Nobody would refer to her as a normal twenty-year old lady. The drumbeat playing in her head was one that few in the history of mankind had been able to hear. She wanted to be like every other kid her age and dreamed about it throughout her childhood. However, it was hopeless from the outset. So when she seduces a depressed young man being treated in a mental hospital, it’s no surprise. What is a bit shocking is that as a result of her non-therapeutic intervention, the suffering patient regains his zest to live.
He was so enchanted by her magic, that when Juliette disappears he vows to spend until eternity, if necessary, to find her. Then, when she begins sending him cryptic messages, the chase begins.
He loves Juliette and she, in turn, loves Murray. However, Juliette has a different concept of love…and she has secrets. Discovering the mystery of this girl will take him on a journey thousands of miles from home. Along the way, he’ll be teased and tormented into submission before having his sleeping spirit awakened by both humans and wild animals.
Dennis A Nehamen
Golden Poppy Publications Los Angeles
By Dennis A Nehamen
Copyright © 2017 Dennis A Nehamen All Rights Reserved
Published by Golden Poppy Publications™ 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: 2016906833
Cover by Cline Cover Design
Nehamen, Dennis A Author
Dennis A Nehamen
Printed in the United States of America First Edition
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”—Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi, also said: The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
Humbly, on behalf of Juliette, I’ll amend this great man’s words by saying that it’s the greatness of each of us as humans that can be judged by the way we treat animals.
“Oh, Romeo. Oh, Romeo.”
I was lip-reading the words as she ballet-swirled around the room. There was no sound but the tenderness of her expression beckoned me like a cradle.
“Yes, Juliette. Yes, my love.”
“Oh, Romeo, where art thou…and will you die for me to come to you?”
“I am prepared to give my life a thousand times to be with you, if only for an instant of eternity.”
Then the space turned to smoke, blinding like a thick fog. She was gone but still I could hear her calling me in a teasing voice. “Sweet Romeo, come find me.”
The agony of her loss jolted me from my sleep. My head sprung upward and my eyes saw only darkness, as I shrieked. “I’m not Romeo. Damn it! I’m Murray Broudy.”
Was it sweat or had the tears drenched my shirt? “Juliette, where are you? Please come to me,” I beseeched in a whisper.
I had lost her. There was no way of knowing if I’d ever see her again.
CHAPTER 1: TRUE THERAPY
I recall the day. How could I forget? It was my twenty-first birthday…and I was spending it at the Woodcrest Psychiatric Hospital, my residence for the past too many months. It was located barely a mile from where I was raised in West Los Angeles.
How I ended up there is a long story that I’ll summarize by saying that I had a friend who turned out to be a madman, killing many young people. I perceived the tragedy to be my fault in that I should have seen it coming and taken action to prevent him from inflicting violence on so many innocent victims, including my girlfriend at the time. She would have never been tagged an enemy sentenced to death had she not been my romantic partner.
I asked for justice—a sentence of death, the only means I perceived to escape the unendurable agony of my existence—though I deserved not even that. It was a farce, but I went so far as to orchestrate a mock trial, appalled to learn that over ninety percent of the millions that fortuitously ended up witnessing the spectacle, sided with my defense council and moved to exonerate me of any wrong in the matter.
The verdict did no good in terms of releasing me from hurt. It was for that reason that I continued my stay at the venerable institution, languishing in a depressive state from which I had neither the will nor power to terminate.
My parents arrived with a cake to celebrate my special day, the staff particularly appreciative in that I ate none of it. My father brought along a single sheet of paper that I needed to sign: somebody had to oversee the fortune I had inherited from my aunt. Ironically, though at the time I was ignorant of this fact, even with spending thousands of dollars per day for my in-patient treatment, I was increasing my assets by millions of dollars a month based on rental income, dividends and stock appreciation. That fact galled me in that my good fortune reminded me of the maniac mass killer friend, Nick Ferris, a fellow who came into phenomenal wealth by doing nothing other than having been born to rich parents.
The parallel between Nick and I ended with the coincidence of each of us having a vast pool of money early in life without having to earn a nickel of it. I came from a secure and loving home, with great indulgence from grandparents and my extended family. Shy, quiet and bright, humble and unpretentiousness, I was a boy behind the curve on manhood but in the process of enjoying catch up when bedlam broke out.
Nick was arrogant from the get go, an early bloomer with exceptional intelligence who came from a highly disturbed and twisted background. Socially, he was never able to enjoy a moment’s peace. He lived half time in a world of fantasy and the other half pretending to be sane.
Well, enough about Nick. He’s dead and in an odd sort of way I hold myself accountable for that sad fact as well. I must bear the weight of knowing that had I acted in accordance with the contract I had informally agreed to with his mother, he’d have been alive to this day…although his hospitalization would have been involuntary and not particularly pleasant.
It was after my twenty-first birthday “party” ended, and my parents left their woeful son, that the tale I’m about to impart began, when the life of Murray Broudy made an about-face.
Our facility was staffed with several professionals, plus a greater number of unlicensed counselors who made themselves available at all hours to talk with the patients. One, in particular, that took an interest in me was a girl named Juliette. It would be correct to surmise that I had been placed on her patient list in that more than any other counselor she made it a point to quite often poke her way into my space. She would constantly nag me to partake in the activities of the facility, be it treatment meetings or extracurricular events such as a movie or an outing to the beach.
I routinely refused her attempts to brighten my spirits. I’m sure that I was failing her, although she never seemed offended or disappointed. I do recall early on, just before the trial, she was in my room one day raising the blinds when she stopped to examine me. Then she commented to the effect that if she didn’t have a boyfriend I might be a catch for her. I remember even in my funky state appreciating her compliment in that I’d always been sensitive about my appeal to the opposite sex, even after having had a few ego-boosting affairs just before Nick exploded.
After the trial, she continued to display vigilance toward me, as well as a tenderness that always seemed more celestial than sensual, her deeply compassionate tone and attitude suggested that her heart was soundly above her head, soaring in the heavens. Yet for me, even in my despaired state, what stood out most profoundly— the instinct that I couldn’t repress—was the fact that she turned me on.
She was about my age. I remember being amazed that her waist could be so tiny yet her buttock and breasts fanned out gracefully so that they titillated my imagination. I observed that she never seemed to be reticent to promote her womanliness, yet at the same time I sensed indifference on her part in terms of being consciously or intentionally sexual. In fact, this trait of heedlessness impressed me as being more globalized, and raised the prospect of a subtle otherworldliness. It struck me in such a way that I thought rather than being from another universe she belonged to each of them, and none, simultaneously: all of these nearly magical perceptions served to enhance her allure and intrigue.
She had brunette hair that cascaded in multiple layers below the neckline. Part of what I’ll call her uniform, were colorful ornaments—ribbons, feathers and clips— worn on her crown. Then there was…well, I’ll get to that in a minute…I never saw her dressed other than in a pair of faded blue jeans and a sleeveless top with wild-patterned Van tennis shoes. Jewelry was limited to a gold-plated chain necklace with a cheap metal ring as a pendant.
Though I wouldn’t have let on to her that I admired it, I secretly enjoyed watching her ambulate. She nev er maintained one plane but rather her thrusting steps would toss the top of her head skyward and then it would dip down with equal momentum, as if her legs were spring loaded. Then by adding the waving movements of her outstretched arms and bobbing of her chest, she appeared always to be charmingly prancing about the facility.
In my room, sitting at the end of the bed, not infrequently she’d stop to tidy up the few belongings I had tossed randomly on the chair or floor. When she was in a resting state, I couldn’t help but observe that her stillness was as peaceful as her moving energy intoxicating.
It must have been an hour after my parents left that she knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” I grumbled.
“Murray, I can barely hear you. It’s Juliette.”
“Come in,” I deliberately mumbled, making sure to not expose the delight I experienced knowing she had come to see me.
“Well, Happy Birthday. You’ve never asked but I’m almost exactly a year behind you…three hundred fifty-nine days to be precise.”
I nodded to let her know I heard, however, I was more absorbed in deliberating what I recognized as a surprising change in her presentation.
“Where’s the ring you wear around your neck?” I asked in a tone I had no idea was snide.
“If you would have told me you cared, I might have broken up with Brad before this,” she teased.
I didn’t reply. She stared at me with a grand smile, one that reduced me to shamefulness. She had plucked my feelings like a violin string, the vibration curiously journeying to my crotch where I thought I sensed the onset of an erection.
“I did about all I could for Brad. I have a bad habit of taking on hopeless projects.” She bobbed her head to affirm to herself what she had stated. “I was only pretending to be hooked up anyway…it was a relief to give up the charade.”
“I’m sorry, just the same,” I replied dispassionately.
Juliette was in a playful mood, seizing on my reply to toy with me.
“You don’t seem it…and you shouldn’t be sorry at all.” She laughed wholeheartedly, with a twinge of devilishness that I found precisely as she intended on this occasion, erotic.
“Why shouldn’t I be?”
“Because today is your day, Murray.”
“I know it’s my birthday, but I don’t really care.” “No silly. Today is the day I seduce you.”
As she spoke the words she stood up, simultaneously beginning to pull off her top while going to the door and placing a chair to block it from being opened (we weren’t allowed locks).
Oh my god is all I could whisper as I watched her strip off the few items of clothing she was wearing. She stood in front of me comfortably and gloriously, not a single cellular display of embarrassment.
“Everything off, Murray. It’s time for your therapy.” Juliette loved me to tears. My eyes were like hoses, pouring out hurt, soaking her breasts with the wetness of months of unforgiving anguish. She held me, caressed my aching soul. She licked the poison juices of despair that sought refuge by seeping through my pregnant pours. She had wanted me all along but I had been intent on dying.
I have no idea how she accomplished the privacy she enjoyed with me, perhaps the facility hired a more inventive Director of Psychiatric Services. Every day she managed to have an uninterrupted hour alone with me—she might have cured the whole hospital ward, plus the staff, with her brand of intervention. I certainly was feeling better. In fact, every day I waited in anticipation for her arrival and faithfully she’d knocked on my door at nearly the same time.
We made love, not sex. I know it was more than simple carnal pleasure…for both of us, though I struggled miserably with the intimacy we shared. Plainly, the joy I experienced with Juliette brought back memories of Paula, my girlfriend that was savagely murdered by Nick. She was my first real love, and I deeply adored her.
One afternoon, precisely at the climactic ending of a passionate session between Juliette and me, I broke down.
“Juliette,” I panted, as I noticed a rush of adrenaline soaking my body in sweat.
While still as one, I stared down at her, my breathing quickening into short, sharp bursts. Her eyes absorbed me in the tenderness of her soul; it was almost as if she anticipated my words and was beckoning me to expel them…yet I lacked the strength to make a sound.
“There is only one love; it’s the same no matter how many lovers you take,” she explained in a matter-a-fact manner that surprisingly made our passion seem to be something much grander than a mere carnal experience, greater still than all the acts of sexual encounter in the history of mankind. “Isn’t it wonderful to know that? Imagine, we likely have done this in the past.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying,” I cried out, stupefied by what to me seemed a confounding comment, one obtuse to the sentiments I was expressing.
Juliette closed her eyes. Her face softened as she appeared to retreat into a heavenly peace. Miraculously, I remained stiff inside of her, and even more astonishing was that by choosing to ignore my confusion, the quietude of her being lured me into a state of tranquility paralleling hers. In fact, I cannot remember ever in my life, either before or after that moment, feeling the same sense of lightness, and even enlightenment. It was as if the universe had shrunk to the size of a single atom and I was at one with it in its infinite vastness. It incorporated all places and moments of time, every episode of my tiny life blended into the oneness of the space. All of the sensations and perception of that instant seemed to be evolving from Juliette, as if she were a flower, her winged petals gently waving to draw me closer to the ovary, sucking me further within until I saw myself as embryonic matter resting in her maternal sac.
Finally, Juliette glanced up at me. Her smile was ageless and omniscient. The softness of now floating in the bosom of her soul so intoxicating that I sensed no inertia, no need to ever sacrifice the ecstasy that had graced me—then she awakened me by plucking the very words I yearned to speak.
“You loved her, this Paula, didn’t you?” she stated, perhaps Juliette attempting to shed light on her comment that it’s the same love no matter who the lover is.
Juliette might have been reading my mind since it was exactly the topic of Paula, my wonderment that I could have loved her so deeply yet in a matter of only months find myself loving every bit as richly my new partner. Hearing my dilemma addressed by Juliette, with no judgment or offense, rather as a blank statement inviting me to live out the grief of that nightmare, heightened my sentiments, sending me back into an oceanic release of sorrow.
“I might as well of killed her myself,” I finally shared. “That one time they met, I saw it on Nick’s face, the venom, the hate.” I could barely breathe yet I battled for the next sentence on queue. “All she did was hug him,” I blurted out as my head fell limply on Juliette’s chest.
“It’s okay,” she whispered. “You can come back to her every time we’re together, and every time you’re making love with your next lover.”
“There will never be another one after you.”
The sun was arcing on its southwest journey, the sizzling, shining rays targeting just below the shade on the window. They illuminated Juliette’s face, her features glistening as she sat straight upward, separating our union.
“You’re funny,” she giggled, her expression remarkably childlike.
“I’m not joking. I could never go on without you.” “Okay. I promise you, I’ll never leave you alone.”
I could tell her words were contrived, not ingenuous, to the contrary, spoken with compassion yet intended just the same to pacify me, which they did. I relaxed. At that instant, I had no doubt that her vow was earnest. Sadly, as time went on, I’d have to question those words that had bestowed on me as quiet and safe a state of mind as I could imagine.
After that session, we continued nearly on a daily basis with what I was convinced would be the final chapter in the love life of Murray Broudy. Still, we’d rarely discuss our lives outside of Woodcrest, and if we did, narrowly.
I assumed she knew little about my background other than the Ferris tragedy that brought me to the hospital in the first place, and I had just as limited information about her life. Our purpose was solely to cuddle and hug and play love games. I do remember that after a week passed, we had a brief conversation about my fortune, a subject I’d never discussed with anyone other than my immediate family.
“We all know you’re rich Murray,” she said matter-afact. “How else could you have financed that fake trial?”
“I really don’t like to talk about it. To tell you the truth, it doesn’t mean a thing to me.”
“You wouldn’t talk like that if you understood the importance of wealth.” She shook her head disapprovingly. “Don’t ever tell me again that you don’t value your good fortune or I’ll lose all respect for you.”
Her eyes were translucent and she placed no defenses against me trespassing within them, loitering to peek deeper within her being. What I perceived was her admonishing me, the sternness of her tone oddly unnerving. She wasn’t finished.
“Do you think I’m after your money?”
I tilted my chin downward and inaudibly whispered that I didn’t.
“Then what am I doing here? Do you really understand what this is about?” she posed as if challenging me to a duel.
“We just love each other. Besides that, I have no idea.” “You better find out,” she said sharply.
She stood up and left the room.
Stupidly, I ignored her words, continuing to ignore the issue of money as well.
For the next two weeks, Juliette and I continued our joy sessions but without any additional intimate discussions. Then one afternoon, she was again in the mood to talk.
“So what are you going to do Murray? You can’t stay here forever.”
There was an edge to her statement; her irritation suggesting I should have addressed the matter long before and as a result of not doing so placed her in the undesirable position of having to raise it for me.
“I’m thinking about it,” I replied sheepishly.
“No. What you’re doing is not true thought. I’d call it mentally jerking off. Your mind creates a play, any theme or story line you want. Then you turn it into a show by assigning roles whichever way you wish to whomever you care to act in your production. That’s what you’ve been doing here, isn’t it? You put on the trial but even that didn’t satisfy you.”
“They were wrong to—“
“No, that’s your mind too, playing god,” she struck out at me with unprecedented annoyance. “Your head is a mess Murray.”
“I know it. Other than you, I have nothing to live for. Look what happened to all those people just because I was weak and negligent.”
“That’s just a subplot in the story, another piece of your invention,” she scolded me. “You could have called it any way you wanted, given yourself any of a thousand roles, but that’s how you preferred to see it. Of course, it was traumatic but you married the drama.” She paused, the delay as calculated as a chess move. “Would you be as faithful to me as you seem to be toward your suffering?” she snapped.
The question staggered me, yet I should have seen it coming. She’d tried on a few occasions to strike up a conversation with me regarding my future. Each time I sidestepped her, still not feeling that I was prepared for the world I’d retreated from. Even so, her statement was like a sharp jab in the ribs. I lost my breath. I couldn’t speak.
“I don’t need another Brad, do I?
The encounter unfolded while she was standing in front of me. Her nakedness allowed me to see disgust sucking inward at the space between her clavicles. The skin from throat to sternum was flushing pinkish-red. She turned from me and slipped on her underwear, bra, pants, top and shoes. When she was dressed, she glanced at me with a look I interpreted as disdain; it chilled me. She lingered with her eyes denouncing my indulgence… then she bolted out the door, whipping her arm from behind to slam it shut.
I lay in bed all that afternoon and evening. Her words were delivered like precision weapons. It was a different sort of emotion I was experiencing than any I’d had during my hospitalization. I felt abandoned. I didn’t know what to do but I was aware that I was grossly bewildered by her harsh rebuke. Had Murray Broudy orchestrated a reality that was one of an infinite number that he could have conjured? Victim? Had I fallen in love with being the pathetic suffering martyr of a situation that had never been under my control? To believe that would have made a sick folly out of the past several months of agony, and I was not ready to own that truth. The night darkened both my outer and inner world.
Over and over, I rehearsed the encounter hours earli er with Juliette. As I did my feelings gradually amassed into a single fighting force, one with absoluteness and divine clarity—I had been wronged.
How could she speak to me as she did? She never faced what I had, so who was she to judge? Worse still, her insinuation that my mind had the power to manipulate an event of such magnitude any way I chose was cruel and callous; it was to my way of thinking as well, absurd. I felt outrage toward her insolence, so much so it invited me to jump into the saddle of righteousness. I couldn’t wait to denounce her audacity when I saw her later that next afternoon.
It was not until two in the morning when I fell asleep. I was unpleasantly awakened by a dream that left me gasping to bring in enough oxygen. The imagery from the horror of my nightmare remained lucid in my waking state.
I was holding a long machete in my left hand (I’m right handed). I had slashed it through Juliette’s neck. So swift had the blade severed her crown that her facial features remained poised atop her torso, but she was bleeding like a pot of over-boiling liquid. Still, she was laughing at me, sneering as if I were a disgrace.
I looked at the clock on the nightstand. It read five before five. I went to the bathroom and washed my face. Then I changed my shirt. I couldn’t fall back to sleep, so I ruminated on the dream for hours. Each time a staff member came to the door, I sent them away. I had no appetite but I was looking forward to the next visit with Juliette—she typically arrived at two in the afternoon for our little party.
I watched as the clock worked its way to a perfect sixty-degree angle. The thought of Juliette’s betrayal, her sudden insensitivity to my shattered being, had vexed me. Then as the short hand began a slow descent and then started to work its way upward, anger lightened and a sense of worry set in. Two more full revolutions was an eternity, and by that time it was five in the afternoon…I was a wreck.
She’s punishing me? I declared vehemently to the four empty walls.
I stormed out of my room. Seconds later, I was at the nurse’s station. I was irate.
“Where the hell is Juliette?” I demanded.
The duty-nurse was a squirrely old woman for whom I never had a fondness. I was certain that she had little patience or empathy for me either. All during the trial, she snickered as if the whole affair was no more than a sick game sponsored by a spoiled rich kid—a falsehood in that to my credit, I’d never been pampered.
“Mr. Broudy, I’ll not have that talk from you.”
“I just want to know if she’s on duty this afternoon,” I whispered so as to contain my urge to shout her down. As the engagement was unfolding, one of the counselors, a guy named Rick Alpaca, came over to intervene. He was a tall, stick-thin kid who seemed to be fascinated with deviancy and thus was always trying to engage me in conversation so as to glean inside information about Nick Ferris.
He took my arm and led me away. “Murray, didn’t anyone tell you?”
“I haven’t talked to a soul all day,” I replied.
“Juliette called in this morning and resigned…never gave a reason, just said she was leaving.”
“I need to reach her,” I entreated. “Can you get me her—“
“I have her number but I could get fired if I give it out.” “I won’t tell a soul how I got it, I swear,” I pled.
Rick shook his head, gesturing that he was about to do something stupid but loving it just the same. He took a piece of paper and wrote it out for me.
“I won’t forget this, Rick,” I promised.
He walked off laughing, as if the last thing in the world he expected was a pledge fulfilled.
I went to my room and grabbed my cell. The number didn’t ring. There was a brief silence before a sterile voice announced that the line was not in service. I rushed to double-check with Rick that he’d given me the correct number…he had.
I sat in bed with my back against the cold wall deliberating what to do. I was furious. She had not only insulted me, she had also cheated me out of the opportunity to crucify her for the offense. I hated her. I wanted to hurt her.
I cried pitifully…at that moment I realized more than ever the depth of my love for her.
She was gone. It was obvious to me that her intent was to extricate herself from me just as she had unloaded worthless Brad.
She left me only with dreams. They were nightmares that each hour that evening awakened me in a panic.
Oh Romeo. Oh Romeo. Where are you Juliette?
As I’d come to a waking state, I’d shout those words to demand that she reveal herself. There was no laughter in the subsequent silence. Then I would resort to begging. “Please come back to me. I miss you.”
I resolved to hunt her down.
CHAPTER 2: HIDE AND SEEK
I checked myself out of the hospital that evening, attesting to the fact that love is a far better remedy for depression than Prozac. It took me barely five minutes to pack. My mother was ecstatic when I told her to come pick me up. She clicked off the phone without hesitating for a question—she and my father were in the car waiting for me when I exited the front doors. They ran to greet me, showering me with hugs and kisses as if I were a soldier returning home from captivity—in a sense I had been imprisoned though I held the key to my cell door all along.
“Murray, what happened…I mean why all of a sudden, did you decide to discharge yourself?” my mother posed excitedly.
“I’m in love,” I replied in a matter-a-fact manner.
Queerly she inspected me. “I know you better than that, my dear. Now stop joking and tell me the truth.”
“I am telling you the truth. It’s not even a long story but one of the counselors at the hospital and I…well let’s say we connected.”
“When will we meet her?” my dad posed with a nonchalance that seemed forced.
“That’s the problem. She quit the job and disconnected her phone,” I explained with notable anguish. “I know she had strong feelings for me as well but she was a bit disappointed that I was un—well, she believed I was unwilling to set myself free even after the trial.”
“I’m sure you’ll find a way to get in touch with her and patch things up,” my mom assured me. “You might have unwittingly hurt her, Murray. But I’ll guarantee you that nobody can get lost in today’s world.”
“It’ll give you something to do, right son? When a man loves a woman there’s no end to what he’ll do to woo her,” my father added with a wink directed toward my mother.
Mom giggled at the compliment. “Well, what are we doing standing out here talking,” she commented as she opened the car door. “Let’s get home and in the morning you can address the young girl that…might be the love of your life?”
“I think she will be…if I can find her,” I answered as we entered the car. “There’s something about her that’s unusual—“
“Every lady is unique when you fall in love, Murray,” my father quipped.
“Oh, so you’re saying now I’m ordinary,” my mother bantered back at him.
“No, dear, nobody would ever mistake you as common.”
Their mood was playful but mine was not. What happened to you Juliette? Did you leave with the sole intent of getting away from me? I pondered while my parents twittered. At last they went silent, both waiting for me to continue defining what made Juliette so special. As my dad raced the car along San Vicente Boulevard toward the beach, I tried my best to describe her.
“She’s a year younger than me but I have to admit a lot more mature. When she would council me, it was never the same as with my therapists or the other staff. She’d listen in an odd sort of way, as if the words were inconsequential. She was hearing me, the real Murray, not what I was saying…that’s how it seemed to me.”
“So how did it happen that you fell for her?”
“Dad, that’s a story of its own. I’ll simply say that she took the lead and I was quite agreeable to follow,” I smiled with intentional coyness. Then I stopped to contemplate the impressions I was recalling before my father had interrupted me. “Every so often she’d bring me books or articles that she referred to as lessons. She’d put them on my desk with instructions that I might want to look them over. When she witnessed that I’d ignored them, she’d scoop them up and never say a word.” Deliberating my lack of enthusiasm for the material she wanted to share with me, I added, “Pretty crappy of me, right?”
“You were depressed, Murray. When people are feeling like you were—“
“I’m still depressed. I just have something that I need to address.”
“Thank god for that. Necessity might just be the remedy for your gloom.”
“Great, mom. Sounds like you’ll be a perfect teammate for Juliette.”
“If it will get you back to the Murray I know and love I’ll join her, you bet I will.”
As we approached my house, I suddenly realized it had been months since I’d visited, and over a year since I’d lived at home. My apartment near campus had been unoccupied since I left for my stay at the psych residence. I didn’t have an inclination to go back to my place at the moment, so the assumption of my parents that I’d stay at least temporarily with them was correct.
Entering my room was like a journey backward in time. On the walls were pictures I’d mounted dating back to when I was in grade school. I had a mediocre career as a soccer player and a less glorious stint playing baseball. Still, sitting on the bench most of the time on the various teams served the critical collective function of allowing the better players to win games. As a consequence, I had several plaques hanging and a few trophies I didn’t deserve as well. Ironically, the one athletic pursuit I did fairly well at, long-distance running, never produced so much as a ribbon.
Academics were another story. I had a shelf set aside for no function other than to brag about my high intellect. Mathematic competitions, spelling bees and speech contests were my forte. I was most proud of the gold cup I was presented when I won the All-City Oratorical Contest at age fifteen. I wrote my own speech entitled Gains in Technology Encroaching on Human Freedom. It was a philosophical presentation that was so engaging I was invited to speak at the tech convention in Las Vegas that year where seventeen of the over ten thousand attendees of the affair showed up for my talk—seventeen out of ten thousand! Well, at least I was invited, and even without the big audience the whole experience was one of the highlights of my adolescence.
It was the weirdest sensation plopping myself on my bed. Immediately I felt like a child, as if I had wandered back in time several years. The experience was reinforced when my mother arrived at the door and looked in.
“My Lord, Murray, let me take the spread off before you put your shoes on it.”
I guess you can’t take the mother out of Mom.
She had her rules. The hospital had rules. At my place there were no rules.
I knew it wouldn’t be long before I would be returning to my apartment. In fact, as I stood up to let her fold the duvet and then place it in the closet I determined that at most one night in my room would do it. Still, to my surprise and delight, I slept better than I had at any time in the hospital. For months I hadn’t been able to lace together more than two hours of rest without waking fretfully. Then I’d ruminate on my sad state for hours, eventually falling back into a slumber for at most another two hours. During the day, I’d nap but even with an extra hour crashing here and there, I’d be chronically fatigued and I’d lack energy.
When I awakened, the clock read ten to four. Calculating that I had closed my eyes at ten-thirty it meant that I had set a record, five and a half hours sleep. I laid in bed for a few minutes before I noticed that surrounding a portion of the perimeter of one of the windows was a thin bright line where evidently the wood shutter had warped to allow in light. Where is the brightness coming from at this hour? I mused. I stood up to investigate, opening the entire panel. To my astonishment, the sun’s rays nearly blinded me.
Confused, I raced out of the room and into the kitchen where I found my mother peeling potatoes.
“What time is it?”
“Murray, you must have been exhausted. Your father has called three times to see if you woke up. I’ve been waiting too. I didn’t want to come in but I got worried so I peeked a couple times—I could hear you sleeping like a baby.”
“What time is it?” I repeated irritably.
“Look for yourself,” she replied, pointing to the kitchen clock.
“In the afternoon?” I shot out my question as an accusation.
“Yes, you must have needed the rest.”
I had been in bed soundly sleeping for almost an entire day. It was probably the best thing that could have happened for me but it did delay me setting in motion a plan I had outlined after I discovered Juliette’s disappearance. I reasoned that the hospital would refuse to give me personal information about her such as where she lived, job history, emergency contacts and email address. However, one of the other staff members might be her friend and be able to set me in contact with her. I didn’t anticipate that it would be a major issue finding her. Further, I assumed that once I did I would be able to express my good-faith romantic intent such that we could pursue our relationship.
Torn between racing to find Juliette and satisfying a hunger that unexpectedly sprung on me like a mugger, the smell wafting through the kitchen from the apple pie my mother was baking settled the matter.
“Late for breakfast but I already prepared lunch for you,” my mom notified me as she headed toward the refrigerator.
I’m an only child and having me to take care of put her in a state of glory—she was beaming with joy. I downed a ham sandwich with a spinach salad and sautéed Brussels sprouts she’d prepared for dinner the prior evening—we’re Jewish except we balk at renouncing bacon with our pancakes, and we shamelessly admit that ham between two pieces of bread tastes a ton better than borscht soup. Not waiting to digest my meal, I dashed to my room to shower and dress.
My car had been parked in front of the house and I noticed that the keys were on the counter. I was about to thank my mom for the meal and leave when I met her coming down the hallway toward my room. She was waving a FedEx envelope that she passed to me with a perplexed look on her face.
“This just came for you a minute ago.”
I tried to pull it open to discern the contents of the thin packet that contained an item that couldn’t have weighed a quarter of an ounce. The plastic covering was so thick my fingers gave up before the material surrendered. I ran to my room and took a scissors from my desk. When I cut it open, inside was a single sheet of paper. It had one lone typewritten line and no signature: CONGRATULATIONS BUT YOU HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO.
I didn’t know whether to curse or cry. It had to be from Juliette. What is she doing, gaming me? I grimaced as I tried to address her motive for the taunting note. I tore it into pieces, flinging the answer to my mother’s curiosity on the floor.
“I’ll be back later,” I announced with an inhalation of frustration.
When I arrived at Woodcrest it was a totally different experience than when I first admitted myself. After my lengthy in-patient treatment, everyone knew me. The first guess as to why I had returned so quickly was by Nannette at the front desk; comically she asked if I’d become homesick already and was there to beg my way back in as a patient. When I informed her instead that I needed to find Juliette and wanted to talk with a few of the staff to help me contact her, she had me wait in the lobby area.
A few minutes later Nannette returned. She came out from behind the reception area and took a seat next to me.
“Murray, I talked to the HR Director and she said it’s absolutely against company policy to discuss any employee’s personal data with anyone, especially an ex-patient,” she informed me apologetically. Then she leaned closer to me and hushed her next disclosure. “I know you’re a standup guy and I’d help you if I knew anything. The truth is she was friendly with everyone but not a friend to any of us. She was the type that…more or less she stayed to herself.”
“I have to reach her,” I muttered as much to myself as the lavender-haired receptionist who reminded me of a gypsy. She always wore a band of gold coins across the forehead and numerous pieces of jewelry on her arms and around her neck. Her outfits were typically composed of several layers of tops and vests with long colorful dresses that fanned out wide at ground lev el. They were consistently discordant in that the bright yellow, red, orange and pink shades of one piece never matched the black, green, rust and burgundy of another. She wore more than ample makeup yet her dark complexion was unblemished. To me she was the sweetest of all the employees.
The determination in my voice alerted her that it was more than friendship I was seeking. She shook her head as if wishing to console me.
“Don’t love that girl, dear.” Then after her caring admonishment, she stopped to reflect. “She’s a doll for sure but…Juliette is different. I just don’t think she can commit the way most of us want.”
“She had a boyfriend; she told me that,” I argued. “Brad?” she grinned. “He was a baby. He came to pick her up once if I recall—you know she didn’t work here that long. Anyway, I have no idea what her attraction might have been to him, if there was any. All I can say is that I saw them take off in a fancy sport car so maybe it was about money. I can assure you it was not a hot romance,” she tittered.
“This is different. She loves me,” I declared as if speaking under oath.
Nannette reached to touch me, pulling me close to her for a warm embrace.
“Then go find her.” She stared at me and then laughed. “Everybody is somebody’s fool, right?” Then upon further inquiry into her words she decided to take them back. “What do I know?”
“I need her. I don’t understand how she could have left me. She promised she would never go!” I was nearly in tears as I went on to deliver a pledge. “I’ll go anywhere and do anything to have her.”
Nannette had at least a decade’s lead on me in terms of age. All I knew about her as a person was that she was a single mother struggling without child support to raise her little boy, about four years old—she had definitely been somebody’s fool.
I was aware that several of the employees finished work between six and eight in the evening; their shifts staggered. What I thought I would do before leaving was to put in play Plan “B.” I would stick around in the parking area and talk with a few of the people I had known as counselors, therapists and orderlies during my stay at the esteemed nuthouse where I thought at a point I might be spending the duration of my life.
I accosted about everyone I could during that period, only to finally be approached by the Assistant Director. He politely yet resolutely informed me that I had to leave the property or he’d call the police. I was ready to take off regardless and since I had attained not one clue answering how to reach Juliette, there was no use testing his resolve to have me removed—the last thing I needed was a confrontation with the authorities that might end in me being shut up in a different facility from which I couldn’t leave of my own accord.
While not of value in terms of locating Juliette, I did get an overall impression from the several staff that had no reluctance to discuss the matter with me. My lov er was likable but not hardworking. She had a habit of taking off work without permission and was described as…private. She was perceived as extremely bright but even stronger in the category of intuition. At least three of those I spoke with, alluded to her being “frightfully prescient.”
“She could see things that nobody else could. She had a way of looking at you that was scary, as if she couldn’t help diving inside your head and reading your mind,” Tina, one of the clerks, commented. “She tried to come off as a light and zany chick, but if you did get into a conversation with her you learned quickly that she was real deep.”
Then Tina pointed knowingly at me, smiling and jiving. “I know what it is. You have a thing for her. She is one hot number. I can even see that. She’s not beautiful but she has that sensual, sexy allure that can snag most guys.” She nodded her head as if all the pieces of a puzzle had come together. “That’s it. Sure wish I had her tools,” she admitted before drawing me into her reflection. “You want that girl, don’t you?”
I already had her. Now I wanted her back. I never answered Tina.
Darcy, a fellow counselor of Juliette’s, commented with like mind to Tina. “I can’t say that Juliette didn’t belong on this planet but I’m confident that she came from elsewhere, and part of her dwelled in a land where none of us have visited. She could pretend to be one of the group but she was only playacting to be nice.” The opportunity to talk extemporaneously on the subject of Juliette stimulated Darcy. “You know, I think she wanted it to be different, to be like the rest of us, but she had no choice other than to stand outside looking in…still, she wasn’t sad. Actually, thinking about it, I believe she had resolved that her mission on earth was some sort of divine prescription…she seemed to have made peace with that, or was close to doing so—well, that’s my take for what it’s worth.”
I had already decided what I was going to do if I struck out at Woodcrest. As I said, I’m a rich man who will never in a hundred lifetimes spend the fortune bestowed on me. It might have been my mom…then again it could have been my dad. What the hell—somebody said you can’t burrow yourself in a cave and never be discovered in our modern digital world. Juliette might play hide and seek, but she couldn’t stay lost for long after I put some of my pocket change to work seeking her.
CHAPTER 3: PAUL PETROSKI, BOXER AND INVESTIGATOR
My strategy was to hire a private investigator to locate her. The problem was I didn’t have a clue how to find one other than going on the net and getting reviews on different firms or individuals. The matter was so important I didn’t want to take a chance on ending up with an inferior investigator whose main talent was setting up an attractive website and getting dummy reviews posted. I suspected that locating Juliette would be a slam-dunk job for whomever I hired but still I wanted a top pro.
What I decided to do was call my father. Being a well-known orthopedic surgeon in Southern California who handled mostly professional athletes, I thought he might know somebody that could recommend a legitimate referral. To my surprise, he would inform me that several years ago he had contracted with an investigator when he discovered that one of his staff was fleecing narcotics. It was urgent that he be able to identify the culprit without making injudicious accusations.
He was quite pleased with the result in so far as the guilty party was singled out. Not so satisfying was that it proved to be his office manager of fifteen years. She’d been stealing the drugs and then selling them to supplement her earnings—it seems that she had an addiction, spending money. In fact, that was her downfall since the sleuth my father hired deduced that with a salary of sixty grand a year she was eating through a hundred and fifty thousand yet she had no other outside source of income…other than her new profession of drug dealer.
The investigator went by the name of Paul Petroski, appropriately calling his firm Paul Petroski & Associates, though in truth it was a small boutique shop located in Beverly Hills with only a single employee, a secretary. Even so, he had to be doing quite well. Based on the stellar reputation he’d been able to build over the course of two decades, he saw fit to delightfully and shamelessly aim his rates stratospherically—he too had an addiction, a first cousin to my father’s office manager; his was making money. When my father gave me the contact information, he chuckled and his eyes shined.
“You’ll find this to be an interesting experience,” was all he said, hardly an explanation for the mirth he appeared to be enjoying recalling his interactions with Paul Petroski & Associates.
I asked my father what was so funny but all he said was that he didn’t want to ruin the surprise.
When I called Petroski’s office the morning following my visit to Woodcrest, a male with the type of squeaky near-deafening soprano voice generally found only in a female opera performer sonorously answered, “Petroski and Associates.” It was the most bizarre greeting I could have imagined and it took restraint on my part not to laugh. When I explained the purpose of my call he informed me that it was my lucky day because Mr. P would be able to see me that afternoon.
“Now let me get down a few details about you, darlin’,” he gaily suggested. “How old are you?” he asked, elasticizing the short sentence into a speech by drawing out the final letter of each word as if it he were conducting an inquisition.
By the time he’d gathered the few essential facts he needed for my contact information, I realized I’d barely have time for breakfast before I’d need to leave to get to his office. “Now you drive carefully little Murray,” the man I assumed was the secretary squealed. How he knew I was little, I couldn’t figure out until I saw him. “Can’t wait to meet you.”
The office was located in a small building on Wilshire Boulevard near the corner of Crescent Drive. I parked in the underground lot and took the elevator to the second floor. On the right, half way down the hall was Suite 209. When I opened the door, I thought I’d been given the wrong address. The reception area was spacious. What threw me off, however, was the motif. My first impression was having entered a gymnasium.
The walls were covered with black and white as well as color photos, portraits, drawings and impressionist paintings of boxers and historic pugilistic events. Then hanging in various locations and on shelves was ring paraphernalia such as gloves, mouthpieces, trunks and headgear. Championship belts were carefully housed in clear plastic enclosures that were hanging from the ceiling in random locations.
Sitting in front of me was a reception desk. A small plaque identified the secretary as DARRYL. When he saw me enter, his mouth widened into a smile large enough to swallow me. Standing to greet me, he had to be six foot six at least—answering how he knew I was little; anyone was little next to this hulk—yet his height was the least notable of his unique qualities. Shaved bald, his head was nearly a perfect round shape and the thinness of his neck made it appear that a billiard stick might send it careening through the room.
His build was massive, the wall of chest muscles jutted forward and his arms were so thick they seemed to be tearing at the seams of his body fit top. Could his mother be so cruel as to curse this giant with that voice? I wondered. With his right hand, he enveloped mine as we shook. His left he propped on my shoulder to hold me in position as he inspected me like a boy gawking at a lollipop.
“Mur-ray, Mur-ray, what do we have here?”
“Just coming for my appointment,” I muttered in an attempt to calm him.
“Well, he’s waiting for you.”
Darryl turned as if he were a model at an exhibit. He was wearing a pair of shiny, slick black leather pants with a wide braided royal blue belt, color-coordinated with his loafers that he wore with no socks. I thought I saw him dip his hips ever so slightly as he swayed down a short hallway—if Darryl had once been a fighter he’d definitely retired his left hook for a right reach-around. He opened a door on his left and disappeared.
Darryl returned a few seconds later. He led me to Petroski’s office, a space thematically identical to the outside entry. There were more keepsakes from physical battles between men, and even a few pertaining to women fighters. The boss stood to greet me with a handshake. As he did, I witnessed him to be a tiny, frail figure, shirking in stature especially standing next to Darryl. Paul Petroski’s true measurement was five foot-three and if he were to be dressed in a suit of arms he still might weigh in short of a hundred pounds. I’d estimate him to be close in age to my father, in his mid-fifties.
“Good to meet you, son. So, what do you think?” he asked as he nodded to Darryl that he could leave.
“I’m not sure what you mean…think about what?”
Petroski laughed. “Darryl. Think he’s a little… swishy?”
“I really don’t know what you mean. He seems—“ “He’s not at all what he seems. Let’s just say he’s a man whose anima and animus have found a glorious harmony. You know what I’m talking about?”
I tittered through my discomfort. “I remember reading about it in my psych class but I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”
“Every male has a little lady floating around in their personality; that’s the anima. Women have the same, a bit of a male drive called animus.”
“Right. I remember now. Dr. Ackerman, my psychology professor, talked about it. He was a gas. He said we all better sort out the opposing force in our personality, male or female, or we’d wish we did. ‘Why do little boys like to dress up in their mother’s clothing,’ he asked us. He said it was because we needed to own the female in us. It didn’t have anything to do with whether or not a guy would become homosexual, according to his view.”
“It’s a complicated topic for sure. I bring it up so you don’t get the wrong idea about Darryl.” He paused for a chuckle. “Would you believe it if I told you he was ranked third in the world as a heavyweight ten years ago? It’s true. If he had a bit more meanness in his heart he’d have made it to the top.” Petroski roared delightfully.
“Could you imagine him speaking to the camera with a voice like that?”
“His speech is definitely not what you’d expect looking at him,” I cautiously admitted.
“He’s the furthest thing from what you would expect in every way. That’s why I admire him—courage to be who he is has to be his strongest trait. I was his manager and we damn near won a championship—what a shame,” he lamented with a sad shake of his head.
Boxing was Petroski’s second addiction. His father had been an entertainment agent who handled fighters’ careers as well. Paul Petroski invested in anything related to the sport including, now and then, backing a fighter with money for a piece of the action. In fact, Darryl was not only the office receptionist and secretary but also his partner in training and managing the few fighters they had under contract.
After talking with him for nearly a half hour, during which time I was getting the impression that this man had no interest in me or his practice as a private eye, I was given a snapshot version of his entire history. Most impressive was that Petroski had been a pro-fighter himself, a Golden Glove champion as a flyweight. As a professional, he was respected in his division until a fateful fight with a fellow named Brady “The Bitch” Barlow.
Petroski had celebrated his twenty-first birthday when he entered the ring with Barlow at a packed arena in San Francisco. The lights went out for Petroski in the third round. The fighter had nicknamed himself “The Bitch” after hearing Johnny Cash’s song, A Boy Named Sue. It was his perverse intent to let the world know that he was so tough that he could handle anything and anyone, even if it meant owning a name like The Bitch. Not taking a chance on being proven wrong, he had patented a hidden slit in his right glove. During the interlude between the second and third rounds his corner shoved a thin metal plate inside. He connected a sharp hook that without the illegal piece would have jolted Petroski but not put the rugged fighter down. However, the blast left the opponent on the floor in a coma. He was hospitalized for four weeks with a concussion and advised never to fight again.
Did he quit? Well, that’s debatable from the information he shared with me. It’s certain that he never entered the ring as a competitor…but stop fighting? Let’s just say that while it was never proven what The Bitch had done, Petroski was certain that no clean punch could have done that type of damage. Proving his point, the nemesis in Brady’s next fight was taken out with a single uppercut to the mid-section in what was described as such a punishing strike that the young athlete was beginning to be recognized as a top contender in his division. Then two days later, he was found dead in his apartment. The cause? Worse than a concussion, The Bitch took a bullet through his brain.