Star City, Gardner’s Grove High, Mid-Morning
The address that Ted gave her for his contact was for Gardner’s Grove high, a school located in the Glade’s that had survived the earthquakes and riots that rocked the area virtually – miraculously really – unscathed, and so had been converted into a refugee centre for those left destitute and homeless by the chaos.
She walked in the front gates and made her way towards the largest building on the complex, which she figured for the gymnasium. She wasn’t exactly sure where she was going to find Ted’s friend, a retired doctor by the name of Charles McNider, but according to Ted he was the de facto head of the centre, so the smart money said he’d be somewhere near the hub of the action, where he could best keep an eye on those under his care.
Children were playing outside in the school’s yard, chasing a battered soccer ball with the kind of wild abandon that only the young can achieve. Contrary to the energy that fueled their play, their laughter was quiet, subdued like they were afraid if they got too loud somebody would take the ball away. Their clothes were dirty, their faces pinched and cheeks hollow. Her eyes stung just looking at them. How could the rest of the city just turn its back on these kids? They ignored them, hoping the problem would go away on its own. Most of the city had already written the Glades and its people off, an attitude fostered by Star’s very own mayor, Malcolm Merlyn. Dinah picked up her pace and entered the school.
The gym was stuffed to bursting with bodies. And yes, bodies did seem the right term for the drawn out, lifeless, worn out creatures currently inhabiting the school. The men and women in the room couldn't seem more withdrawn from the children outside if they had tried. Whether they slumped upon the fold out cots that lined every inch of the court floors, or shambled aimlessly from one corner of the room to another, the people here all shared one thing in common; they’d given up. Too much had been taken from them, and too quickly, until without quite realising it they had nothing left. Sure, they had their lives, and their families, but people take those kinds of things for granted all the time. Why would crisis make that any different?
The only people acting with any kind of certainty was the medical staff and aid workers, and they seemed hopelessly outnumbered by those they were trying to help. Most of them were young, college aged kids – she thought of them as kids because of their fresh faces and earnest expressions, though they must have been around her age – though there were a few older faces sprinkled in too. One such woman, a thirty something dusky skinned brunette, seemed to be in charge. Dinah made her way over and grabbed her attention.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for doctor McNider. A friend of his sent me here.” The woman looked her up and down quickly before turning her attention to a clipboard that a teenaged boy showed her.
“If you’re here to help,” She answered without looking in Dinah’s direction, “I’ve got plenty of jobs you could do, all without bothering the doctor.”
“Just tell me where the doctor is lady.” She tried to keep the heat out of her reply, and very nearly succeeded. The woman studied her once more, far more critically this time.
“You’re not going to leave until you get what you want, are you?” She asked, obviously annoyed, but maybe a little amusement mingled in the mix there too.
“I don’t usually.” Dinah replied. The other woman shook her head, but then turned on her heel and gestured for Dinah to follow. She led her out of the gymnasium, down some twisting corridors, to the headmasters office door. A light tap upon the frame earned a faint call to enter. The older woman opened the door, stepping aside to allow Dinah entry.
“A visitor for you doctor McNider.”
“Thank you, nurse Temple. Please, don’t let us keep you.”
The old man within pushed himself up from behind his desk, sprightly for his age and made all the more impressive by the pair of blacked out spectacles he wore. Dinah cursed softly. Ted hadn’t mentioned his friend was blind. His thick, curly hair was considerably more grey than blonde, his face careworn and tired, but there was a definite spark to the old man, an essence of youth that his years hadn’t managed to blow out yet.
“It’s good to meet you doctor McNider. Ted’s told me a lot about you.” He hadn’t, but she wasn’t sure what else to say. The doctor’s sightless eyes swung in her direction.
“Charles will be fine.” His voice was incredibly deep, and warm like fresh summer honey. “And you must be Dinah. Don’t look so surprised young lady, Ted’s told me a lot about you. I’ve been expecting your arrival all day.” There was a playful lilt to his voice, giving Dinah the distinct impression that he knew more than she was comfortable with him knowing. The old man held his hand out towards her. She was surprised by how firm his handshake was.
“Not everything, I hope.” She replied, an edge to her voice. The retired doctor smiled ruefully and shook his head.
“Just everything prudent to your being here, young lady.” Dinah blanched, taking an involuntary step back, her knuckles clenched tight. Ted, that bastard. He had no right telling her secrets. She had no idea who this doctor was, or whether he could be trusted or not. For all she knew he could have blabbed in the wrong ears already. He certainly seemed to enjoy the sound of his own voice. Her eyes flickered towards the exit. She had to get out of here. She was just about to make for the door when McNider, somehow sensing her distress, held up a placating hand.
“Please understand, I am very passionate in the defence of this building, and of its residents. The people out there have suffered much. I would not willingly heap any more horrors upon them, nor court the prospect of disturbing what little stability this facility supplies, not without tremendous good cause.” As he spoke he shuffled slowly, awkwardly almost, to the chair behind his desk. After settling himself into its plush yet worn depths he released an almost contented sigh and waved her towards one of the chairs opposite. She refused it, still not sure if she would need to make a quick exit from here or not.
“Now Ted Grant, as good a man as he is, is not in the habit of sending me volunteers. Not because he isn’t a charitable man – for he is and has proved that fact time and time again throughout his long life, giving of himself to others – but because the type of young men and women he fraternises with are invariable fighters training under his purview. As I am sure you are aware he has long held the position that a fighter’s warrior edge should dull if said warrior is to be confronted by the kind of hapless human degradation and misery on show within these doors. After all, it can be difficult to maintain the desire to physically assault your fellow man when you have witnessed the depths to which he can fall. Only a true monster would wish to inflict pain on others after witnessing suffering at its purest, basest level.”
Without quite making the decision herself, Dinah sat. There was something about the doctor’s rich baritone that was putting her at ease despite her reservations. She was still ready to book it if she had to, but she was at least willing to hear the old man out first.
“So, you must understand that when I received the call from Ted saying that he knew a young woman who wished to volunteer with my staff, who wanted to ease the Glade’s suffering, well I knew it was out of the norm somewhat and expressed my reservations. After some spirited debate I convinced Ted to trust me with your true purposes here. He told me about your mother and your father, about your upbringing and time away from our fair city, and finally he got to what you consider ‘your purpose’
, and how you have been spending your nights of late.”
A sharp intake of breath whistled between Dinah’s teeth. That punch-drunk old idiot had actually done it. He’d actually told this bizarre, blind doctor her secret. Who knew who else knew because she had been stupid enough to trust bigmouthed Ted Grant. She rose to leave, but McNider kept on speaking as if she hadn’t moved. Sure, now he was acting like a blind man
“I owe Ted Grant my life. Ten times over, in fact. I would never willingly do anything to endanger the trust he has placed in me. Be safe in the knowledge that because of the faith he has placed in me I now consider your secrets as sacrosanct as my own.” He leant backwards in his chair, long fingers steepled across his lap, blind eyes watching her with all the intensity of a hunting owl.
Through gritted teeth she managed to force a response. “A long-winded way, doctor
, of telling me to trust you because I have to.” McNider’s caterpillar like eyebrows jumped up his forehead. Silence reigned supreme in the small office space. Dinah was on the verge of leaving once more when the blind man began to laugh. Rich, sonorous, peals of laughter that reverberated around the room, and bounced from Dinah’s stony visage. For a moment she seriously considered throat punching a blind retired-doctor. His laughter petered out soon after, but his mirth lived on in the craggy lines of his grinning face.
“Forgive me, my dear,” he chortled, “It’s just that for a moment there it was like looking into the past and seeing a younger Ted. He was always something of a ‘straight-shooter’
“But better looking, I hope.” She replied before realising who she was speaking to. Ask a blind man if he thinks you’re pretty. Your banter is off the hook, Lance.
To his credit McNider breezed past the comment with an easy smile and nod. Off-guard once more, though slightly less on edge after the laughter, she thought to regain some control, and maybe learn about more about Ted’s guarded past.
“So how does a retired doctor and a former heavyweight champ know each other? Did you stitch him up or something?”
“Yes, I suppose I did, but that wasn’t how I met the Wildcat.” He put a definitive emphasis on Ted’s old ring name, like it had some hidden meaning to him. “We belonged to an exclusive club, Ted and I. A Society of sorts, you would have called it.”
“A society –” She began to question, but the doctor cut her off. He seemed as fond of his secrets as Ted did his. A shame they both seemed so set on sharing hers, then.
“Now I don’t expect you to trust me simply because Ted does. Instead all I ask is the opportunity to earn said trust.”
Dinah spread her palms across the edge of the doctor’s desk and leaned forwards. “And how are you proposing to do that?”
“By supplying you with information and aid.” He replied. Dinah’s brows narrowed. What information could a blind doctor possibly give her that would be relevant to her situation
? Thankfully the old man didn’t miss the chance to flap his gums some more and provide an answer.
“This facility has been beset upon at all sides by the kind of unscrupulous men and women who you have chosen to … make your prey,” She wasn’t sure she liked the way he worded that, but she didn’t interrupt. “The people here are already pushed to the edge of human endurance without those devils leading them astray, or taking advantage of their misfortunes. The vertigo peddlers are a particular and consistent nuisance. That filthy drug promises a bliss that it delivers with frightful alacrity, only to demand a terrible price in return. Its dealers are similar in that regard.”
“We, that is the staff here and I, have tried to chase them away, but to no avail. It seems pointless to speak it aloud, but the rapscallions just aren’t afraid of the repercussions that defying an old blind man, a young nurse, and several medical students can bring.” The old man smiled again, but this one seemed forced and tired, an edge of bitterness at the spiderweb lines around his eyes. For a moment it seemed like he had checked out of the conversation, as if he had found something more interesting in his memories to capture his attention. Dinah decided to fill in the blanks herself.
“So, this is where I come in, right? Give the pushers the push off? Something like that?”
He started gently, as if just now realising where he was. “Yes, exactly like that.”
“Good.” She replied simply. Savagely. This, she could work with.
“Tell me where I can find them, and they won’t bother you, or your people again.”