After Connor’s rejection of my final attempt to dissuade him from participating in his first recreation time, I spent half an hour pacing a trench into my office carpet, unable to concentrate on the work on my desk. I was torn between hoping that lunatic Russell kidnapped Connor for the afternoon and praying that Doctor D’s conversation with him was so uninteresting that she would just drop the matter entirely and leave me to my devices.
Unfortunately I considered either of those scenarios as likely as my winning the Miss Universe pageant.
The only thing to be done, I decided after my eyes fell on my watch for the ninety-fifth time in ten minutes, was to distract myself with the problem of the room temperature charade. I knew I had to have a plan in place before Connor returned to his room for the night – I had no interest in stoking the flames of Doctor D’s suspicions by working late again. Besides, I was really beginning to need some time away from the Institute to clear my head and give my nerves a break.
After considering my options I chose to call Dominick, the head janitor during the dayshift. A small man with a rather remarkable comb over and an ill-advised moustache, he had a reputation of doing as little work as possible to keep his position. I suspected he was holding a dirty secret over someone in Human Resources but I couldn’t be bothered to investigate.
“This is the Dom,” he said, picking up on the twelfth ring. Oh, did I forget to mention his obsession with mob culture? His tiny office was wallpapered with every poster ever printed for The Godfather movies, and half of them were autographed.
“It’s Doc Esco calling, I have a small favour to ask of you.”
“You gonna make me an offer I can’t refuse?”
“Something like that,” I replied, grateful that he couldn’t see me roll my eyes and shake my head. “I need to borrow a handheld air temperature reader - do you have a spare one I could have? Say, for a month or two?”
“If I do this thing for you, what are ya gonna do for me?” He didn’t care what I was going to do with it, or why one of his staff couldn’t do the job for me. He probably figured he wasn’t paid enough to sweat those details.
“Front row tickets to Guys and Dolls,” I replied, wincing. This was getting expensive.
“I am pleased by your offer – I will do this thing for you. Your package will arrive within the hour.”
I hung up without saying goodbye and wondered if anyone I dealt with was sane enough to be allowed outside of those walls unescorted. My stomach informed me that it was well past time for lunch so I made my way to the empty cafeteria to dine on the lukewarm buffet leftovers. By the time I returned to my office, the scent of burnt sausages still clinging to my nostril hairs, there was an unmarked bundle wrapped in brown paper sitting on my desk. I closed and locked my door before extracting the temperature reader and retrieving my toolkit from the tiny closet tucked in beside my bulletin board.
Locating the smallest screwdriver in the kit, I opened the hatch on the back of the device and peered inside. I was happy to find that the manufacturer had not made a complicated mess out of a simple machine; there were only three wires, each clearly labelled, and the chip controlling the LCD display was extremely basic. My college roommate had studied electrical engineering and was constantly disassembling and reassembling various electronics in our apartment - not always successfully - and I had found it intriguing enough to learn a few tricks.
Despite the simple setup, it still took nearly an hour of fiddling before I had managed to lock the reading at 72 degrees. I thought I had it sorted out after ten minutes but when I stuck it out the window to verify the reading wouldn’t change, it declared that it was a balmy 144 degrees outside. Once I was able to determine what I had done wrong it was only a matter of minutes before I was satisfied with the results and reattaching its protective cover.
I slipped the reader into my pocket and stuck my head into the hallway, checking for signs of the meddling Doctor D. I was not looking forward to hearing the results of her conversation with Connor, so as I made my way to his room I began formulating a plan to avoid her for as long as possible. By the time I reached Room 333 the best option I had come up with was pulling the fire alarm and sneaking out in the chaos that followed; clearly, more deliberation would be required.
I rapped on the door to his room and to my surprise found that it was open. Slightly alarmed, I pushed my way in before stopping short, nervous beads of sweat already forming under my arms.
“What are you doing?” I demanded of the podgy man bedecked in olive green coveralls.
“Hey Doc,” he replied, scratching his unshaven cheek. “I was just having a look at this here temperature control box – I don’t think it’s working properly.”
“Why would you say that?” I asked, trying to smile pleasantly. I was pretty certain the result looked more like constipation but I had to try.
“Well I was in here to do an air quality check and I was feeling a bit chilly, you know?”
You cannot be serious.
“But I can’t figure out how to get this thing open – somebody must have changed the password. Anyway, I’ll go fetch one of our handheld readers and just confirm-“
“That won’t be necessary,” I replied, my shoulders sagging in relief. I produced my tampered device with a flourish and turned it on. “Our patient had also complained about this supposed chill, so I promised to check it myself. See? 72.”
“Huh, I coulda sworn it was 71 in here,” he said, his porcine face clouding with confusion. It was like I had replaced his trough with fine china. “Oh well, I’m all done here so I’ll be on my way. Good talking with you Doc.”
I nodded magnanimously and stepped aside for him to leave. Once I was alone I rushed over to the control box to verify that he hadn’t broken anything and sighed with relief once it was clear that everything was working as I intended. After a calming breath or three I turned away to find Connor standing in the doorway. My heart nearly leapt from my mouth.
“Ah, Connor,” I said smoothly, “you’re just in time. Do come in! How was your recreation time?”

The End

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