12. The Face of Authority

"She was lucky, really," Sergeant Collins was saying, working his lips with self-satisfied relish, as if moistening a cigar. "It could have been worse. It could have been ugly. There was a jogging group harassing some of them already by the time we arrived on the scene. Better to be arrested than get the shit kicked out of you, hey? Better to wake up in a holding cell than in the hospital, I always say. Or the morgue."

Drew listened despondently. Why did he still expect police officers, and judges and doctors—just because they dealt with matters of life and death, because they had been given such power over others' freedom and fate—why did he expect them to be superior to ordinary men, to possess more than the common share of wisdom, compassion, or integrity? When every time he met another police officer, lawyer, judge, doctor, or psychiatrist, he was disillusioned?

"So if," said Drew, "they were being harassed by this jogging group, then they weren't sleeping when you arrived."

"Yes, no, but they were sleeping in the park before the jogging group showed up. That's why they were being harassed, you understand: because it was assumed they were homeless. And most of them are, in fact, from what we've been able to establish, homeless. Most of the people your daughter was in the company of last night are known to us and to the Coalition. Most of them are known to be mentally—" He caught himself, and used the politically correct term: "Mentally abled. Paranoid schizoids for the most part. So you can understand the rationale. Young girl her age, sleeping out of doors in a dangerous part of town in the company of other young mentally abled and known homeless types ... The assumption is going to be that this girl has problems, this girl is not well."

"But surely just falling asleep, assuming she did fall asleep, in a public place, surely that isn't a crime. She isn't homeless. She lives with me while she's here in town and I understand she has an apartment in D.C. Presumably there are roommates you could have contacted who ..."

"No, you're right there, falling asleep somewhere isn't a criminal act per se. But being on the police desk, Mr. Dunkel, you must be aware that under the new laws being asleep in a public place is a class-four misdemeanor. What we call a red-flag misdemeanor. So-called because it's behavior that often goes along with other undesirable, antisocial, criminal activity."

"Such as being homeless."

Collins made a face of fatuous sympathy. "I admit, and this will have to be taken as strictly off the record, that the new laws may have caused some troubles for some who maybe don't deserve it. And I will admit further, and this I don't care if it's on the record or not, that enforcing some of these laws has been a cluster headache in a tropical storm of shitmeat from day one. But I will say this, too, as a red-blooded American: If the President declares a war on homelessness, if our President makes a pledge to clean up the streets, and if the resources are in place for those who are of a mind to take advantage of them and help themselves get themselves off that street, then it seems to me that anyone who doesn't take advantage of those resources, anyone who persists in sleeping in the proscribed public spaces, well, it seems to me that such people can only be one of two things, and that's either unpatriotic, or insane. Pardon me: mentally abled. Let's face it, a normal, healthy individual does not just 'fall asleep' in the park by accident, because the normal, healthy individual knows the dangers. For what it's worth, I think the jogging groups are misguided, and mistaken in their belief that these people are genuine evildoers—neo-fascists or Nazis or treasonists or what have you. I prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that these people are in need of psychiatric help. And that's not just me; that's the law. These class-four misdemeanors are automatically handed over to the Coalition, so they can make a psychological assessment. Happens with every case; your daughter's no exception. Which is why I say these are good laws, generous laws. They give the person the benefit of the doubt. God knows it'd be a lot easier for us to just clap them all in hoosegow. But I'm not that way—just do whatever's easiest, and never mind who you hurt. No. And I know police chief Anders isn't that way, and the President isn't that way, either."

All Collins's earnest talk about patriotism and the President had made Drew's eyes ache with incredulity and fatigue. The abyss between the two of them was too great to bridge, so why bother?

Because this was the man in control of Miranda's fate. This was the face of authority.

"What's this about being handed over to the EHC?"

"For a psychological assessment. Happens with every class-four. We've got no say in it. That's the law."

"When is this supposed to happen?"

"Happened already. This morning."

"Where is she now?"

"Still here. They've got a man, or maybe it's a woman this month come to think of it, they've got somebody comes down to do the assessments in-house."

"And what did they come up with?"

"Can't tell you. Because I don't know. That's their bailiwick. Nothing to do with our side. The class-four will go on her record, but as it's the first time, that's the end of the story as far as we're concerned. It'll come back to haunt her if something like this happens again, or if she's picked up for political activity, but otherwise ... As for what the End Homelessness boys or girls recommend, well, you'll have to talk to them about that." Anticipating, for once, a question, Collins added, "Room two fourteen." He gave Drew meticulous directions. "You should catch them if you hurry. She or he or they might still be talking to the other two."

"Hello, Drew."

"I was just about to call you," said Drew.

"And I was just about to call you," said Sheila, smiling with an optimist's noble effort. "Drew, this is Dr. James Thomas, and this is Dr. ... I'm sorry, Dr. Suzanne Thomas."

"No relation, as it happens," said the woman, with a laugh like a sneeze.

"Doctors, this is my ex-husband, Drew. Miranda's father," she added.

"Ah," said the woman meaningfully, standing to shake Drew's hand.

"Drew Dunkel," he said. "Pleased."

"Ah yes," said the man, reaching across the table without rising to grip Drew's hand. "I know the name," he said.

"Pleasure," said Drew.

When Drew had come into the room, the air of solemn purpose had been so palpable that he had felt embarrassed and unwelcome, but now as he settled himself at the table he felt included in the atmosphere of professionals at work. Dr. James Thomas, with his salt-and-pepper goatee, seemed a sturdy and no-nonsense fellow. Here at last was someone who would give straight answers, and who could be relied on in an emergency.

"Perhaps I could fill the father in?" suggested Dr. James Thomas with light irony. "To bring you up to speed, Mr. Dunkel, I'm afraid I may have to resort to bluntness."

Drew furrowed his chin manfully.

"What it boils down to, and I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but your daughter Miranda is not well."

"No," said Drew.

"To be more precise, it would seem at this stage very likely that she suffers from something that in the field of psychiatry we call shared schizophreniform phenomenon, delusional sub-type with paranoid ideation, but which for the sake of convenience we may as well refer to by its inexact popular name, that is, mass schizophrenia."

Drew stopped listening. His attention folded up. The white walls receded till he was inside a cloud or a vast parking garage. He repeated the ugly word, trying to make it mean something, trying to trigger understanding, or grief. But nothing came.

Well, that was it. So she was mad. Sheila had been right. But he too had known. He too had begun to entertain unkind suspicions, which had now been proved justified. He could not be blamed for his fears.

But these were petty, selfish thoughts, not equal to the gravity of the situation. He was betraying Miranda again.

He felt as if a thorn had been removed from his heart, and a cinderblock laid upon it.

He and Sheila were given forms to sign. He did not want to admit that he had not been paying attention, so he clutched the pen and signed his name determinedly, trusting to Dr. James Thomas's judgment. Drew understood that what they were doing was for the best, but that they did not have much choice anyway. Something had been said, he thought, about a month versus six months—the difference between a voluntary and involuntary stay. By agreeing to admit Miranda to the hospital, the institution, the asylum, they were in fact expediting her freedom.

They again shook hands, gravely. Drew nearly shook Sheila's hand too, but instead laid his hand on her shoulder. Then she was crying, her face pressed against his chest.

Out in the hallway, Drew lapsed into small talk. "So you work for the EHC, Dr. Thomas?"

"No. Wrong Dr. Thomas."

Dr. Suzanne Thomas had disappeared.

"I'm in private practice. I'm here today as a friend of a friend."

"Oh, Drew doesn't know Janice," Sheila warned him. "He doesn't know anyone. We've been split-up for ten years now." She looked at Drew fondly and morosely, as at an old dog that would soon have to be put down.

"What happens now?"

"Now, I assume, we wait for Dr. Thomas to return with Miranda."

"Will you come with us, James?" asked Sheila.

Thomas looked at his watch skeptically. "You should be fine from here on, I think."

"I'd feel much better if you were along. Or perhaps if you met us at the hospital ..."

"We don't need to take her right away, do we?" said Drew. "I mean, it doesn't have to be right this instant?"

"That's up to you," said the other Dr. Thomas, slowing slightly as she passed them to show that they should follow. "The release is good for forty-eight hours, but I wouldn't recommend using that time to throw any going-away parties. For one thing, you don't want to exaggerate the seriousness of the admission. Nor should you downplay it or attempt to deceive her. Be straight: it's just a month of structured psychiatric observation."

"What happens after forty-eight hours?" asked Drew.

"The voluntary admission window lapses and it becomes an involuntary admission."

"What if she doesn't want to go? I mean, what if there is no admission at all?"

"The police won't be knocking at your door with an arrest warrant and oversized butterfly nets, if that's what you mean," said Dr. Suzanne Thomas. "It just goes on her record—my diagnosis and recommendation and the fact that she left in your custody and did not admit herself. But that reminds me." She stopped abruptly. "These," she said, handing Sheila a blister pack of pills, "are something called a neuroleptic. If she starts to become recalcitrant or violent, give her one of these. Wait here."

"How are we supposed to give her one," Drew asked Dr. James Thomas, "if she's being recalcitrant and violent?"

"They'll dissolve on the tongue, though they don't take effect immediately, not even once they're in the bloodstream. To be safe, get her to take one as soon as possible."

"What are they?" said Sheila.

"Anti-psychotic medication."

"Oh God." She handed the packet to Drew, who tucked them inside his jacket pocket.

Thomas said, "It's not quite as garish as it sounds. It affects dopamine transmission in the brain. Basically they correct an imbalance of chemicals in your daughter's brain."

"And what do they do to someone who's not psychotic?" asked Drew quietly.

"Exactly nothing."

After a pause, Sheila asked, or rather stated, "And this really is the best thing for her."

"By a long chalk," said Thomas heartily. "To be frank, there are about twenty different anti-psychotics used these days, and it can take some time to find just the right one with the least side-effects. But they'll find the right one for your daughter, rest assured, and she'll be as good as new. Give it a few months; you'll see. Ah, here she is."

There she was. Aside from a yellowish bruise beginning to come out on one cheekbone, she looked the same as she had at the newspaper. The same sarcastic, aloof smile. The same baggy, boyish clothes. The same lock of black hair hanging down in her eyes.

Drew felt a stifling guilt.

"Oh, honey," crooned Sheila, "how are you feeling? We're so glad to see you."

"A little shook up but none the worse for wear," said Dr. Suzanne Thomas in a new warm and caring voice. With head cocked, she stared dreamily at Miranda, like a proud pet-owner. Turning to Sheila she said, in an evenly-spaced adult voice, "I've explained everything to her."

Drew said nothing, and did not meet Miranda's gaze.

"I should be off," said Dr. James Thomas. But first, to Drew's surprise, he stepped forward and introduced himself to Miranda. They shook hands. "I'm a friend of your mother's," he said.

"I thought you'd analyzed her," said Drew. "Assessed her."

"Wrong Dr. Thomas."

"James came with me," said Sheila through a smile.

"Now I really must be running. Good day, all. Drew, Sheila, pleasure. Here's my card. Now, should anything ... Don't hesitate. Dr. Thomas, adieu."

"Isn't he great?" said Sheila. "Janice recommended him very highly."

Sure he was great. But how could he know what was wrong with Miranda if he hadn't even met her?

Miranda said, "He's obviously a fucking twat."

Sheila and Dr. Suzanne Thomas smiled at her sadly but supportively.