Helen arrived at work happy: she liked to be among bedpans, stethoscopes, and a full ward of patients—the groaning of the sick and injured buoyed her steps. She updated herself by reading patient charts, but it wasn’t until the fourth one that she found her first victim—one of many during her shift. The patient, Brian Smith, muddy from his afternoon playing rugby, had come in with torn ligaments. While he waited for surgery, his next round of painkillers was due. Helen noticed he was allergic to codeine. Easy peasy. A serene smile played on her chubby face as she went to get him the wrong medication.
Helen didn’t know why, but she enjoyed watching others suffer, more so if she had caused the suffering. It may have been her childhood, although she didn’t want to give her parents all the credit—being beaten and starved could only cause so much damage, and she had survived, hadn’t she? She had known torturing Fluffy, their first kitten, was wrong and managed to hide the damage until one day the kitten disappeared. Maybe being sadistic was genetic, like hair and eye colour. Now her patients were her pets.
Helen handed Brian some pills. “I’ll be back to check on you later.” She patted his damaged leg through the sheets.
He grimaced. “Fuck,” he muttered through clenched teeth.
“I’m so sorry, Brian, how stupid of me.” She bit her tongue to keep the grin from her face. There were no other opportunities to amuse her for now so she retreated to her desk until the frantic buzz from bed 15.
She ran, in feigned concern, to Brian’s bedside. His face was the faded green of pea soup, lips pursed, cheeks puffed out. She deftly grabbed a vomit bag from the bedside table, positioning it under his chin. When he finished he thought how nice she was to hold the bag for him.
Helen didn’t record any of his three vomiting episodes. She explained to him that a couple of the other patients had reacted badly to their chicken dinners too. He was grateful when she promised to make sure he only got sandwiches from now on. She hummed as she left the room.
In her ten years of nursing, she had never been caught. She had been at St Margaret’s for three years and her colleagues hadn’t noticed her patients had more reactions to drugs or slower recovery times than others. If she sensed suspicion she moved to another city, simple. She was careful not to kill anyone, although there was that unfortunate incident of Francene, an old lady, who had died shortly after returning home. Helen had been lucky that no one checked the medication Francene had been sent home with. She had only meant to give the woman stomach cramps, not internal bleeding—oh well.
Helen was bored and there was still an hour of night shift left; making someone vomit only went so far in making her happy. She sat quietly, filling in paperwork, inhaling deeply now and then, filling herself with the scents she so loved—the bleach and disinfectant.
“Nurse Bender,” Helen looked up and saw Doctor Brent, a young doctor who still thought he could make a difference; she snorted to herself.
“Yes, Doctor Brent.”
“Just wanted to let you know we’re moving the patient in bed 12 to another ward. We have a young woman who’s been transferred from Mater West. She’s traumatised and I’d like you to take extra care with her.”
“Yes Doctor. What’s she in for?”
“Unusual case. She was kidnapped and tortured but managed to escape. She has small burns and knife cuts, a few contusions. We also need to do an examination, in case she was raped. Nothing life-threatening, but we may have to sedate her. The police will probably want to speak to her so don’t medicate her too much.”
“Certainly Doctor.” A small gift before she went home. Hmm maybe she would get another fix tonight after all. She chewed on her pen while she imagined what delights awaited her.
It was a few minutes before Helen met her next pet. Elizabeth was sitting, too nervous to lie down, her long hair knotted and matted with blood on one side, the other had been hacked off to her scalp. Helen thought it looked like a before and after picture, although quite unlike those cheesy makeover shows: left side—before psychopath, right side—after. Helen read her chart then held it to her chest as she spoke, “Hello Elizabeth, my name’s Helen. I’ll be your nurse for the next little while. Do you mind if I call you Lizzie?” She loved to earn her pet’s trust—it made the agony she inflicted that much sweeter.
“Um, no, that’s what my friends call me.” Elizabeth started to cry, wondering how could she have been so stupid as to leave her car unlocked when she went to the shop.
“It’s okay Lizzie, we’ll look after you. I’m going to take your blood pressure and pulse. Just relax.” Helen made sure to pump up the cuff around her arm too tight, not stopping until Lizzie winced. She let the pressure out slowly and recorded the numbers on her chart. “Good, it all looks fine. I’ll get you something to take the edge off, ok?”
Elizabeth nodded, feeling helpless all over again. She just wanted to forget the last twenty-four hours, go home, maybe buy a gun on the way, just to be safe.
Helen returned with a small pill, just enough to relax the girl, not enough to put her to sleep; she wanted her to talk. Helen wanted to know what had happened, how Elizabeth had been hurt. It would be entertaining and would make the girl relive her devastating ordeal—perfect. Helen pulled the curtains around the bed and left Elizabeth more alone and vulnerable than before, returning when she knew the drug would be thrumming through her veins.
Helen let the curtain fall behind her when she came back—she wanted privacy. The pill had stroked her pet’s jitters away and Elizabeth was slumped in an almost-seated position, decimated hair highlighted against the soft pillow. Helen took one arm and started dressing the small burns. “This may hurt a little but we have to make sure you don’t get an infection.” Helen touched the red sore with a gloved finger and felt a warmth flood her when the girl moaned, trying to pull her arm away. “Sorry. Did he do this with a cigarette?”
Elizabeth nodded, teeth grimly clenched, when is he going to stop hurting me.
“What else did he do?” Helen kept watching Elizabeth’s arm, knowing the girl’s scars would be an eternal reminder. She briefly fantasised about inflicting them herself. Helen could almost hear the sizzle and smell the burning flesh.
“I don’t want to talk about it. Where are my parents? Why aren’t they here yet?”
“Oh, Lizzie, it’s alright. They’ll be here soon. We won’t be too much longer, I promise.” This time Helen placed a hand on Elizabeth’s shoulder and the girl cried out. Helen pulled down the hospital gown to reveal a puffy, green bruise in the shape of a large handprint, and she wished she had been there to watch, maybe even participate. She wanted to meet the person responsible—the things they could discuss over coffee.
Helen replaced the gown, her forbidden thoughts thrilling. She knew what the hospital would do if they ever found out, but they wouldn’t. It was like having an affair, an affair with degradation and human suffering. Helen was applying the fourth dressing, “It’s ok angel, almost finished.”
Elizabeth snatched her arm away, her eyes wide, pupils dilated.
Helen wondered what she had said to get such a satisfactory reaction. “What is it?”
“He called me angel. I remember, oh God I remember. He said it over and over, ‘I can’t believe I’ve found an angel. You’re my angel’. He told me he would cut my heart out.” Elizabeth had pulled her knees to her chest, rocking back and forth in time to her memory.
Helen tilted her head to one side, looking into Elizabeth’s eyes. “I’m sorry to have to ask you this, but did he rape you? We’re going to have to do a rape kit to make sure.”
Elizabeth nodded, then shook her head, not wanting to think. She felt dizzy and shut her eyes.
“Ok, I’m going to have to get you to lie down. I’ll be back in a minute. You should be safe enough.”
Elizabeth opened her eyes, “Please, please don’t go. What if he comes here and finds me? Please?”
“Don’t worry angel, we have fairly good security, most of the time.” Helen smiled. “Is there anything else you want to tell me about what happened?”
The girl shook her head again and buried her face in her knees.
This was good, but not great. Helen despaired of getting anything else out of the patient, before dark boots appeared under the curtain. She recognised the boots. She ignored the thought that she may get caught—how could they know? She hadn’t done anything to this girl, yet—then she remembered the police needed to interview her patient.
“Excuse me, it’s the police, can we speak to Elizabeth please?”
Helen wasn’t stupid. She opened the curtains, leaving them to it. Her shift was over.
As Helen neared home, she couldn’t ignore the red, gas warning light in her Chevrolet Metro any longer, and pulled into the next gas station. She was replaying the night over, as she usually did, happily relishing the thought of what tortures Elizabeth may have endured. Maybe she should try kidnapping someone too, but then again there would be a likelihood of getting caught. She knew she wasn’t as bad as the guy that took Elizabeth. She didn’t want to kill anyone, not yet anyway. Gee, petrol was expensive. she may have to take extra shifts to keep up with everything; life wasn’t cheap.
Helen drove away, munching on a chocolate bar—the night’s activity had made her hungry. She laughed as she thought about the rugby player she made throw up.
“What’s so funny?”
The hairs on her arm stood up. She swerved, although managed to stay in her lane. A voice spoke to her from the back of the car, “Just stay calm and keep driving.”
She felt the coldness of a knife on her throat and wondered that she hadn’t smelt the cigarette smoke before. She stopped laughing, feeling scared—something she wasn’t familiar with.
“Who are you? What do you want? If it’s money I’ll give you what I have, just let me pull over. You can even have the car. Please?” Her pleas made her feel disgusted. She felt like one of her pathetic victims. She suddenly wanted to pee. He pressed harder with the knife; she stayed quiet. Helen recalled Elizabeth’s words when he next spoke, but this time it wasn’t amusement she felt.
His voice was raspy, joyful, “It’s not your money I want. I’m looking for an angel. It seems I’ve found another angel. You’ll be my angel won’t you?”