Marvin Murphy circulated around the recreation room greeting retirees unfortunate enough to be residents. It was not that the high-level care section of the residential retirement complex was poorly supervised, but his heart went out to those who’d found their way there now unable to care for their own basic needs and as manager he wanted to see their comforts were met. He often speculated about their backgrounds as he greeted each in their chairs. He knew much of their history as even those whose minds wandered seemed to have clear memories of their productive years and would pour it out to whoever happened to be in proximity. Some of them had held positions of high honour and trust but were now unable to fend for themselves and even if they were technically rich their families were unqualified to deal with the range of health issues plaguing them. As services offered here were geared to the rich facilities were upmarket and expensive, and a constant round of activities was available to those who were not in the last stages of acute care. Fees were high and the rich who visited their relatives there were quite demanding. His training in health management dealing with both patients and relatives had been extensive.
Marvin felt a sense of accomplishment as he made inspections and being of an empathetic nature it was natural he’d gravitated to this as a career. Considering his background, he’d come a long way up in the world. He’d graduated as a nurse and gone on to further education in psychology and aged care management. It had been a hard slog for many years as he’d studied and worked to support himself. All these studies had improved his self-worth as his childhood had been horrendous. He shuddered every time he thought of those childhood years.
His mother had inherited a cycle he’d rejected and risen above. He remembered the drinking parties and a succession of men in the house as he grew. Memories of physical abuse his mother had suffered still horrified him and even he often hadn’t been quick enough to get out of the way of the constant fights. He remembered those times when police had intervened, and a new father would appear sometimes with children in tow. He remembered sisters and brothers appearing from those unions but as they grew they’d take to the streets rather than suffer physical abuse in the home. He had no idea where any of them were now or their birth surnames but had a clear mental image of each though their time together had been brief. His relationship with his birth mother was a love-hate relationship. He felt kinship and was protective but blamed her for the abuse he suffered from frequent changing fathers.
He remembered that good fortune moment when he was able to break free from his environment. On one of police visits a woman policewoman Officer Murphy had drawn him aside to question him. She’d been to the house before with her back up partner and he’d answered her questions in a matter of fact detached way. He sensed her sympathy, and she sensed his desire for a better life. On a memorable day she took him by police car to the station and stood by as a child psychologist drew out of him his hopes and fears. At the end of those exhausting hours of interview Officer Murphy sat down next to him and asked him a question. “How would you like to leave your home and come and live with me if that can be arranged?”
Marvin remembered shrugging. He was tired. Tired of the interview, tired of the constant round of horrors in his dysfunctional home, tired of his life. He nodded hopefully not expecting that would be possible. The woman took him back to his home and spent some time with his mother emerging with a signed statement at the end of the interview. She put her hand on his shoulder. “I’m coming back tomorrow afternoon after talking with someone at court. If you have anything here you want to take with you have it packed and ready to go because you’re leaving this place. Your mother has signed a document releasing you to the court.”
He flinched as he remembered the terror of that moment. He was still too young to understand why the word court was a frightening word. He’d thought of moving out onto the streets as his other stepbrothers and sisters had but brushed that out of his head as even he knew that was the pathway to ruin. He had an inner trust in this woman even though she was a member of the feared police force.
Next afternoon Officer Murphy arrived as promised and loaded him into her car. On the way she spoke to him. “The court has permitted you to move in with my husband and me and we will see how you like that before they decide on the next step. You need not be frightened of my husband because he’s not like the men you know who lived with your mother. He’s a cop like me and he likes children. We have a boy and a girl in our home, and we will treat you just like them. We have rules in our home though and we hope you honour those rules because that’s the only condition in your living with us. Will you be happy to live with us under those conditions?” Marvin nodded and the woman smiled patting him on the head. “We are going to get along fine as a family then.
Marvin had been on alert for weeks after moving in with his new family and watched his foster parents Pat and Maria Murphy carefully. He’d been cleaned up and new clothes provided. He was given chores to do along with the rest of his siblings and praised when he completed tasks. He was enrolled in a good school and helped with his catching up work in the evenings by this new family. After some time, he relaxed as he realized there was nothing to fear and his good fortune was here to stay. He felt fully accepted and eventually was adopted and given his new surname Murphy. The family was not rich, but they provided for him well and encouraged him to develop a good work ethic and plan for his future. Later as he chose his career they helped financially to the limit of their means but encouraged him to work to help support himself as he studied. He was grateful to this woman for rescuing him and fiercely loyal to the family.
As he circulated through the recreation room before setting up for the next event he noticed a young woman paying a lot of attention to one of the old women residents Ruth Goldstein. Must be one of her relatives he though as he moved to the front to commence the program for residents attending. Then the face of that young lady with Ruth Goldstein matched with one stored in his subconscious. He spun around for another look.
Steph! It had to be her. He hadn’t seen her since they were children and she moved out to the streets to live. She must have been as fortunate as he as she was dressed smartly and looked well off. He turned and headed for her.
“Stephanie good to see you again,” he called as he drew near to her.
The woman turned and smiled. “I think you have the wrong person my name is Grace Willis. Are you in charge here?” She looked him over appreciatively as he was quite handsome and well-built. Then a look of fear came over her and she looked around the room quickly to see if there was any threatening presence around. “Marvin?”
Alarm bells sounded in Marvin’s head as he saw her reaction, but he kept it under control and smiled. “You are Steph after all, what’s with this Grace Willis business did you get married to someone called Willis and why did you change your name?”
“It’s a long story and I really have to go. Maybe our paths will cross sometime in the future and we can catch up. You look like you’ve done very well Marvin.” She forced a smile and turned to go.
Marvin caught the attention of his assistant. “Take over today as I have some urgent business to attend to.”
He hastened after Steph who was hurrying out of the recreation room and caught her by the arm. “OK this is the time to catch up Steph. Come with me to the cafeteria and I’ll buy you a snack while we talk.” He could feel her body shaking as he steered her to the cafeteria. He sat her away from the door as he noted the fear in her eyes and realized she was looking for an opportunity to make a run for it.
“OK the truth now Steph. What are you doing here I’m sensing you don’t know that lady you were in conversation with, what’s her name Steph and why are you here?”
“Marvin give me a break please. You have no idea the danger you’re putting me in as everything I do will be observed. Just let me go and I promise I won’t come back here again. You know what our childhood was like so you should know what kind of people are out there and can do both of us harm.”
“I was adopted by cops Steph, so I feel fairly safe but obviously you’re in trouble. Tell me about it!”
The mention of police had Steph traumatized as she tried to drink her soda with shaking hands. “Marvin I’m begging you for the sake of our childhood together please let me go. I won’t be seen here again, and I don’t want to be seen with you by some of your staff. I had no idea you were in charge here it could get me killed if the wrong person sees us talking together.”
Now the alarm bells were ringing louder in Marvin’s head. What was Steph talking about and how did it affect the staff in this retirement complex owned by a health corporation. Staff were screened carefully by professionals at head office before being employed considering the wealth of families associated with residents in their different owned resorts.
“I’m not letting you go until you tell me what’s going on Steph. I have this device in my pocket which can lockdown this complex with just one press of my finger. The lives of these people are in my hands and I take it seriously. So, you tell me what I want to know, and I’ll consider letting you go.” He removed the device and put it on the table with his finger hovering over controls. Steph made a lunge for it, but Marvin hastily retrieved it and held it above his head with his finger poised. Steph sank back into her chair in despair.
“You are cruel Marvin. You’ve probably sealed my death warrant and I hope you never forget what you’ve done when you hear about what happened to me after this.”
She composed herself. “Maybe I can make a run for it and make a start somewhere else. but I’ll need to exit this building unobserved and I need money to start over somewhere else.
“Well I’m open to that Steph once you prove to me you’re not bluffing and convince me your life is in danger.”
She sighed. “I’m owned by a syndicate. They pay well and I have fancy lodgings and lots of nice clothes. They’ve put me through extensive training in my trade in order to enjoy all these things but if these people are crossed double crossers end up being found with a bullet in their head. One of the syndicate members is waiting outside for my report now.”
“If you want out I can see that happens and see you get a start somewhere else but what exactly is your work and how does it affect our building here?”
“You really are an innocent aren’t you Marvin. Rich people in this environment are a potential source of income for the syndicate. My job is to cultivate potential marks. The syndicate does careful background checks to evaluate if money can be extracted from them if they’re not carefully enough protected financially by their families. I find out about their life and family and befriend them. At least one of your staff is in on the game and gives information on potential marks to try and extract money from to my knowledge. You may think they are well protected. but you’d be surprised at how much money can be extracted over time. The syndicate just decided to try out this retirement complex. After they’ve extracting from different places they feel it wise to retreat and home in on another business before the administration wises up and the cops are bought in. Some like me end up doing jail time as sacrificial lambs when the cops get involved but we are well cared for when we get out. So, there you have it. Now, can you get me money and sneak me out before our guy on your staff sees me with you and alerts the guys outside?”
“Give me the name of the syndicate guy on our staff Steph and then we talk about that.”
Steph sighed. “You really must hate me Marvin. They would hunt me all over the country if I did that.”
She turned and looked hopefully toward the door and possible escape while Marvin watched her carefully with finger poised on the button.. Then a look of fear clouded her face momentarily and she averted her eyes before controlling herself. “Just let me go!” She whispered. “Your life could be in danger if you don’t”
To be continued.
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