She needed to untangle her thoughts into a coherent plan. She heard the clinking of ice cubes into a crystal tumbler, and her muscles relaxed. How Pavlovian, she thought. The attendant placed the glass down and returned to the front. She took a small sip, then looked at the drink. There was no ice, and the vodka was room temperature.
“Excuse me, I wanted ice with this,” Gretchen called.
The flight attendant looked at her curiously, “Isn’t there ice in there, ma’am?”
Gretchen rolled her eyes, “One, it’s Ms. Lewis, not ma’am. Two, I’ve been gifted with the rare ability to know when my drink is cold.”
“My apologies Ms. Lewis. I’ll get you a new one.”
The flight attendant reached down and picked up the drink. Condensation began rolling down the glass, which was filled with ice. Gretchen frowned. The flight attendant coughed, “I suppose there was ice after all.”
“I suppose so. Sorry, uh, what was your name?”
“Rosa, Ms. Lewis.”
“I must be more tired than I realized. Hard work.” She waved at the scattered papers.
Rosa smiled and nodded, “I’m sure it is.”
Gretchen turned to the pile. She felt unmoored, but getting back to a project always focused her. She glared at the drink for betraying her, and took a sip. We’ve cut off access to new equipment, eventually they’ll be forced to relocate patients— Suddenly the plane hit turbulence. Gretchen careened into the wall. The cabin lights dimmed, flickered, and went out. Emergency lighting went on. She waited for someone to say something. No one spoke.
“Rosa?” She rose and followed the red lights to the front. She saw Rosa lying motionless on the ground. As she bent down to touch her, the cockpit door swung open.
“Captain,” she called as she stood up, “Rosa is hurt.” No answer. “Captain?”
She walked to the cockpit and gasped. The chairs were empty. Headphones lay on the dash, the muffled sound of voices barely audible. She lunged for them.
“Hello? Hello? My name is Gretchen Lewis, I’m on the RCH Bombardier and something has happened.”
The only response was static.
She turned to run, where? There was nowhere to go, no one to save her. She turned again and sat down in the pilot’s chair. “Take a deep breath,” she thought, “there must be an auto pilot switch.” She looked at the panel of instruments, indecipherable, and began to drown in the panic.
“Allow me, Ms. Lewis.”
Gretchen whipped her head around, “Oh Rosa, thank God! I don’t know what I’m doing, the headphones aren’t working there’s—”
She stopped short. Rosa was a mottled blue color, bent and gasping for breath.
“Oh Christ, you’re hurt.” She leapt from the pilot’s chair and ran to her. “Here, sit down. See if you can figure this out and I’ll find the first aid kit.”
Rosa smiled, “I’m not hurt, Ms. Lewis. You are.”
Gretchen blinked as something dripped into her eye. She touched her temple, wet and sticky with blood.
“I’ll get some ice.” Rosa disappeared into the darkened cabin.
Woozy, Gretchen closed her eyes and counted her breaths. She heard ice clattering into the bucket.
“Here we are.” Rosa closed the door. In her hand was the bucket, and a saw.
“What the fuck is that for?!” Gretchen tried to lunge for it but her body moved as if underwater. Rosa gently took Gretchen’s shoulders and pushed her back down into the chair.
“I’m afraid there’s no use saving it, Ms. Lewis.”
“Your head. Now, sit back. If you don’t struggle, this will be over quickly.”
An animalistic roar escaped Gretchen but she couldn’t move. In frozen horror she watched Rosa’s arm rhythmically push and pull the saw through her neck.
“It’s not as much fun when you’re the one being torn apart, is it? Though maybe that’s not fair, how could you know what it feels like to have your life taken from you piece by piece?” Rosa said, tugging.
Then she was above, looking at her slumped body. She swung back and forth, Rosa’s eyes following her.
“I was in that hospital. My lungs and my heart were failing but there were no ECMO machines to be had, and I ran out of time. You killed me, Ms. Lewis.” Rosa carried Gretchen by her hair, the walls rushing upward as her head landed in an ice bucket. A lid came down and then she saw nothing.
“Ladies and gentleman, we are moving on to item number eleven! The former head, pun absolutely intended folks, of RCH, Gretchen Evangeline Lewis. She’s sold as is, little dinged up but hell, this is hell! Everything’s a little dinged up! Now, let’s start the bidding!”
Back to VI | Back to the Graveyard | On to VIII