WHEN WHO DONE IT, DIDN’T DO IT
Zach Miller is a fairly talented writer—give him a story and he’ll put it to words. Nadine Street is a top-notch murder investigator with a whopper of a tale for Zach to tell. The problem is that part way through the narration of what happened that nearly sacked this attractive, tough and talented lady, the script goes through an unexpected revision. Now, two stories need to be written simultaneously.
It wasn’t easy for Nadine to relive the horror of what transpired during what she labeled the crime of the century. Yet, thank god it had ended. It was all left behind in Washington, D. C., or so she thought. Never could she have imagined that hate and revenge would follow to her seclusion in New Mexico. Nevertheless, it did and the trail would lead back to the man who most detested her and urgently wanted her to pay for her sins. Once more, she’d be the object of wrath from the most powerful figure in America.
A ZACH MILLER ADVENTURE: BOOK 4
DENNIS A NEHAMEN
Golden Poppy Publication™ Los Angeles
By Dennis A Nehamen
Copyright @2017 Dennis A Nehamen All Rights Reserved
Published by Golden Poppy PublicationsTM Los Angeles, CA
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by and information storage and retrieval system without written permission from Golden Poppy Publications or Dennis A Nehamen except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
All images, logos, quotes and trademarks included in this book are subject to use according to trademark and copyright laws of the United States of America.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2016906837
Cover and Book Design by Nick Zelinger, NZGraphics.com Nehamen, Dennis A Author
Dennis A Nehamen
Printed in the United States of America First Edition
This story was originally produced as a screenplay entitled, The Last Patient. Then when I finally overcame my hesitation over writing a novel, I picked up this piece and began what turned out to be a long journey in the study of creating fiction. As it happened, several other works were to be told before I came back to what is now, Crushing Steel, the fourth of The Zach Miller Adventures. To my amazement, it was to be two books in one—I’m grateful for the detour and from the perch upon which I now rest I can take pleasure knowing that it ended for the better.
Sow thy fields with seeds of love and thou shall reap kindness, compassion, forgiveness and joyfulness.
But some seeds are rotten.
My best friend, Preston, claims to recall it perfectly. It was a Friday afternoon. He parked at a Kwik Stop Convenience Store on White Sands Boulevard in Alamogordo, New Mexico. After filling up with gas, he went inside to buy a few provisions for the rest of his drive. He was standing in line holding a quart bottle of Dr. Pepper soda, a bag of Lay’s Smokey Bacon Potato Chips and a package of Bubblicious Cotton Candy gum—he was a devout enthusiast for damning the imaginary health movement in America.
There was a man standing behind him. As Preston reached the cashier and set his three items down to pay, the other man started laughing. My friend turned to determine why the fellow was bellowing. Then the stranger proceeded to methodically put his three identical purchases on the countertop, carefully matching each to make pairs.
Preston described him as a man with dark burgundy-hued skin. His face was flat and the tautness of his features left one with the impression that he was a stern guy, not seeming to be practiced in levity but overmastered by what he obviously perceived as a hilarious coincidence. He was wearing a worn chocolate-colored sleeveless leather vest with what at some time had to have been a bright red and yellow feather embossed on the breast; the dye faded after at least a decade of use. His muscles were remarkable in that they were comparable in size to those sported by body builders, yet were a natural endowment of this powerful specimen.
The giant stood motionless, as if he were calculating the remarkable improbability of the circumstance. Then he put his massive hand on Preston’s shoulder as gently as he could—which was still described as sufficient in grip strength to cause discomfort—and smiled as if they were brothers.
“Wait for me outside,” the man who would soon identify himself as an Apache Mescalero Indian petitioned Preston.
Thus, after both had paid an equal price for the mirror image purchases, they became acquainted in the parking area.
“Come. I’ll take you to dinner,” offered the Indian man.
It was that encounter that preceded a series of unimaginably unlikely events impacting up to the time of the writing of this chronicle, mainly…my life. More times than I’d like to admit since that fortuitous encounter between Preston and the man named Walter, I’ve been trying to quash my hapless dwelling on one huge question: “What would have happened had Preston picked up a Pepsi instead of Dr. Pepper?”
Preston’s meeting with Walter had resulted in me being drawn into a terrorist plot against Israel and America, being introduced for the first time to love and then family, and finally becoming an investigator into the disappearance of a musical icon as well as corruption on an Indian reservation.
Preston was once more serving as my conduit, unintentionally instigating experiences of high adventure and life transition. In fact, some months before he had innocently mentioned to me that one of his relatives was working near our nation’s capital and had a very close friend who had the distinction of being the youngest senior criminal investigator to ever hold that title for the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.
This friend-of-a-cousin had a story to tell. It was promoted to me as something extraordinary, although I quickly discovered that Preston didn’t have a clue about what made the tale outstanding. What he did know was that the owner of the experience had knocked herself silly at the computer trying to scribe the adventure, but “failed miserably.” (I asked if there was any other way to fail, but the question couldn’t stop my friend’s enthusiasm for selling me on the project.)
Knowing my passion for writing, Preston thought that helping out the lady would be right up my alley. Therefore, he let me know that he’d taken the liberty to suggest she contact me. Normally, I’d have thought nothing of it because on the surface it seemed a perfectly benign request for me to advise the woman. But coming from Preston, I knew I wouldn’t be getting off easy.
She did get in touch with me. It was about three months after he first mentioned her. The timing coincided with a premier musical presentation that I attended at The Center for the Performing Arts at Kuruk. This small theatre was located next to my restaurant, which was an establishment with the same name, Kuruk. She approached me and introduced herself as Nadine Street. She then told me that she thought she was ready to talk about her “harrowing adventure”—and then inexplicably, she disappeared. I could only assume that the reason she came in the first place, was to test if she was prepared to meet the ghosts that had been chasing her.
I didn’t hear from her for another six months. It was a rainy November afternoon. I was at Kuruk, finishing a bowl of len til soup. I leaned back in my chair and gazed at the thinning lunch crowd. Then, I noticed a young lady entering. She took a table across from where I sat—I recognized her immediately as the same woman who came to talk to me after the musical performance.
Nadine Street never looked up, also avoiding eye contact with the waitress when ordering. Her brunette hair was combed in the same meticulous style as when I had first met her. Swooning toward her shoulders with a flip at the bottom, it looked like the perfect slide for a child on a hot afternoon to take flight and joyfully drop into the coolness of a swimming pool. She was wearing a tan long-sleeve blouse. Around her neck was a feathered choker in soft shades of blue, orange and yellow that fanned out across her clavicle.
Her features were small and delicate. The eyes were round and pretty. Upon closer inspection, I noticed they were filled with sadness and they made no apology for the surrounding dark tint. Only prolonged suffering could have hardened her cheeks, mouth and chin. Still, beneath the mask of tension, tenderness was evident.
After several minutes of staring at her, she finally glanced my way. However, she withheld any gesture to signal that she recognized me. She seemed hopelessly locked in a trance-like state. I walked to her table. By the time I stood next to her, she had dropped her head.
“You made it, Ms. Street,” I greeted her.
She looked up without inclining her head, her face still lacking expression.
“Would you care to join me, Mr. Miller?” was all she was able to say.
“I assume you’re ready,” I said softly.
“You make it sound like I’m headed for open heart surgery… and by the way, please call me Nadine.”
“My tools, Nadine, are limited to a digital recorder, pad of paper and pen, and keyboard—no sharp instruments,” I jested.
“Well, I think you’re right,” she contemplated. “Words cut to the heart. That’s what this is about, isn’t it, telling the truth?”
As she spoke, I noticed a rogue blemish on her face. It was a thin wrinkle running downward from the inside corner of her left eye, paralleling the nose and then branching like three prongs of a pitchfork unceremoniously before disappearing on an aborted mission to reach her lip. I later learned that fault line was the sign that she was preparing for battle.
“We can meet at my office. How’s about nine o’clock tomorrow morning?”
“I’ll be there…if you’re ready to meet ‘The Killer’.”
She painted a smile on her face. It spoke to the sense of defeat she unabashedly admitted, a disclosure that was light years from the truth. She had been submerged long and deep beneath the sea’s surface, but she was cousin to the Humpback whale, having the characteristic of lurching far out of the water and splash-landing on her backside just when the pressure would cause most mortal beings to self-destruct in a massive explosion. I’d soon learn that this off-duty, temporarily disabled detective, Nadine Street, had been subjected to a force equal to that needed to crush steel. It was her hope that by coming to Mescalero to recount her story, she might heal her ailing soul. Instead, she was to receive an urgent come-to-the-rescue call. Unimaginable…inconceivable…was that she would be the subject of the emergency—she remained in the eye of evil, the apparition was on the chase, thirsting for a single kill, zeroing in on Nadine.
She came to see me certain that the final chapter of the story terminated in Washington, D.C. Yet as it turned out, while she was narrating the history to me, several more acts were added to the play, convincing her that madness can be a not-so-cool cat with nine lives; there was to be a new setting for the finale.
What this unexpected continuation of terror meant to me, in addition to drawing out the writing of this tale—one I’ll admit is well suited to my taste, a who-done-it human drama where who done it didn’t do it—was to place me in the not unfamiliar position of playing a role in an unfolding drama that was frankly, none of my business.
AND THANKS FOR STOPPING BY
I’m told that the weather in Washington, D.C. in early spring is whimsical. If it’s a crystal clear day and the sun invites the residents and visitors to take off their sweater, global warming is the explanation. If conditions are freezing, it’s a local joke for the late night talk shows. Either way, it’s safe to say that most people welcome a day rivaling what most Southern Californians enjoy routinely. But Nadine posits that there is one group that has discovered distinct advantages of bad weather: professional killers.
For one thing, people unfortunate enough to be out in a blizzard, hail storm or snow, pay little attention to anything or person around them. They fail to notice the subtle clues that detectives seek after a murder. Everybody moves quickly. Unusual action or behavior does not stand out. And we’re not to forget, lots of heavy clothes permit weapons and tools of the trade to be easily concealed, as well as appearances to be masked.
I learned that the man initially deemed the star of this drama—a man of many talents, killing just being one of them—is savvy enough to function under any condition. Still, he wouldn’t handicap himself if a job could be carried out in the most inclement weather.
Glance at that gentleman over there on Vermont Avenue hailing a cab. That’s right, the one who just stepped off the icy curb
with a large metal briefcase—almost the size of a small suitcase— held in his left hand. He’s the one wearing a long black wool coat and matching fedora.
Doesn’t he appear to be a normal fellow? He does, but the truth is he’s a cold, calculating killing machine on his way to a very important strike. Dress warm, come along, but hurry. If we jump into the cab just behind him, we can catch a glimpse of a true pro in action.
Up Vermont Avenue NW, left on “R” Street, NW—a bit out of the way, but the cabbies in Washington are no different than anywhere—and up to Johnson Avenue. Turning right…slowing…he’s getting out.
“Cabbie, pull if you would. Here, keep the change.”
Ready everyone? Don’t get out quite yet. Wait a moment until he scans the area: it’s a habit they all have, looking around just in case they’re being followed. Let’s go. Notice how he strolls casually, not a care in the world. This murderer is an expert. He’s trained himself in many disciplines, transcending fear just one.
As we get to know him better, and we will quite intimately, descending deep inside his head, we’ll learn some tricks that most anyone can apply. I hear we all have a killer in us—fortunately, I’ve never found mine.
Now we’ll stay a short distance behind him. He’s going down the block to the entrance of Hotel La Gare. After he ascends the steps, we can watch him entering the hotel lobby. Curiously, he doesn’t even pause but instead goes directly to the men’s room. He’s obviously been there before because he moves confident ly to its somewhat remote location down a short but obscure hallway. See him entering? Security cameras aren’t permitted in public bathrooms. I’ll describe the scene because what is taking place out of view is very important.
He walks directly to the last stall and enters. He locks the door, taking off his coat. Precisely, he turns it inside out, revealing a waterproofed dark brown interior. He hangs it on the hook on the stall door. Next, he takes the toilet seat top and closes it, resting his metal briefcase across the flat surface. He stands facing the rear of the bowl and opens the case.
A mirror is extracted. As he lets the top of the case fall closed, he reaches behind to hang the reflective device temporarily from the same stall door hook. He now picks up the case and rotates so that it sits on the toilet cover with the case resting on his legs. Opening it, he stares at the contents: make-up kit, hairpieces for crown, brows, mustache and goatee, large scissors and other incidental objects.
First he takes off his hat and carefully stuffs it into his case— only the finest, soft wool that can be scrunched into a closed space and later reshaped to its original form. Now, he takes a hairpiece, reddish-brown in color with medium length straight strands and positions it carefully on his head.
Without looking up, he reaches for a matching colored medium length well-trimmed goatee that he carefully puts in place. With a brush taken from the make-up kit, he colors his eyebrows and then slightly broadens them so that they appear heavier and sharply outlined—his application is perfect, in fact, some women might express jealousy at his dexterity. He then takes a pair of thick brown-rimmed glasses with a Gucci insignia and slips them into place, pausing momentarily to inspect his work.
He reverses himself so that the case, opened, is again on the seat. He substitutes one-by-one a pair of dark brown loafers for his black ones, storing the latter in the case. He reaches behind for the jacket and puts it on. He turns to inspect himself by crouching down to the level of the mirror. He then places it back in the case. Finally, he extracts objects of rubberized material. While holding them in his hand he places the scissors so that they’re wrapped within yet sticking out of the middle—he puts the precious assorted items in his jacket pocket.
He closes the case and grabs it with his left hand. He’s now ready to exit the stall. On his way out, he smiles at a man entering and…there he is, coming down the stairs. The show is about to begin.
We notice him heading back down Johnson Avenue from where he approached. At the very corner where he was let off by the cab, he directs himself back along “R” Street a couple of short blocks. He comes to a small building and goes up a few steps to a landing. He presses a buzzer. The noise from cars passing on the slushy street makes his few words inaudible, but he proceeds directly to the front door—electronically released for him—and he enters.
There is a doorman, but the infrequency of visitors due to the whipping cold temperature this evening, discourages him from his assigned position at attention outside the door. Instead, the uniformed clerk is lounging indolently at a small desk reading a copy of Mad Magazine. He never glances as the man we’re interested in, walks past him and up to the elevators.
During the ride up, he extracts the package from his coat pocket. It’s a pair of latex gloves and another pair of rubbers to cover his shoes. He puts both on while in the elevator and holds the scissors with his gloved left hand in the pocket of his coat.
He exits on the fourth floor and walks down the hall. He’s looking for 4D, the third unit on the right. He knocks.
“Wesley, it’s me.”
The voice lacks volume or enthusiasm, suggesting he might be almost as concerned about disguising his vocal identity as his physical appearance.
The response is eager, joyous, as Mr. Wesley Arnold begins to open the door.
“Hey, amigo, great costume. But…”
In Arnold’s world, “buts” are flung around like beer bottles in a bar. There are “buts” tagged “wish I could,” “buts” tagged “almost,” “buts” tagged “I did everything I could,” “buts tagged, “things changed,” but every “but” is disingenuous because Arnold hasn’t expressed a real, heartfelt thought or feeling since he caught his member in his pant zipper while on a high school date with Mindy Klinger, whom he had every intent of balling until he saw blood oozing out from his wound and lost his appetite. Well, no real emotion until now, as he confronts the disguised figure he has just opened the door to.
Now the “but” is a prick of confusion, quickly followed by a composition of flash-frozen shock and terror. Not a lousy instant is granted the poor man to appeal, pray or repent, and while he hasn’t even a thimble full of experience with any of them, he has volumes of material worthy of a gesture of regret. Arnold, in other words, is a ruthless, callous and vengeful figure in every venture of his life, the prime one being CEO and President of Con-Tech Entertainment, the largest media conglomerate in the world.
So powerful is Arnold, that phone calls to members of select Senate committees or Federal Communications Commission members set the ball rolling in his direction for legislative or bureaucratic directives needed to accomplish the spread of his empire.
Nobody likes him but, as is often the case with men of such influence, he could fill a small city phone book with names of those professing to be his “great buddy.” In truth, the bastard doesn’t have a friend in the world and could not care less. Still, when he comes to Washington for business, he expects at least a meeting with the President and sometimes a private dinner.
What he doesn’t expect is a stone-hard killer palming a pair of sharpened, pointy shears in a gloved hand moving at light speed and delivering the instrument with on-the-button accuracy through the right side of his neck, just below the ear and upward into the most primitive structures of his brain.
The power of the arm is sufficient to not only impale the cutters into his head, driving deep into the limbic system, but also to send Arnold to the ground like a wood log. There he lay, the shears sticking out like a meat hook. Blood is slowly draining on to the tan carpet.
“Did you think you’d get away with it?”
The killer speaks in a monotone, raspy voice—harshly and cruelly. It’s as if he’s not conscious of Arnold’s reduced state. He stares down momentarily at his victim, walks over to a nearby table and picks up a small steel lamp, yanking out the electrical plug. He turns it upside down as he ambles back to where Arnold lays. Then with the solid base he delivers three more powerful blows to the top of the head and forehead, applying just enough force to crack the skull but not splatter blood on his clothing or shoes. He hesitates an instant to consider further cranial damage, but instead he listlessly lets the tissue and blood dripping lamp fall to the ground.
After a few moments, during which he seems to be proudly and delightfully deliberating on the overall scene, he walks to the door and exits. He appears as calm as when he entered. He reverses the order of his action. First, he gets into the elevator— during the ride down he takes off the gloves and shoe coverings and stashes them in his pocket. The door opens and he exits, meandering past the still disinterested clerk who glances perfunctorily as he passes. An instant later, he’s out the door.
We see him now proceeding back to Hotel La Gare, where in the men’s room he establishes the appearance he presented with when we first witnessed him hailing a cab. Nonchalantly, he leaves the hotel and walks along the street, pausing just long enough while passing a trash container to deposit the no longer needed gloves and shoe coverings.
We hear that serial killers typically select a class of victims for their ugly acts, quite often prostitutes or defenseless women. This killer that Nadine Street has been summoned to snuff out specializes exclusively in the upper crust. His only kills are politicians, financiers, business moguls, bureaucrats and generals. It’s hard to tell at this point, if his targets are random or orderly. What’s certain is that he’s put well-earned fear into some brave hearts.
Well, murder must be more exhausting than most would think. This fellow is stopping for a drink. We’ll say “goodbye” and leave him to enjoy his great accomplishment.
After I finished the first draft of the opening chapter, I was on a high. I had set out with a mission, to let me, Zacchaeus Miller (known as Zach to his friends and loved ones), narrate as if sitting on a perch looking down on a stage. That way I could jump off if it were necessary to get closer to the action—as I did with Arnold’s murder—but escape at will so as to permit Nadine and the other characters to enact the story like a live play; I thought I had nailed it.
I called Nadine and asked if she could come meet me. It was about eight in the morning and she had just finished her yoga. She informed me she’d be over in half an hour. I recall she abruptly put down the phone.
When she arrived, I could tell she was in a pissy mood; her attitude did discharge my enthusiasm. Still, with hesitancy, I gave what I had written for her to look over—when she finished, she went ballistic.
“How do you know this is what happened?” she demanded more than questioned.
“Because you told me,” I calmly answered.
“I never told you any of that,” she argued, tapping her finger randomly and with unrestrained consternation on one of the pages.
I chuckled, which charged her affect. If she was peeved when she arrived, she was now frightfully inflamed.
“Nadine, if I’m going to write this I have to make interpretations along the way,” I explained. I took a guess at what was riling her. “It’s not possible to know for sure what every character was thinking, feeling or doing during every exchange. We have to fill in holes with the most logical explanation. If we do that we’ll be true to the story.”
“That’s likely the reason I couldn’t write it on my own.” In an instant, she had slammed the brakes on her agitation; it was astonishing how quickly her feeling tone could change.
Then I noticed as she spoke, weariness in her demeanor. She had to be reliving the repeated attempts to imagine what her real life adversaries and allies were going through proximate to her during the experience—it must have been excruciatingly frustrating as she tried and failed many times to get it “perfect.”
“I’ll bet anything that is real close to what did happen,” she acceded after a short meditation.
“I think so too, Nadine. Really, how else could it have been accomplished?”
Nadine held up her left index finger, pointing at me. “That’s one for you.”
“If we’re keeping score then I think you’re going to lose big,” I teased playfully. “You’re on my turf; it’s what I do for a living.”
“Oh, is that the case?” she bantered back. “Preston gave me the impression you hardly made a buck-fifty writing. But if it
will comfort you, you’re lack of success is not why I asked you to help me.”
“You’re heartless,” I smiled. “Am I supposed to ask what it was then that brought you to me?”
I motioned for her to continue.
“You know what it is to suffer. You know how to let a person feel.” Her eyes glistened from a thin film of moisture. “I lost a lot because of the events I’m sharing with you. I’m still not healed. I don’t want this book to end up feeling like a mechanic wrote it.”
“Guts on the freeway. That’s my gospel,” I promised her. “I know. Neither of us would have it any other way.”
She wasn’t joking. The vultures were hovering above us.
“By the way, Preeti is having dinner Tuesday night and would like you to come.” (The invitation was from my wife.) “We’d all like it, if you joined us,” I encouraged her.
She nodded her head up and down to suggest affirmation, but the look on her face delivered a different message: I’m not sure I’m ready.
“You can decide up to the last minute,” I offered. “Do you want to see how I ended the chapter?” I said, handing the last page to her.
She read out loud: I have more introductions to make. In fact, we’re just on time. Nadine is about to find out what a crackup her new partner Dustin is.
She laughed herself silly. “It sure started out that way with Dustin—you got that right.”
I have to admit it was always a relief when she lightened up. The problem was she was not a light person and she was recounting what had not been a light phase of her life, one that would become increasingly heavier as we proceeded with our joint exercise.
BOYS WILL BE BOYS
Young Dustin Drake was in the early stage of instruction under Nadine’s tutorship. There’s a big story behind this fellow coming to study with such a prominent investigator as Nadine Street, but that’s going to have to wait because…right now the boy is in deep muck.
It was a dark night, cloud covered and drizzling. A compact Ford sedan moved slowly along a deserted country road. Looking through the front windshield of the car, one would observe the backside of a late model Porsche. Leaning on the vehicle was a male in his twenties, a tall, stunning man reeking of sexual appeal. That’s the toddling assistant assigned to Nadine, Dustin Drake.
The Ford moved to the side of the road and parked, leaving Dustin between the two vehicles. Nadine exited her car and refrained from even glancing at Dustin. Instead she proceeded to the front end of the Porsche, which was embracing the trunk of a stubborn elm tree that had refused to get out of the way of the speeding vehicle.
Fortunate for Dustin was that the tree must have had the presence of whatever mind a tree can have and tried to sidestep a collision: it was the passenger side of his roadster that was badly damaged, allowing Dustin to escape without apparent injury.
Indeed, he looked his usual cool and unburdened self, only a little tentative as he watched his boss inspect the crash site.
Forced to role-play the chastising parent, Nadine sauntered up to the fancy racing car to casually inspect every crease of its new body design, loitering to breathe in the fumes belching from the weeping engine. Then she circled the tree and the car, nodding to send a clear signal of approbation for a hell of a job. When finished with her performance, she strode up to Dustin.
“How did it happen?”
Dustin responded sheepishly. “I had a couple…maybe I shouldn’t have had even one but…”
“That’s for your priest.”
The rain picked up, followed by a sudden bolt of lightning that brightened the sky sufficient for Dustin to observe the glare on Nadine’s face. A trailing blast of thunder failed to shake her impassivity.
“Wait, Nadine, you know my dad?”
It was more a statement than a question, but it caught her attention. She’d noticed in the past that no matter how irresponsible he’d been, Dustin had never mentioned the man who walked him into the job. She appreciated the fact that he didn’t cower behind big daddy’s coat every time he was about to take a tongue-lashing.
“Well, a short time ago…I never told you…I was drinking and, uh, he helped me out of a jam.”
“What else is new?” She aimed her scorn like a spitball. “What’s new is I promised him I’d never get behind the wheel of a car again, even if all I’d had was a lousy beer.”
“So you want me to smooth it over with your father.” That thought, considering it was actually what he was suggesting, burned her toast. “Forget the priest, Dustin, you need a mommy.”
“All you’d have to do is say you were driving to try out my new car.”
At this moment one of those events that we can never quite determine to be either chance or design happened to fall in Dustin’s favor. If the last words out of Dustin’s mouth hadn’t been drowned out by the distinct sound of crunching leaves in the nearby woods, Nadine would have been on her way. Instead, thinking human footsteps to be the cause of the sound, Nadine went on alert. She whisked a flashlight from her purse.
She aimed the light toward a dark, heavily forested area. Then she heard several quick steps, running, as if somebody was disappearing into the dense foliage. Following into the darkness, she scanned the area ahead and the ground around her for signs. Then off in the distance, she couldn’t tell for certain, but perhaps two hundred feet away, she caught sight of a pair of eyes she was sure were human…staring directly toward her.
They instantaneously disappeared. Nadine started to move towards the place where she saw them but recognizing the futility, she elected to walk back to Dustin.
“Probably a vagrant.”
She dismissed lightly an event she would bank just in case… in case of what she didn’t know but she’d learned never to be careless with a circumstance that could signal danger, especially now when she was in the middle of the most exhaustive and potentially perilous investigation of her career.
“Sounded like a mountain lion to me,” Dustin assessed.
The interruption by the vagrant, mountain lion, or whatever it might have been apparently stimulated an amusing idea in Nadine’s mind. Mirthfully, she addressed Dustin.
“I’m going to fix this up with your father. But in return—” “Nadine, anything,” the young understudy pled.
“You fail me one more time and I’ll ask you to resign on your own accord. You won’t argue, and you’ll face whatever consequences it means between you and your family. Deal?”
“Absolutely. Nadine, thanks, I really—”
“Dustin, I’m not joking. I think I’m going to need you like a real partner. I can’t be losing sleep over someone who can’t locate his butthole with both hands.”
Dustin reached out only his right one to consummate the deal. Nadine emphasized the urgency of the matter by eyeballing him long and hard. Finally, she offered to seal the deal but as they were about to touch, her phone rang. She latched on to his right hand with hers. With her left, she took the phone out of her pocket, listening attentively.
“Don’t let anyone touch anything,” she sharply ordered. “I’ll be right there.”
A GENERAL KILL
Murder investigation scenes are usually chaotic. It’s safe to say that the pandemonium witnessed at this one was a multiple of ten of the standard angry-wife-shoots-husband type. After the little tête-à-tête just described between Nadine and Dustin, the partnership was about to be confronted with a real mess. The call Nadine took was from a junior investigator informing her of another murder presumed to be the work of our star.
The weather had worsened and a dazzling display of lightning had recently zeroed in on an electrical transformer, reducing the illumination of all the streetlights to less than a candle. To compensate for the loss of light, the police vehicles—over a hundred, and that’s without exaggeration—were scattered facing every which direction, generating enough power to service the entire city.
The area had been cordoned off with that stylish yellow designer tape branded exclusively for murder scenes. There were also numerous officers standing around the perimeter of the area to prevent any pain-in-the-ass citizen from breaking the line. Comically, the car around which the entire stage was set escaped any rays of light; it was as if everything in a theatre production were brightly presented, but the action on center stage blacked out.
While at first thought, we might assume the circumstance to be the result of folly or stupidity on the part of the officers already on the scene, there might be another explanation: even police officers and detectives sometimes don’t have the stomach to look at a murder victim. They’d rather close their eyes and leave the dirty work to those who don’t nauseate as easily.
So none too soon arrives Nadine, cast iron stomach and all. Her car glided into an available spot on the outside of the randomly parked clutch of vehicles. She calmly opened her door. If we could hear da-da, da-da background music as she lowered her foot onto the wet concrete, we’d swear The Sheriff had arrived. Bad guys better get out of town, pronto. Standing on the street, she stopped to survey the scene. Then, unconsciously, still with an extra dividend of force, she slammed the car door closed behind her.
What Nadine dreaded most about her job was being called in the middle of the night, which happened with surprising infrequency. She hated having her sleep interrupted; nightmares had troubled her since childhood. If she had one, fortunately, she now knew how to get herself back to sleep so that she didn’t feel hung over in the morning. But having to dress and go out at all hours after she’d begun her sleep time, that meant the whole night’s rest was lost.
If Dustin’s so-called emergency ring requesting her to the scene of his little caper put her in a foul mood, its only redeeming consequence was that it prepared her for this. Still, as she approached the scene, she couldn’t hide a sharp edge that not one of her subordinates would have wanted to rub.
Gazing at the mess in front of her, inattentive to her hair taking a soaking from the now heavy rainfall, she readied herself for a brief orientation of the scene. She didn’t have long to wait; a novice investigator, Todd Padgett, short on breath, raced up to her.
“Street, sorry to call you so…”
“I was already up.” She glanced slightly right to punish Dustin with a reminder she wasn’t expecting a repeat performance from him. “What do we have, Todd?”
“Hope you haven’t eaten recently. General Crow had a bad night.”
Nadine was led to the driver’s side of the car, with Dustin a step behind her. The absurdity of no light on that one significant location in the entire setting nettled her. She raised her arms so that her hands were chest high, palms up and looked skyward for an appeal to an unknown source.
“Is it possible to get some light over here?” she irksomely asked. Padgett ran to one of the other vehicles and reset it so that the headlights were properly directed at the late model Jaguar that would have belonged to General Crow, were he still alive. Now, with the assistance of her lighting director, Nadine was awarded a close up of the general’s head.
If it weren’t so repulsive a sight it might have been uncommonly humorous. The head was lying sloppily across the left side of the steering wheel with the bottom of the chin serving as a faucet for a slow-dripping chain of blood still splattering into a puddle on the floor mat.
Nadine took her flashlight and shined it on the figure. She leaned into the car, calling to Dustin who was in the process of sheltering himself under a long rain jacket and waterproof shovel hat.
“Dustin. Looks like the first strike was to the right side again, the brain…” Her voice elevated. “Take this down.”
Dustin fumbled to get a note pad and pen out, then tried to write under the protection of the coat.
“He used an object…looks like some sort of sharp-edged hammer.”
She stopped talking for a moment, leaning through the window and downward.
“What do we have here?”
Nadine pulled herself out the window. In her purse, she found a rubber glove and plastic pouch, putting on the glove and then reaching far up in the area of the foot pedals, commenting on her way out.
“The killer’s a meanie; he didn’t even let The General finish his cigar.”
She faced directly toward Dustin, dropping the smoke in the evidence bag. Her hair, naturally wavy and intentionally worn down was glued to her scalp and face. Her blouse was drenched. Padgett came running back, holding a coat that he draped over her.
“For Christ’s sake, Street, you’re gonna get sick.”
Oblivious to the gesture, the warning, or the elements prompting both, she went on with her investigation. “I think we may have ourselves, what is it, number eleven? He’s picking up the pace for some reason.”
“Dustin, get his home and office phone records,” she instructed, as she pulled off her gloves. “Somebody must’ve called to arrange a meeting with him.”
Nadine paused her reporting of the murder and looked at me with the saddest expression, as if the global tonnage of the world rested on her tiny bony shoulders.
“My boss, Chief Lambert…we’ll be talking about him a lot Zach. He hated me,” she sighed. “Facebook friends we’d never be…I knew he was always lurking in my shadow, waiting to destroy me.”
Nadine left that afternoon with the understanding that we’d meet again the following morning. By then, I had completed the next section. As I did with every bit of writing and every re-write of an entire chapter, I asked her to look it over. She had more time on her hands than she was accustomed to and was always eager to keep abreast of my progress. However, I could tell from the onset that her role as editor-in-chief-number-two was not a pleasant task—she was used to being number one.
As hopeful as she was that this exercise in story telling was going to exorcise the evil spirits the case had placed upon her soul, she was exhausted by the daily ordeal of meeting with me. Still, she’d tear into the material I wrote and dissect each and every word such that at points, I felt like she was a pestilent I’d prefer treating with a Xanax pill.
“Nadine, I have another topic to bring up to you this afternoon,” I gingerly approached her after she hounded me about minor issues. I was being sneaky and knew it. The real issue I wanted to address was her vigilance of my work, but I used a secondary, and irrelevant matter, to bring it up.
I had a silly habit when writing. I’d envision the story like a stage production or film. During one of our earliest meetings, I had proposed her as the star of the show. Immediately she protested, insisting I was mistaken to put her in the leading role. I let it pass. Now I was ready to assert my authority, leading to a major blowout with her. It started as a powwow, but ended as a “pow” followed by a “wow.”
“I realize I made a mistake when I accepted that the star would be the killer. Really, Nadine, it has to be you.”
“What’s so important about it?” she rightfully asked.
“To me, it’s a technical issue. There’s a different emphasis placed on the key character as I write.”
“Okay, you happy now? I’ll be your star.” She stood up and began prancing about my office like an actress, concluding the scene by crouching down with her chin on the desk and with her eyes looking up at me. “Anything else?”
“Actually, yes,” I prudently answered. “You have to back off me on the writing. Story elements, sequence and dialogue you witnessed or partook in, character depiction—I’ll take all you have to offer. But style and structure, descriptive writing, pace; I’m going to have to make those decisions.”
She stood up from her squatted pose.
I was laying down the law and she knew it—I delivered the “pow.” Looking up at her, with her lower lip unconsciously tremulous, I didn’t know if Nadine’s response was about to be a “whoa” or a “wow.” I loved the story and was hooked, so it was a big risk, especially considering that while Nadine may have been compromised by her suffering, she was as hard of a cookie as ever baked. I surmised she wasn’t beyond walking away from the project.
Waiting for her next move, a fantasy set in. I imagined her magically moving her right eye to the left side of her face like a chess piece, bulking up the strength on one side of the board in a show of force. She was now glaring at me, but with both orbs grotesquely next to one another.
I held my ground (I was in my chair so standing it was not feasible) and waited, what seemed to me an eternity. Then the right eye slid back into its normal position and the slits of her eyes narrowed and widened. She was smiling.
“Let me know when you need me,” she declared as she sat back in a rare gesture of submission.
Wow. Wow! I presumed I’d have to pay up someplace, sometime, somehow. For now, however, I came away with exactly what I wanted. I was to be granted greater literary freedom—I felt like I had just won a bluff.
“Nadine, I think it’s time to introduce a couple of other performers.”
“As you wish, darling,” she said with the indifference of a lion closing in for a kill.
Anyone care to meet Dr. Monroe? The esteemed analyst is in session. A little birdie is breaching the cardinal law of client confidentiality, kindly doing so to allow us all to eavesdrop as the doctor “tries” to treat a most unruly patient.
Dr. Lawrence Monroe is not only a professor of psychiatry at George Washington University School of Medicine and a world-renowned expert on deviant and criminal behavior, but he’s also a highly successful private practitioner. He is avid about his work, has gem-quality ethics and principles regarding treatment; and…has a collection of friends that would qualify for the label “unique.”
His treatment office is large. The patients enter—like most psych doctor offices—into a small waiting room with a button to press that lights up to let the doctor know his next person is waiting. Given the profile of his typical client, it’s a wonder they’d tolerate the possibility of being seen by a friend or relative of the person receiving treatment while they themselves are arriving to see Dr. Monroe.
If any of the patients had reservations about being recognized, however, it was apparent they were willing to trade their vanity for the privilege of having their heads shrunk by such an esteemed and competent master of the mind. Still, it should be noted that there was one “special” individual who was granted a private method of anonymity when visiting Dr. Monroe.
If we had the vantage point of a pigeon that often enjoyed resting on the sill outside the doctor’s treatment room—the wretched creature with the gall to violate the sanctity of this holy space—we would notice that on the day when Monroe was to see one particular patient, he was oddly out of sorts. Typically presenting to the world a self-assured and relaxed exterior, when he saw the light come on signaling the arrival of his next patient, grim lines blemished his smooth, youthful face.
Sitting in his favorite dark brown leather chair with wood frame, staring at a lithograph by Andy Warhol of Chairman Mao, he appeared unenthusiastic, actually a tad apprehensive. Still, like a good soldier, he elevated himself. He opened the door for his waiting patient. His voice slipped a quiver as he greeted the man.
“Please come in.”
The patient said nothing. He seemed bold and gritty. He stared coldly at the doctor.
“I believe last time we finished up discussing some issues about your childhood,” Dr. Monroe offered to refresh the patient’s memory. “Should we continue there?”
Lots of patients come for help because of anger control issues that have destroyed marriages, relations with children, or even careers. Learning to deal with their stronger emotions is an essential element in their recovery process. At least that’s what Dr. Monroe has devoted an entire chapter to in his latest book, Doctor’s on The Couch. I trust the publisher won’t begrudge me briefly quoting him:
“Learning to overcome this negative behavior helps one to gain confidence and enhance his or her self-esteem. Therefore, if the therapy is successful and achieves those critical breakthroughs we as clinicians treasure in treatment, finally, at long last, the patient will be able to appropriate some of his or her anger constructively.”
As he continues later in the same chapter, the title of the book begins to make sense.
“An early step in treatment is testing out these healthier expressions of hostility with the therapist. In this way, the doctor can take pleasure in the signs of great progress being made. Still, for individuals who are potentially dangerous, the doctor must be cautious of first-hand experiences with rage only a tissue below the surface of execution. For the inexperienced, naïve or overly zealous clinician, failing to appraise the upper level of toxicity of a patient’s anger may place the doctor in jeopardy of his or her own safety.”
This short treatise composing Chapter 11 and entitled “The Art of Dealing with Anger in the Therapeutic Setting” is not presented to criticize or judge Dr. Monroe. It is solely to highlight the fact that for some reason this accomplished and talented man is having trouble taking his own advice.
I mention above that he seemed “reluctant” to see the patient? We can’t be sure yet as to the exact nature of Monroe’s trepidation, for he himself is not on top of it at this time; his closest proximity of insight is merely at the embryonic level.
Before the patient spoke, that visiting pigeon I just mentioned flapped from his perch on one landing outside a window to the one immediately adjacent to it. He now pecked two times on the glass. The patient addressed the intrusion with a grunt, turn ing next to Monroe. His first words were spoken in a voice that shared, though vaguely, characteristics of the vocal sounds uttered by the killer of Wesley Arnold.
“Let’s get this over with, sonny boy,” he grumbled, treating Dr. Monroe with equal indignity as the bird still intruding into the session. “What do you need me to do?”
“I don’t need you to do anything,” Monroe retorted with an odd chuckle.
“Play your games,” the patient snarled. “I’ll wait until you’re ready to cut the crap.”
“We have to find a way to bring down your level of anger.” The man’s impulses were on a short leash. He pounded suddenly on a table in front of him, the shock startling even to the bird. The man then bellowed. “Thanks to you I deal with my…” He paused to mimic his therapist. “‘Stronger feelings’ better now.” He paused a second time, now to reflect on the point. “I really do.”
He then smirked, after which he leaned toward the doctor to whisper at him. “I haven’t done anything…” His voice softened eerily. “Bad…for…” Finally, his words trailed off completely. At the same time, his face assumed a proud calm. Then he spoke in a playfully scoffing manner. “So what’s new in your life, doc?” In the corner of the room sits a round table. It serves as a resting place for a metal piece of pop art. It’s designed as a track for a small metal ball to travel. The sphere utilizes kinetic energy to propel itself in a state of perpetual motion. Monroe finds it restful to watch the ball’s predictable but pleasant journey, especially during those times that he’s deathly bored by a patient’s redundant chatter, or more aptly, when he reaches the point where he’s in need of an I-wish-I-could-strangle-this-idiot pill.
The fact that he’s stationed the moving object directly behind where the patients sit, where he can gaze at it while seeming to be focused on what his client is saying, speaks not only to the fact it commands more attention from him during the course of an average day than any other person or thing, but also to a clinical fact: therapeutic growth takes place in tiny, compressed plots separated by vast, ill-defined stretches of wasteland.
Under the best of conditions, this profession chosen by Dr. Monroe has occupational hazards that can be deadly. That ball may be saving his life. If not, at a minimum, it succeeds in cleansing his mind momentarily as he’s deliberating on a query or plain response to a patient, precisely as he’s doing with this belligerent man.
“Just talk about yourself,” the doctor gently instructed.
The man didn’t miss a beat, seemed on his game as he impudently retorted. “Well, when I was growing up I went to a school where they taught us that if you masturbate you’ll go blind. What do you think about that?”
Monroe for a brief second aired a deep breath. As he exhaled, he seemed to be calming himself. He recognized he’d been fumbling through a mental minefield and might now be able to put things on his own terms.
“It’s what you thought that matters,” Monroe said, paddling the comment back across the imaginary net.
“I thought it was time to stop going to school,” the man stated brazenly.
“You believe you made a good decision?”
“I was fucking by the time I was fourteen.” The patient wouldn’t let up. “How about you?”
“This isn’t about me.”
“Don’t you think it’s about both of us?” The man for the first time altered his tone. Monroe sensed the change.
“No, it is not,” the doctor strongly stated, trying to cease what he sensed was an opportunity to reinstate clinical order. “And we’ve covered this ground several times, haven’t we?”
“You mean about you and I, keeping us separate?” the patient queried, curiously shifting his tone to the extent that he sounded timid.
“Exactly. You have your own ego boundaries. So when you come here all you have to do is stay with yourself, learn to thicken the walls between you and everyone else in the world. That’s when you’ll start to find your true self,” Monroe lectured.
“That’s what I hate worst. Sometimes I feel like the ‘me’ inside is bad. I do terrible things. I can’t help myself. Look how I’ve treated you,” his voice now assumed the sound of deep remorse, the man taking the role of flagellator of his own evil unrestrained impulses.
“Tell me what happened,” Monroe quickly asked so as to capitalize on the easing of his patient’s mood.
“I don’t know what you mean. Nothing happened.” “Your attitude changed,” Monroe pointed out. “Why?”
“I can’t tell,” the man said almost apologetically. “It was just something here.”
The patient pointed to his abdomen, while his face exhibited a sign of pain.
“It’s a feeling,” Dr. Monroe explained. “That’s good. You’re feeling regret, and that’s appropriate.”
“That’s a feeling?” the patient wondered. “That’s what I’m talking about, a feeling. It happens all the time and I can’t tolerate it. It makes me want to…it hurts so much, it makes me want to harm someone.”
“But you don’t have to,” Monroe said in a soothing intonation. “You can learn to tolerate it.”
“Never have.” A sense of resignation could be discerned through the briskness of his words. “I really doubt it.”
“That’s where this intervention is going to help. And what you need to remember is that it all begins with how you treat yourself,” Monroe confidently conveyed to his patient. “Once you learn to make friends with those painful feelings, you’ll see, it will be easier to share kindness with others.”
“I think it’s too late,” the man lamented. “Look how I act toward you. Do you want to know why? It’s because you’re trying to help. Pisses me off, doc. I don’t like people helping me.”
“It’s part of life. We all have to rely on other people sometimes.” “It would make it easier for me if you let me help you with
something,” the patient grinned.
“But I don’t need you for anything,” Monroe chuckled. “Besides, that’s not what your therapy is about.”
“It is for me,” the man insisted.
“We can talk about this more next time. But one of the reasons we try to go back into your youth is to find leads pertaining what your likes are, what you can do to gratify you. You can’t wait for me or anyone else to offer you the opportunity to be satisfied.”
“Okay, I got it, sonny boy,” the momentarily gleeful patient answered. “You’ll see how good I can be.”
The pigeon winged off his perch, having learned from experience that what he was witnessing between Monroe and the patient was as thrilling as the treatment process gets. Simultaneously, the door gently closed.
Monroe was sitting alone. The whipsaw pattern of his patient was familiar to the doctor but it still left him curiously distraught. What could account for the patient’s dramatic change of attitude partway through the encounter? Guilt? Shame? Would Dr. Monroe, a great analyst, deduce regret or nascent signs of a conscience?
Whatever it is, here’s hoping the treatment process helps this man achieve a stronger grip on his emotions. For if he might be the killer, Monroe’s skills as a therapist may be the only chance that the lives of many innocent people will be spared.
Is this master of the mind, Dr. Lawrence Monroe, the man for the job? It’s a question Nadine is going to get the answer to.
THE LOVE COTTAGE
It was a Monday evening. Kuruk was closed. Preeti’s invitation for dinner to Nadine was for a meal at our restaurant. Reuben, our chef, had volunteered to cook one of his feasts in honor of Nadine. It was near six, the time that Preeti asked everyone to come. Reuben’s wife, our good friend, Josea, Preeti and I had arrived, but the other two invited guests had not.
Reuben poked his head out from the kitchen. “What do you smell?” he posed with the jubilance of a quiz show host.
“Oscar Meyer wieners,” Josea joked.
“You wait little lady,” he quipped back at his wife at the same moment as my father-in-law, Len Cloud, arrived.
The greetings for Len were interrupted when our family pet, Henry Higgins, jumped up and gave a single sharp bark. His short tail was wagging at ninety degrees—which is near record setting for the stump left on the boy. He had developed a fondness for Nadine and his outburst anticipated her approaching the door. By the time she opened it, he took the liberty to be the first to welcome her, landing his two front paws on the thighs of her black jeans. She picked him up and hoisted him with her outstretched arms so she was face-to-face with her buddy. His tongue was reaching zestfully. I believe he was trying to gauge how he might get to her rouge lip balm.
To my knowledge, Nadine had met everyone present, except Len Cloud. I proceeded on that premise and made the proper introduction. Then Preeti had us all sit at a table and brought over a bottle of champagne. Kindly, she welcomed Nadine by toasting her.
“How do you like the little love cottage, Nadine,” Josea asked, referring to the living quarters attached to the restaurant that I had invited Nadine to use during her stay.
“There’s a charm to the place. I feel safe here.” Nadine offered what looked like a strained smile. “I do get lots of love when Henry Higgins comes to snuggle.”
“It does have that feel to it,” Reuben agreed. “When I was living there alone, I would sit sometimes for hours—it would rejuvenate me when I felt sad.”
“So much sadness, so much joy, so much life born in that space,” Josea reflected. “I’m glad you came to occupy it, Nadine. I hated to think of it empty. It’s a special home and I hope you’ll stay in it a long time”.
“But why do you call it the love cottage?”
“Everyone who has lived there is either in love or falls in love while occupying it.”
“I’m sure I’ll be the first to break the string of successes,” Nadine snickered.
“We’ll see,” Josea teased. “You’re not the first to think that.”
“I have to go back to my life. I can’t run away from responsibilities,” Nadine sternly reminded herself.
Josea surveyed the other faces in the room. “So be it, Nadine.” She couldn’t hold back a portentous smirk. “But time will tell. I don’t think anyone who lived there went back to the life they had before.”
“I never thought about that.” Preeti stopped to deliberate. “Your right.” She then intentionally altered the course of the discussion. She was sensitive to the awareness that Nadine had enough on her mind and could do without fortune telling by a group of amateur soothsayers. “Zach tells me you’re moving along well with the writing.”
“Zach is moving along well,” Nadine sighed. “I’ve been ordered to stay out of the creative process, but I’ve been assigned the lead actress role.” Cunningly she added: “Anyone looking for a star?” “Actually, Nadine, Reuben and I just completed a new musical called, Brothel,” Josea responded. “Care to audition?” Then she contemplated more earnestly. “It’s the story of a little girl whose mother was a prostitute.”
“There’s an unusual twist in the end,” Reuben embellished, “but you’ll have to stick around to see it for yourself. I think I see what Josea is getting at. We have a perfect role for you…ever acted?”
“An essential ingredient to being a good murder investigator is acting.”
“Then it’s decided. You’ll audition,” Josea declared.
“I think you could do better,” Nadine insisted. “I loved your musical, How Could Wright Be So Wrong, by the way.” She was complimenting the seminal work of Josea and Reuben. “Who wrote what parts?”
“I wrote the book and sections of the music,” Josea explained. “Then Reuben did the rest.”
“I still think about what Benny did. His devotion to his family was unimaginable,” Nadine mused. “It’s a simple love story in the end; that’s what makes it so beautiful.”
“Benny was stuck in a dream and couldn’t materialize it in real life,” Josea explained.
“Aren’t we all stuck in something? On the global level, we call it life, but individually we’re dealing with a particular dominating characteristic,” Nadine surmised. “Shyness, gullibility, greed, devastation, vengeance, loneliness, ignorance; poverty, worry, fear, hate, denial, lust—this list is vast, but if we look at ourselves, we’ll see what is most damning that we can’t escape.”
“What if we do escape it?” Reuben challenged.
“If you believe you dodged it by running away from it, I promise it’ll be there when you look in the mirror.”
“It’s true. I’ll admit that what I’ve hidden from in my life ends up being there just the same.” Reuben stopped to contemplate. “I may be stuck in it, yet I handle it better than when I was younger,” he finally concluded “I think that’s the best we can do, Reuben. Since we’ll never get unstuck, we have to learn to take it gracefully,” Nadine opined.
“Should we do one round, each of us telling what we see as our life-damning theme?” I flippantly suggested.
“No, please,” Nadine earnestly pled. “We’re off track. What about How Could Wright Be So Wrong? I’m sure it’ll be on Broadway soon.”
“That we will never allow, Nadine,” Josea quickly assured her. “Reuben avoids fame like snake bites…at least he tries,” she said, giving a subtle clue to Nadine about Reuben’s dominating theme. Then she added regarding herself: “And I’ve had enough of a taste of it to know it causes indigestion.”
“So it’s just for fun,” Nadine assumed.
“And self-satisfaction,” added Reuben as he stood to go into the kitchen. “People are entertained. They truly enjoy our work. What more can we ask for?”
At that moment, the door opened and, Preston, the last invited guest walked in.
“I was just about to worry over you,” Preeti called out.
“Plane was late. What else would you expect?” Preston humorously disparaged the airline industry’s notorious habit of inconveniencing customers.
Preston was a man about my height and weight, six-two and one hundred eighty pounds. He had light sandy brown curly hair that he permitted to dangle loosely but at a controlled short length. He had an easy-going spirit and other than an unconquerable and inexplicable mistrust of Reuben, he liked his fellow man and reciprocally was adored by most everyone who knew him—even Reuben.
He loved woman. With equal reverence Minnesota Fats would show to a pool stick, he handled his ladies. The main difference between the two men was that the famous billiard player finished the match, whereas Preston was content to lay down the cue and walk away any time it suited him.
The two of us had delighted in that shared state of bachelorhood, but after my marriage to Preeti, I noticed Preston tiring of superficial interludes. Yet rather than vigorously pursuing a more enduring bond, he seemed to withdraw from dating altogether. Occasionally he’d report to me how he’d bore himself with the endlessly stocked river of band devotees who were never selfish with their lust, in exchange for the chance to meet the members of the famous rock group employing him as their sound engineer.
Preston worked for a world-renowned musical band that had lost its iconic leader. Still, the remaining members played to huge crowds of followers who beyond attending out of nostalgia, prayed that someday their idol would return to stage and they would have been able to say they were there when it happened. Regardless of the motive of the female fans, I could tell that Preston had graduated to a state of indifference toward their carnal offerings. As only a best friend dating back to childhood might be able to attest, my mate recently had been culturing loneliness and sadness like warts.
Then I noticed as he saw Nadine from across the room, his eyes popped forward. She had stood up from the table where she had been seated. Holy shit, howled rankly in my muted mind as Nadine locked in on him in return. Kuruk! It’s a place where people fall in love, I laughed inwardly.
It might have been pure imagination on my part, that I had witnessed the look by each of them. Yet my first thought was that romance between these two appeared as plausible as a turtle tap dancing. Nadine seemed emotionally fragile and romantically crippled. Preston, historically, was as dogged pursuing love as a bellman refusing a tip.
Yet there they were. Preston looked gaga and Nadine took on the look of a confused little girl. I broke the spell.
“Nadine, come over for a second.” I waved instructively to her. She followed my direction like a child. “I assume you both know each other,” I said innocently.
“Actually we never met one another,” Preston addressed me while apportioning his glance heavily in Nadine’s direction. “I’m Preston, Zach’s best friend,” he introduced himself to Nadine.
She stood looking at him and said nothing, only a silly grin speaking to a fact I couldn’t begin to interpret.
“Stacy told me you had this horrible experience in your work. I’m sorry,” Preston told Nadine, who still hadn’t said a word. “I knew Zach would be the person to help.”
“We are making some progress, are we not?” I rhetorically asked Nadine.
“Slow but steady. It’s a lot better than I did on my own,” she admitted. “Besides, I like it here. I’m really not in a hurry to finish it up and that’s not how I typically work.”
“Can I ask what it is you’re writing about?” Preston queried her. “Of course, you can,” Nadine responded playfully.
“Well, what happened?”
“I can’t tell you,” Nadine teased.
“But you invited me to ask,” Preston insisted.
“You asked if you could ask, not if I would answer.” “That’s cheating,” Preston objected.
“No. You weren’t paying attention to the words. Every point we speak is critical. Is that not correct, my author friend?” she posed the question to me like a chess move.
“It is,” I agreed. “But you knew what Preston was asking.” “Zach, I’m surprised. I’ll bet your friend can defend himself.”
There was no offense in her voice. She actually seemed more relaxed than I had seen her up to that moment. “I’m toying with Preston on purpose. It’s my way of keeping up his interest.”
I noticed her punctuate the last statement by staring straight at him. There was no doubt she had accomplished her purpose— his engrossment stood out like an erection.
“Fact remains,” Preston insisted, “that I would be pleased if you would share it with me.”
“Okay,” Nadine consented. “Zach, what if you give copies of each chapter to Preston after they’re finished? It’ll be like a serial.” The last word set off a neural reaction. Her tone turned somber and the light playfulness she displayed an instant before, scattered like dust particles in the wind. “It’s about serial murder, Preston. It’s about love, betrayal; it’s about dirty, filthy politics, sick people, hateful people, greedy and desperate people…and it’s about me being tossed around like a shag mop in the hands of monsters.” Nadine’s eyes turned watery, but she battled proudly to maintain composure. “It’s about every damn thing evil in life…and I collapsed, okay?”
Public displays of emotion were not this lady’s style, yet there she was, unwittingly making herself vulnerable. “This is why I can’t be with people.” Her mascara dissolved in a teardrop that aimed an inky rivulet down the right cheek. “I’m broken, can’t you see,” her voice hushed to avoid embarrassment in front of the others. “You’ve all been wonderful to me, Zach. I’m not ready for this,” she wept. “Another time, okay? Please let everyone know that I don’t feel well.”
Nadine retreated back to her room. Henry Higgins managed to slip in just before she closed the door—Preston might have hated the dog just for that second. Preeti had been watching while at the same time talking with Josea. She came over to see what happened. Ever since she arrived, my wife sensed that Nadine was a lady in distress and had instinctively zeroed in on building a bond with the new guest.
“Zach, honey, what happened?” she inquired.
“It was my fault,” Preston piped in. “I wanted to know more about what happened to her.” He spoke to both of us with a maturity that I’d never heard come out of his mouth. “I think I might be able to love this woman.”
“Then go knock on her door,” my wife dared him.
What a coincidence it was that the goo-gooing initial attraction between Nadine and Preston coincided with the next chapter of Nadine’s tale, an episode beginning with all the elements of a love story. This one was between Nadine and the esteemed Dr. Monroe.
The psychiatrist’s lectures are always packed. He’s respected as a great expert in his field and has the reputation of padding his lessons with the most schmaltzy professional case experiences—cases he’s directly handled, involving some of the most notorious psychopaths and sociopaths ever put under an analytic scope. This particular evening is no exception. That explains the densely crowded hall Dr. Monroe speaks to, with seats available in the last row only.
In fact, if we glance to the rear of the lecture hall, we notice a lone spectator with a seat empty on both sides of him. He’s a man senior to Monroe by a good couple of decades. His hair is still black, with only the hints of the gray most men sprout in their early forties, and it’s thick as well as full. We could say that clinically he looks years younger than his stated age. His dress is simple: polo-type maroon top—forget the labels—a worn pair of blue jeans and white tennies.
He leans comfortably to his right with his left leg draped over the other, hunching slightly. His eyes are half closed, challenging drowsiness he’d have awarded with a short nap long ago had he been home. The purpose in his attending Monroe’s class is not edification in psychopathology, a subject he’s proficient on in his own right. This gentleman has romance on his mind.
Dr. Monroe in front of the audience is in his element. He moves back and forth across the stage, engages his troops by pausing for rhetorical questions. Occasionally, he humors his flock with quotes he’s either picked up on his travels or made up along the way.
At the moment, he’s showing his students a video from an institute for the criminally insane. His attention rests on one particular patient, a man displaying multiple characters in each of several sequences. Monroe explains that the patient under study is a convicted serial killer—and more. Have a listen.
“Initially, this man was diagnosed as a sociopathic personality. As his evaluation progressed, it was recognized that the diagnostic process was far more complex than previously believed. The man had developed innumerable personalities, some of which he’d abandoned and others he’d retained.
“It was concluded based on the criminal investigation that the reason his case had become nearly impossible to solve was that each of the murders he’d committed was the making of a distinct personality, each sprouted successively and seemingly with the ease of a kid blowing bubbles in class.
Monroe reached under the stand and drew out a cup of water, taking a sip and then replacing it.
“About a year into the case, I was invited to help the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program to sort out the killings. You may be interested to know that the man who requested my involvement in the case is seated behind you—Chauncy Meyer.”
He gestured with his hand in the direction of our spectator in the last row, who in turn makes a half bow and sits back down.