Drinker Class X
Bitten on the job, Laurence is left to readjust to living as one of the drinkers he has always hunted. In order to be declared a stable citizen—and get back to work—he must attend a series of court-mandated sessions with a psychiatrist specializing in newly-turned drinkers.
The worst part of being a drinker, besides adjusting to life without sunlight, is that it's mostly doctors and red tape and tedium—right up until it isn't.
The office building put Laurence in mind of a private detective. Its dimly light hallway smelled dusty and stale, as though no air ever made it into the narrow space. If he hadn’t been looking for it specifically, Laurence probably would have walked right by the barely-marked door, dismissing it as nothing of note. The door had a crystal doorknob and a frosted glass panel etched with ‘Dr. Ira Ashdown.’ There was a light on inside the office, so the late appointment time wasn’t a mistake.
Laurence snorted. Of course it wasn’t a mistake. It wasn’t as though he could attend an appointment during the day. Still, he hesitated, debating whether to knock or let himself in. He would much rather have gone home and moped some more, but he didn’t have a choice. He knew very well what happened if he tried to skip the court-mandated appointments, and that was much worse than facing whatever lay behind the door. Besides, Laurence reasoned, he’d worked with the department’s shrink before. This couldn’t be too much different.
Twisting the crystal knob, Laurence opened the door and stepped inside. The foyer was much more tastefully decorated than he’d assumed it would be, given the less-than-impressive hallway. What little light there was came from large, glass-fronted lanterns placed strategically throughout the room. The walls were an unobtrusive beige that faded into dark wood bolsters at the top and bottom of the room, and the furniture was as inoffensive as the walls.
To the left, a young woman sat at a small desk. Her hair fell past her shoulders in a wave of cascading curls, and her lips and nails were painted bright red that stood out in the otherwise unobtrusive office. She wore a gold and black corset and black lace, fingerless gloves. Her choices of color made her skin seem almost luminescent in its paleness, and Laurence stayed where he was when her dark brown eyes focused on him unerringly.
Behind her, he noted, was a thick, wood-paneled door. Laurence bet that was where the doctor was hiding.
“Laurence Wickes?” she asked, picking through her piles of paper with her long nails even as she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” Laurence said, approaching the desk slowly, as though putting it off would make it easier.
“Fill out these forms and bring them back up when you’re done,” she said briskly. There was no name plate on her desk, Laurence notice as he took the clipboard and pen she handed him. Between that and her frosty demeanor, he doubted she’d invite any small talk. That didn’t particularly comfort him, but wasn’t it better if these appointments were routine?
Retreating to the corner, Laurence mechanically filled out the standard medical information forms. There were a few more pages than he was used to, but that was hardly a surprise given his new medical status. Scowling, Laurence filled out those pages out as quickly as he could, then shuffled them to the back. It wasn’t a mature reaction, but Laurence figured he deserved a few moments of immaturity.
Finishing the last of the sheets, Laurence brought it all back to the secretary. She took them, unhooking the pages and flipping through them quickly. After sliding them into a folder, she said, “I’ll let Dr. Ashdown know you’re here.”
Laurence took that as his cue to return to his seat. He sat down as the secretary slipped into the actual office, giving Laurence a glimpse of the shadows of another dark room. Was the doctor too cheap to buy electricity? Laurence slid down in his seat, running a hand through his hair and reminding himself for the hundredth time that it was just four one-hour sessions. Four mandated sessions. He could and was required to handle four sessions with a stuffy shrink trying to get him to talk about his feelings.
The secretary reappeared and Laurence watched her settle back at her desk. The shrink didn’t seem to have another patient in, so unless he got off on making his patients wait—which he might, because doctors could be assholes—then Laurence should be in pretty quickly.
Why he couldn’t go to the department’s psychologist was beyond Laurence. He knew Dr. Bornholdt. She was sick to death of dealing with his department, so it was usually pretty easy to get her to assure her that he was fine, not traumatized by his job, and that he was ready to return to active duty. Given Laurence’s luck of late, he was going to get stuck with some stuffy old man who would insist on going over every iota of how Laurence felt about everything before he would maybe sign off on Laurence returning to duty.
Stifling a sigh, Laurence glanced at the bookcase nearest him, wondering if he was allowed to read any of the books on display or if he was supposed to sit there quietly and await his doom. Before he had time to do more than contemplate a few titles, the door to the inner office opened, revealing Dr. Ira Ashdown.
He was much younger than Laurence had anticipated, closer in age to Laurence than to Laurence’s father. He was also much prettier than Laurence had expected, with soft-looking dark hair that fell over his eyes, a pair of thin-rimmed spectacles perched on his nose, and a delicate-looking face that made him look even younger than Laurence had initially thought. He wore a deep blue vest over a white shirt, with a slightly darker blue neck cloth tied neatly at his throat. His jacket was impeccably tailored, showcasing his slender build.
“Mr. Wickes?” he asked, and if he’d caught Laurence gawking, it didn’t show on his face. Laurence stood, abruptly reminded that he wasn’t there to ogle the shrink. Ashdown stepped back, holding the door open to let Laurence through. Laurence walked past him into the office, noting that Ashdown smelled faintly sweet—not unusual, as everyone had smelled faintly sweet ever since the attack.