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Under the Effect
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#1
The patient

A dirt-blond, sun-tanned girl in her early twenties was sitting in the crowed waiting room of the E.R.; her expression was blank, in a way that stood out at a first sight. Together with her was a young man - dark hair, a colorful T-shirt, a dusty rucksack on one shoulder; visibly worried about her conditions, and taking good care she didn't slip from her seat. He'd been the one giving out her data - Sarah Williams, her documents said - and now was pacing nervously, eyeing to the inner door every two seconds or so. The girl, on the other hand, seemed blissfully oblivious of her surrounding, and of her condition as well.
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#2
Sheriff Carter may have been in uniform, but it was chance that put her in the hospital this morning at the same time as the ragged girl. Chance, or, more properly, visiting hours.

Dad, I swear to God if you don't listen to your doctors this time...

Kevin Carter was not big on listening to doctors. Three nights ago she'd made a frantic flight to the hospital with him while he'd gasped in her front seat. The heart attack had been huge, scary, and had required a triple bypass. Now he was in recovery, joking about having a big old cheeseburger like it had been nothing. She hoped he was joking.

Retirement has not been good for him. He'd put on 40 pounds...not hard in a family that trended towards putting on weight to begin with. He hunted sometimes, but mostly he sat around and watched football. He'd been ready to pass the torch when he'd taken his pension and left, but he needed something else to do with his time, something that kept him active. Or someone. Maybe there was some hot 65-year-old who could change his world for the better. Justine was about ready to play matchmaker if it got him someone who would feed him salads and get him moving on the regular. Or at least got him up out of that damned chair.

Sarah Williams, she heard, a name that sort of floated in and out of her consciousness, prompting her to glance into the waiting room as she passed. She took in the scene...blank-faced girl, rucksack kid. 

The girl did stand out, and her mind instantly switched gears. Off her father, onto this child. Nearly two decades in law enforcement had her instincts screaming.  A theory formed. The girl was probably a user. The guy probably knew she was using. And even though the young lady wasn't drowning on her own vomit or even unconscious, something had spooked him enough to bring her to the ER.

Or she was suffering from some sort of a mental health breakdown. She supposed that was possible too. Even so, she couldn't stop herself from drawing near, asking a few questions, checking this out. It was what she did. She kept tabs on her town, she kept it safe, and that meant she poked her nose in when she saw a strange scene she didn't like the looks of. 

She was glad she'd come over from work, rather than changing into her street clothes.

She drew close, planting herself in front of the young man. 

"I'm Sheriff Carter. You look like you're having a rough day. What's wrong with Miss Williams here?" She pitched her voice deliberately, trying to ensure it was as non-threatening and as non-accusatory as possible. She even pushed up her thick, coke-bottle glasses with one finger and shot the man a sympathetic smile. 

For all that she'd had no children, the squad joked that she looked-- and maybe even acted-- like Town Mom, and it was something she used to her advantage more often than not. People tended to underestimate her, and that was fine by her.
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#3
The two

The girl - Sarah - didn't seem impressed by her title; nor by anything belonging to reality, for what mattered. "The tiger - her stripes aren't right". Her voice surprisingly clear; her words, in a way, a direct answer to the Sheriff's question. "I don't know what happened to her!". Her mate was visibly alarmed, on the other hand. Worried about the girl's health? About his own safety? One could not tell. "It... it was all of a sudden... we were in the maze". He glanced around, then again to his interlocutor. Anxious, but obviously sober.
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#4
That the girl was on a bad trip was obvious. 

Shubnam, Carter thought grimly. Or just straight acid, but it was Shubnam that was keeping her up nights right now.

She took a careful read on the boy. Everyone lied. That went double for people speaking to police officers. But she detected a note of fear in the boy's tone, a note of honest confusion. 

Either way, the process was the same. She'd take his statement. One did not, contrary to popular belief, identify the lie immediately in conversation and then shout "j'accuse," or even some Hollywood one-liner version of the phrase. One just noted what was said, and compared it against other statements, both those made by the witness/suspect/person of interest and those made by others. And since the tiger and his stripes were useless, Justine focused on the boy.

"What's your name, son? Can I see some ID?"

Again, she kept her tone gentle. She did everything she could to project that she was here to help him, not that she was here to bust him or get in his grille. 

I should walk the maze, Carter thought. Then: Seriously? I should walk the maze? The girl could have had some on her, taken it while the boy's back was turned. That's the most logical explanation. 

For all that she was a creature of logic, however, she also had imagination. She had to...extrapolating, theorizing, visualizing...these were all hallmarks of the job that she did, of getting from unsolved to solved. And so she allowed another explanation to slip into her consciousness. Someone had somehow slipped her something in that maze. To what purpose, Carter wasn't sure. Pushers usually let people know what they were pushing, the better to addict them later.

I should walk the maze, she thought again. It was just due diligence. She'd walk it, she'd walk it with all of her powers of observation active, she'd bring a deputy who'd take the exercise seriously and she'd...probably find a fat lot of nothing. But she'd walk it. 

In the meantime that was neither here nor there. Throughout these hasty ruminations she had never allowed her eyes to leave the young man's eyes. She did, however, pull out a notebook and a pencil, already scrawling down a couple of items so she could get it all into her case notes and report write-ups later, so she didn't miss or forget anything.   
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#5
Theo

The young man frowned; slightly uncomfortable, not too much, though; someone's with Justine's experience could probably tell he had nothing special to hide; just your average discomfort when facing authority while being young. "Theo... Theo Maroulis". He started digging in his rucksack; indeed, if he had any quality, orderliness was not one of them: from the sack came crumpled tickets and depliants, a green and yellow T-shirt, a couple of books, a keychain - and, finally, his wallet, from which he promptly extracted his ID. It confirmed his name and surname; additionally, it let the Sheriff know that he was 23, born in New York; all such things. In his picture he was slightly younger; he had longer hair, the dull expression one has only in ID photos. "Do you know what's going on?!". Meanwhile, Sarah had started moving her hands, as if drawing a pattern in the air.
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#6
Do you know what's going on, asked Theo Maroulis. No, thought Justine Carter. But I mean to find out.

She watched his ruffle through his rucksack with some amusement. It saved her the trouble of asking to search it. She supposed there might be something more cleverly hidden, but his didn't seem to be the sort of mind capable of devising it. As of right then, probable cause for a search was sketchy at best, and the demand could lose her a young man who was cooperating, whatever his uneasiness with her authority.

"This your current address here on your license, Theo?" 

She jotted it all down, each of his details, and added, "I have some thoughts, but I need your help to verify them. Where were you and Miss Williams in that maze when she started acting strangely? How do you know her? And..." no way to do this gently, "she ever used before?" 

It's a veritable flood of questions, each spoken deliberately and in the same laid-back, slow paced cadence. She returned his ID even as she wrapped up the last one, every brisk movement meant to communicate that her actions were all very routine, all very professional, but that ultimately they were on the same side when it came to looking out for the well-being of one Miss Williams. 

This was, after all, only the bald truth of the matter.

Williams' antics got very little attention out of Justine. She was aware of the girl and her patterns, just as she noted the whole tiger ramble, but people did all kinds of strange nonsense under the influence, and it hardly seemed relevant to what she was doing at the moment. Theo retained her attention as the one who could actually provide her with some sort of coherent narrative. She'd leave Williams' symptoms up to whatever medical professional had the misfortune of dealing with the girl.
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#7
Theo

"Yeah... Yes, it is". He nodded, he looked at her as if wondering... something. Odds were he had no idea what he was wondering, exactly. "Sarah - she's my girlfriend, we were visiting a few places on the coast and...". He shook his head. "Yes, I was with her. We were walking the maze, then she stopped to look at the inscriptions. We've been joking, you see? About monsters you find in labyrinth, all such things. So at first I thought it was that - I thought it was a joke, when she started... I've never seen such a thing!". He frowned, he took his time. "Use? What? No! Not that I know, I mean... But usually, she's the one bitching I shouldn't drink and - not that I do anything too strange, mind you, but I mean, she's the health nut of the two. Woah. That'd be something..."
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#8
Everyone had flu that day, and Alix found it particularly annoying; people coming in to the emergency department for flu when they could have gone to their primary care doctors or -- well, Sandsbridge didn't have urgent care, and many of these people sincerely thought they were dying. She was giving them a pass out of patience, but had begun to grow bored, and so once she'd written the last Tamiflu order for hopefully the next hour or two she took to lurking in triage.

When someone needed her, they'd find her.

Unexpectedly, they'd find her in the waiting room; when it seemed like the sherriff was directly questioning patients who hadn't even been seen yet, her inquisitive nature beat out over the natural order of hospital progress and she stepped right out to join them. For those who could read the coat code, she was clearly a resident: lab coat down past her hips but not yet to the knees, ID tag with 'Calixta Hayes, MD' on it. (She hadn't gotten a chance to request they change it yet.)

"Hi," she said gently, smile soft and as unthreatening as possible. She wasn't tall enough to need to lean down, but she did squat ever-so-slightly. "I'm Dr. Hayes. Can we all," she glanced to Sheriff Carter as if unsure if she would insist on accompanying them, but not having any issue with it so long as the patient didn't, "come into a room in the back to talk?"
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#9
Theo

Theo instinctively stood up, helped Sarah on her feet. Ready - actually, in a haste - to follow the doctor, anyway he looked at the Sheriff, not sure if he was doing the right thing or what.
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#10
The kid wasn't lying.

Justine was sure of it. Which made this entire thing more interesting. And it would take the good Doctor's expertise, she rather thought, to help clear this up.

She stepped back from the kids, clearly surrendering them to the doctor's attentions. "No need for me to violate anyone's medical privacy, Doc," she said. There was no good reason for her to go back in the room with them, even if it might have assuaged her own curiosity to do so. She couldn't see her way clear to making an arrest and if she did go back there now, anything that came of this later would be absolutely shredded in court. "Theo and I were just chatting."

She took out one of her cards and offered it to Alix. "Would you give me a call when you're done seeing her though? From what Theo says someone might have slipped her something. If her issues are narcotic in nature I'd appreciate the chance to do some follow-up, as the young lady might could be the victim of a crime here." And if they weren't narcotic in nature, well, no need for Justine to know the specifics. Schizophrenic episode, seizure of some sort, weird migraine aura...if it wasn't drugs, then it wasn't her business. 

Under other circumstances she might have sat right there at the waiting room while they did their thing. But Justine had a notion that if there was anything to find at that maze she'd better slip out there and find it fast. She could be taking care of that while Dr. Hayes took care of Sarah.
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#11
people

The doctor agreed, or so it seemed. Most likely, she was just busier taking care of the patient than making deals with the Sheriff. Theo helped Sarah on her feet, then they both followed the doctor. After a few minutes and then some, the young man was back. Alone, this time. Looking even more confused.
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#12
Justine hadn't really moved from her spot, other than to settle into a waiting room chair. And out Theo came.

"She chase you out?" It wouldn't have surprised Justine. If he wasn't a blood relative or had no power of attorney, well, there was HIPPA to consider. The look of confusion definitely caught the Sheriff's attention, but it wouldn't do to address that directly. Why do you look even more baffled, son? Not a question that was likely to bring out any kind of answers.

So her question was designed, hopefully, to get him to open up in another way.
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#13
Theo

Theo looked puzzled. As if he wasn't sure he was missing a joke. He frowned, grabbed his rucksack more tightly. "They asked me some questions... everyone's asking me the same questions, but nobody knows what's going on!" Then he calmed down - or at least, he made an effort to look calmer. "They'll keep her in, they said. She- she's not well".
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#14
So the doctor asked about drugs as well.

"We're going to take care of her," Carter said, in what she hoped was a soothing tone. "Nobody's going to let her stay sick." Drugs wore off eventually, if that was, indeed, the problem. She pulled out one of her cards.

"Listen, Theo, if you think of anything else unusual that happened either in the maze or earlier today, just give me a call, okay?" She suspected he didn't know anything else. Or, if he did, she wasn't sure what question she might be able to ask to draw it out of him. 'Anything unusual' was what she had left to fall back on here.
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#15
Theo

Theo nodded. "Okay... I've already told them everything, though. They'll run some tests... And I'm sure, she wasn't doing drugs!" That was ridiculous, Sarah being Sarah. But everyone was asking that, all the time. "In the maze we were together all the time. Only time I left her alone, it was this morning, she was looking for books, for heaven's sake!"
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#16
Well, see? New information already.


"Looking for books? Where were you? Bookstore? Library?"

This could provide an even better lead than the maze. Someone could have slipped the girl something in either of those two locations as well, and the effects could have been well and truly delayed until they got themselves into the maze. "I believe you," Justine added. "At this point I'm inclined to treat her as a victim, Theo. Not as a user. Okay? Just help me find who might have done this to her."
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#17
Theo

"We were near the harbour. There was this book exchange thing. In a bar, you see? You could leave a book, pick another one... She was having fun, but it's not like I had anything to do, you know? So I went out and took some pics. She had a coke, at that bar. Do you think they'd slipped something in?!"
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#18
That would be the Occam's Razor theory, and the one that did not require strange theories about the maze. "That would be my working theory," Justine agreed. "And then she had herself a delayed reaction. You remember the name of the bar, Theo? 'Cause I'm about to head out that way."

And she was itching to go, because if she could track down the person who did that she'd arrest his ass for assault so fast it would make his head spin. Or hers. She could think of few things more terrifying than losing control of one's own mind, of being blindsided by drugs and left helpless. If the girl had manifested an allergic reaction it could have killed her. The more she thought about it, the more pissed she got, but none of it took away from her cool, sharp focus.
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#19
Theo

"I think it was called "The Old Sailor... or something like that?"

Justine didn't know any bar with that name, precisely, but she did know one called The Old Seaman; the kind of bar that tries a bit too hard to look older and quainter than they are.

"I don't know what she did with that coke... she was too caught up by the books, perhaps... it didn't look like the shady kind of place, but you never know..."
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#20
"Don't worry about all that. It's not your job to try to evaluate pubs by how they look or anything, it's my job to get in there and investigate, okay? Which I'm going to go do, right now. Thank you for your help. Call me if anything changes with her."

The Old Seaman was a solid lead, and Justine hastened to follow it. She quickly left the hospital, slipping into her marked vehicle. She didn't put her lights on or anything. She wasn't the sort who would abuse the privilege just to shave a few extra minutes off the trip. A few extra minutes really wouldn't make a difference, but her getting there that day might.
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