Savage Mafia Prince

By: Annika Martin

A Dangerous Royals romance

Chapter One


Randall is a rosy-cheeked man with a long gray beard and kind eyes. He sits on a bolted-down bench at the corner of his room in the Fancher Institute, formerly known as Fancher Institute for the Criminally Insane.

Thirty years ago, Randall killed three people on a city bus, then tried to poison a group of office workers with arsenic-laced cookies, gravely sickening five.

Today he is heavily medicated and confined to the small room twenty-two hours a day. To his right, there is a large window where you can see the face of an orderly peering in, one of two orderlies whose entire job it is to sit in the hall and watch Randall during his waking hours. Randall’s one burning goal in life is to behave well enough to reduce it to twenty-one hours.

I decide that’s how I’d start the story if I were writing it as a human interest feature on the patients in the mentally ill and dangerous (MI&D) wing of the Fancher Institute. You always hook a story up to one person’s drama and try to find one killer detail. The ever-present watching face is a killer detail.

Stories about people have power. They humanize people, connect people. But I’m not here to do a story about a person.

I’m here to do research on a story about things. A supply-chain story. The most boring type of story.

A supply-chain story in the middle of nowheresville Minnesota is what you get for kneeling in the rubble in Kabul crying and holding a kitten while you miss the most important meeting of your career.

Everyone called it a breakdown. It’s as good a word as any.

Just complete the assignment, I tell myself. Put your head down and do the work.

Because I was lucky to get this assignment at all. No reputable editor will touch me these days. This assignment was set up by an editor at Stormline, which is not a reputable publication.

A nurse named Zara is introducing me to the patients I’ll be monitoring. She thinks I’m a nurse, and in fact I am. I was a nurse before I decided I really just wanted to be a journalist.

I wear a plastic face shield and gloves, and I’m doing a little something with each patient so that Zara can ensure none will react poorly to me. She also wants to make sure that I can handle these MI&D guys.

The MI&D guys won’t be a problem. The antiseptic smell might be, though. It’s so overpowering, I feel like I’m swimming in it. I don’t do well with antiseptic smells these days.

Nurse Zara doesn’t want me here, and she’s not trying to hide it. “Nurse Ann is going to take your blood pressure now, Randall,” Zara says. “You’ll be seeing a lot of her.”

The HR guy warned me that the staff would resist my presence. Nurse Zara’s friend was supposed to be promoted to this job. Everybody on the team thought she’d get it. Then I swooped in and stole it. So I’m a little bit of a pariah.

I’ve handled worse.

“Hello, Randall,” I say softly. Randall’s face is flat affect—that’s psych-ward talk for no expression. His eyes are vacant as I fit the blood pressure cuff around his flabby bicep. Randall is on a cocktail of drugs they call B-52, which does exactly what you’d imagine it would do—sedating him and slowing his thoughts so much that he’s more garden plant than human. He gets extra medication at night. That’s the only time an orderly doesn’t need to watch him.

I note his progress in a tablet, clicking boxes and entering in the numbers. “Great job! Looks like if you behave well for the rest of the week, you’ll get three hours out in the general room,” I say to him.

Randall grunts and mumbles something that sounds like agreement.

Zara grumbles. I’d put her age at around twice mine—twenty-nine—so nearly sixty. She has short dyed-blonde hair held back in a bright polka-dot hair band. She told me the guys like when she switches around the pops of color like that. She cares about the guys, but she wants me gone.

In addition to the hostility, I’m starting to sense that Zara smells my lie, or maybe she just senses my unease. Nurses can be really attuned to people’s mental states like that, and Zara’s good. Spend three decades in a mental ward, and you grow some pretty fierce antennae. She doesn’t know about my breakdown, of course.

But Zara’s not going to be my biggest problem.

My biggest problem will be Donny, the hulking head of the orderlies. The man has “twisted motherfucker” written all over his face. As far as I can see, the only thing separating Donny from the men strapped to these beds is a conviction in a court of law and a commitment order.

The next patient is a schizophrenic in his early twenties. As a college student, he blew up a highway rest station, killing three. He’s in a two-point restraint, which means his wrists are bound to a strap around his waist. He, too, gets the B-52 cocktail, and he has those same flat B-52 eyes.