Much to Sergeant Pettigrew's delight, Stephen Raitt showed up exactly on schedule.
She was ready for him, a worn-in but not abused pair of size 11 crepes and her own contribution, a pair of full-size, real rubber gloves to give him similar grip on the walls of the chute.
She got what she wanted out of that initiative: one of Raitt's huge grins. "They're great, Eileen, excellent thinking!" He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and for a brief instant, Pettigrew forgot the names of her husband and children.
She regrouped and rediscovered her professional side. "The Air Force nurses finished meds and rounds here about 20 minutes ago, most of the patients are asleep. I've been listening from here since, but it's a stretch. I knew when our laundry went in, I think I heard two loads go down from higher up, most likely the linen from the dining area in the executive floor from the first seating, any time now we should hear the second seating linens go down. I think beyond that one load, everything else will be small, individual items."
Raitt smiled again. "Good, so we're just waiting for one big one, then I'm in."
"Exactly." Eileen Pettigrew beamed.
Raitt took off his jacket & Pettigrew relived a few selected days of high school in an instant.
He put on a black vest, stuck a flashlight on it, clipped so it pointed up. He took off his training shoes and donned the crepes. He stood and tried to slide his feet along the floor. He was very happy with the result. He could hardly budge.
Raitt grinned again. "Perfect."
Eileen smiled at him. "How are we going to communicate?"
"Put our voxes on vibrate." Raitt had given it some thought. "If there's nothing coming down the chute, the shoes & gloves keep me quiet, but anything in a normal voice is out of the question, you'll have to listen hard to me because I'll be whispering very quiet."
Eileen nodded. "Gotcha. What's your vox code?"
"Three one five, eight six seven four. You Air Force people have text?"
Eileen nodded again. "We do, we could use that, I suppose."
"In a pinch, yes, but I'll have these rubber gloves on."
"Ah, right." She looked at him as if she were waiting for something.
Raitt on his white horse. "You're still at four one eight, three nine two five?"
Eileen beamed. "I am, yes."
"I looked you up." Raitt confirmed the obvious. "You got a nickname?"
"I was a huge Rocky & Bullwinkle fan. I was 'Natasha', one of the evil Soviet spies." Eileen looked a little uncomfortable.
"Rocky & Bullwinkle. Squirrel and a moose, right?"
Eileen was relieved he knew. "Yes! That's right!"
Rait grinned. "So that makes me 'Boris'?"
Eileen was grinning now, venturing into character. "I am put you in phone as Boris, you putting me in as Natasha, we are hunky-dory!" She giggled.
Raitt looked a bit lost. "Hunky-dory?"
Eileen's smile lost some zing. "A-ok?"
Raitt's smile returned. "Ah, 'we're good'."
EIleen thought "We're good" sounded lame, but she didn't know 'lame' either. She checked her watch. "C'mon, let's get you to the chute, it's almost time."
"Can you spare me some cotton swabs & a few sample bags?"
Eileen nodded. "Yep, we have some in the cupboard down by the chute, you can pick them up there."
Raitt picked up his shoes & jacket. "How about these?"
Pettigrew pointed to the hallway. "First cupboard, just toss them in there."
Raitt obliged. Pettigrew shushed him as she parted the curtains to enter the ward. Waking sleeping patients was never a good plan.
They made the corner, turned left and headed down the empty ward. Pettigrew opened the cupboard on the right, grabbed swabs & sample bags, and Raitt stuffed them into the pockets of his vest.
They heard it then, the muffled sound of a large load of cloth coming down the tube, rotating a bit more than in earth's gravity, edges of material slapping softly against the inside of the aluminum cylinder.
Pettigrew moved over to the chute door. "Just going to stick my head in and see if a door is open further up. There may be more to come."
Raitt nodded, checking everything in his kit again.
Pettigrew left the hatch open when she came out, and the air blew into the ward bringing with it the smell of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, gravy, Brussels sprouts & roast potatoes. She smiled at Raitt. "It's good to know with any luck what they eat will kill them soon, isn't it?"
Raitt laughed. "I'm not a big fan of politicians and bureaucrats, myself, Eileen."
She smiled, almost shyly. "We should test the comms when you get in the chute."
Raitt put on his best Boris impersonation. "Hokay, Natasha, I am do this when I am up one floor and you are back at desk."
He stepped up onto the chair, looked back & said "Wish me luck."
As he leaned in to position himself to climb up, Boris grinned as Natasha's hand pushed on his butt a trifle longer than necessary.