Chapter IV.

1 Jun

That evening, after a meal in the hotel’s dining room, Cam Bingen wandered into the Hiberna’s Great Card Room. His eyes absorbed their surroundings with awe and amazement. He had never seen a place like this one.

Argon sacs hanging from the ceiling flooded the crowded lounge with brilliant, ever-changing colored light. Above the four-sided tables were projected holograms identifying what games were being played at each particular location.

Cam marveled at the rich variety of choices, most of them unfamiliar to him.

He read the posted titles by which the gamblers sorted themselves out.

Penuchle, bazzica, pochen, brag, cribbage, hearts, blackjack, whist, baccarat, euchre, biritch, canasta, bower, old sledge, all fours, boston, cassino, conquian, seven-up, rummy, twenty-one, lanteroo, pamphile, flinch, and trumps. Those were the thrilling games available to those looking for a game to play.

It was evident that whatever bets were being made tended to be small and limited, yet added up to a gigantic total. This business establishment was a lucrative goldmine to its owner.

Cam slowly made his way into the neighboring lounge, whose entrance hologram indicated that this was the Dicing Hall. At padded tables men and women played various games of chance. Projected photonic images indicated where one was to go for craps, hazard, lotto, keno, alzar, muggins, rotella, and chuckaluck.

He was about to enter a room that was marked Optic Games when he spied a face he knew. Sunda Vipur was exiting from this third lounge in a silvery chiffon gown that exposed her neck and shoulders. Her brown eyes, large with excitement, were focused at an angle from which she could not see him. There was a peculiar frenzy in the abrupt, uneven movements of her lithe, willowy body. She appeared to be in a hurry to get somewhere.

Suddenly, a male in an ivory dinner jacket reached out from behind her, taking hold of the songstress’s bare forearm. Sunda whirled around and said something to him. The gangling figure lifted his right arm, pulling and hurting her without mercy. He was willing to apply his physical might to her.

Bingen could sense the flames of anger between the two.

A crowd was starting to congregate about them, as if expecting a spectacle about to occur in the lounge. Anything might happen, it seemed.

Sunda succeeded in freeing her arm through persistent effort. She glared at the pursuing tormentor as he again went for her. All at once, a loud clap was heard as she slapped the lanky troublemaker sharply on the cheek. She was determined not to become a helpless, passive victim.

Unable to make out what they were saying to each other, Cam made his way closer and closer, until he stood in the frontline of spectators.

“Don’t bother me,” warned the frenzied singer. “I’m not going to stay here if you don’t leave me alone.”

“All I want to do…” objected the other, but failed to finish his sentence.

Sunda’s eyes, catching the face of Cam Bingen, turned wild as she plunged toward him. In his surprise, he extended his right hand, which the singer gripped with her own.

“I’m thankful that you came to hear me sing,” she rasped in desperation. “If you would, please take me to my dressing room. I must get prepared for what comes tonight.”

What could he do? Refusal was unthinkable.

“Yes,” he politely replied. “That is a wonderful idea.”

The onlookers watched in astonishment as the pair left the brutal pesterer behind in confusion and perplexity.

They were a distance away from the scene of confrontation when Sunda abruptly stopped. She turned to her protector and whispered in his ear.

“You may leave if you wish, Doctor.”

“I’d rather have a few minutes with you,” he quickly answered her with an assuring smile.

“Very well, then. I’ll show you the way backstage, where you can wait till I’m finished with my songs.”

Cam followed, pondering what to tell her when they were alone. That he was soon to be her new therapist? That he was to be responsible for her future mental health?

The fact of their scheduled intimacy could not be concealed by him. It was best to get it out as soon as was possible. Otherwise, there could be a terrible reaction by Sunda when they met again at the Photonic Clinic.

His professional ethics demanded complete honesty and unquestionable candor. Personal integrity would be at stake in their approaching encounters, Cam told himself. She had to know the truth.

The two made their way along a dimly lit, narrow hallway off the main lobby of the Hiberna Hotel. No one else appeared to be around. The corridor was wrapped in silence.

Cam rehearsed what he planned to say to his first patient in Bifrost after she finished singing in the nightclub that evening.

The barrel organ chords of an orchestrion silenced the circles of people seated at small round tables. As the light sacs dimmed, the folksinger in a dark bombazine dress slipped onto the elevated performance stage. Cam Bingen watched her through the recessed opening that she exited from.

Without any introduction, Sunda began the Song of the Southern Zodiac.

“Cetus the Whale, and Dorado the Dolphin, fished the icy sea,

While Pavo the Peacock and Apus the Paradise Bird fled the snowy forest,

Grus the Crane and Columba the Dove had long before flown northward,

Hydra the Snake slinked after Lepus the Hare.

Corvus the Raven drank cool water from Crater the Bowl.

Horologium the Clock struck the hour of winter darkness,

As Musca the Fly buzzed in the dying daystar’s last beams.”

Sunda followed this with a summer lullaby, one sung by mothers to their babies when the daystar shone from well above the icy northern horizon of Bifrost.

“Sleep, my child. The night is too far off for you to await its arrival.”

The nightclub audience, having listened quietly and attentively, broke out with resounding applause.

Sunda then ended her presentation with an Urthian sleighing song: “Midnight Ride in the Pung.”

This also received a warm reception from the enthusiastic listeners. The applause given her was clearly sincere and heart-felt.

The performer took a series of bows, then walked off to where Cam was standing alone behind the stage screen.

Sunda stopped in front of the psychiatrist and asked him a single question.

“How did you like it?” she said with energetic excitement in her shining eyes.

“Your voice is beautiful,” he replied. “I am unfamiliar with the folk music of your country, but I enjoyed what I heard here tonight. It was a marvelous experience to hear you sing. I cannot describe the impression it made on me.”

The singer at once realized the depth of his sincerity.

“I have to change,” she softly told him. “Then, we can go have something to eat. That will give both of us a chance to talk a little.”

“Yes,” he said, his mind focusing on the revelation he would have to make to her that evening about his becoming her attending therapist.

The couple found a back table in the main dining room of the Hiberna Hotel.

At that late hour, only a few patrons were present. Both of them ordered nostoc salad, then waited for the plates of blue-green algae.

This is the moment to speak, Cam told himself, biting his lower lip.

“I have been assigned your case, Sunda,” he proclaimed point blank. “You will be seeing me for treatment from now on.”

For a short time, she said nothing. Her breathing became deep and labored, until some equilibrium returned to her at last.

“This was the brain child of Dr. Knax, I suppose?” the singer inquired with emotion.

Bingen, surprised at the force of her reaction to his statement, found it difficult to reply.

“Yes, of course. That is what happened. The idea did not originate with me. Is there anything that makes you think she would do something like that?”

Her face seemed to darken several shades.

“We have had a certain disagreement between the two of us, Doctor,” she revealed with evident reluctance.

“Call me Cam, please.” He paused a moment or two. “What could have caused her to transfer your care to me? You shall be my first patient in Bifrost. I intend to do the best I can for you, believe me.”

She looked away as the server approached with their orders of food.

Starting at once on her algoid salad, Sunda delayed giving him an answer as to what the motives of Dr. Knax might be.

Within seconds, Cam was also busy eating.

Best to let her explain when she chooses, the doctor decided.

Occasionally, he glanced across at the evidently hungry songstress.

Why was she so reluctant to describe her problem with the head psychiatrist? What was the real reason for the problem between the pair?

They finished their late hour meal speedily.

The server brought them eggnog and toddies, then removed their dishes.

Sunda gave the foreigner a keen, trenchant look.

“She was giving me very bad advice,” said the young woman in a cold tone from low in her throat. “Why should I give up my job here at the Hiberna? That is what I’ve been ordered to do by that tyrant. She decided that I must have a period of total rest without any work at all. The way that Hekla Knax described it, public performance was detrimental to the therapy I was to receive from her. But I refused to quit singing in this club. Why should I become a lazy recluse, the way she recommends? Should I completely separate myself from the public?

“Can you understand or make sense of what she commanded me to do?”

“Dr. Knax did not inform me of any of this,” he mumbled. “I did not know at all. What you are saying is totally new to me.”

“In fact, she recommended that I drop all my connections with music.”

He stared at her face, now scarlet with anger.

“What reason was given for such advice, Sunda?”

She picked up her cup and sipped the cooling drink. Only when it was once again on the stone table top did a reply come.

“Since my illness centers upon my seeking escape into the past, getting out of music would close off my main route back there. After all, my songs are old folk tunes and melodies. The words take me out of the present, where I am forced to exist. So, cutting off the link in time should help me to cope with reality, according to her. That is what she told me.

“What do you think of that theory, Doctor?”

She suddenly made an ugly grimace. “Walrus blubber!” Sunda exclaimed angrily. “I think that hag, deep down, is jealous of me. That is what makes her so hateful.”

Cam looked deeply into her dark brown eyes. How often does one in therapy come up with such paranoid thoughts? he pondered to himself.

But before he realized what was happening, she had moved on to something else.

“You saw Fyn tonight, how wild he can become. There is something dangerous in him that can explode. I don’t want to be present to witness that.”

“I understand that Mr. Fyn Kvaloz is going to enter the Clinic for treatment of his problems. His behavior tonight proves that should not be postponed. It would be best for him to enter therapy as soon as possible.”

Sunda leaned forward. “I complained to his father two days ago. That may have contributed to the decision of Aar Kvaloz to send him for treatment. Do you know who his doctor is to be?”

“Dr. Knax,” he answered.

“The two deserve each other,” she archly grinned.

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