Maggie is called in to talk to the police about the bank robbery. Can she convince them the kid that almost shot her should be committed? Can she convince the police shrink that she's still sane enough to make a diagnosis?*
*This chapter contains strong language, bloody violence, lattes and old professional rivalries.
8. Rules Of Engagement
It was blood and the warm happy glow of blood over the dull winter greens of the park. Neater and smaller and younger, it was the boyish joy of bright red and intestines, the way they wrapped around the kitchen gloves as the squirrel tried to twist and bite.
A sharp growl and the squirrel was gone and the new dog, a beagle called Patches, faced me. Growling doggy face twisted in menace, doggy mind defensive and aggressive. A quick glance showed the rest of the dogs were watching us, tails stiff and alert.
I took a deep breath, with six other dogs leashed to me, six dogs picking up on the beagle’s aggression, I had to be careful. I focused on the flat grayed grass where the dogs had been sniffing around in the dirty snow. Green instead of gray, bright summer green with big clumps of clover and dandelions, and squirrels. No, not squirrels, kids, kids playing Frisbee and a blue sky.
Patches whined and wagged her tail. I held out my hand and she licked it. I guess I’m ok again. I let out a long breath, led the dogs across the grass to the dog run and unleashed them. I sat on an empty bench, far away from a few chatty-looking owners, trying to ignore how cold the wood was through my pants. I didn’t need this. One of the dogs scaring up a squirrel and then Lee tripping down memory lane. Go see Diane with your brain full of that and she’ll try and have you committed. I checked my watch for the fiftieth time since I’d left the kennel. 10:37am. I still had twenty-three minutes of walking to do and then I could change and head to the station. They never used to call you in for this. The thought was only half bitter. Of course I didn’t have to defend a recommendation for rehabilitation when I had my practice, but that was before the bloody squirrels and that damned dentist’s chair. Diane always argued with you, Lee or no Lee. She wouldn't have cared if I was one of the hostages, I reminded myself with something like a smile.
Patches surprised me by leaving the others to creep up and put her head on my knee. I scratched behind her ears and tried to absorb the tranquil feeling she radiated. Sometimes I wished we got more beagles. Downtown most of the dogs were smaller and not half as empathic.
I checked my watch again. 10:48. It’ll do. I called the dogs and leashed them. If I get back a few minutes early I can grab a tea near the station, I rationalized. I walked too fast and shifted from foot to foot at every light so when we did cross, the dogs, caught up in my mood, wanted to run.
Across the street from the kennel I checked my watch. 10:55.
It wasn’t really a kennel. That was just the word I used so I could face myself in the morning. It was a dog spa. Exercise programs, play rooms, grooming, special meals. All so people could leave their precious pets in town while they went skiing in Vermont or the Alps or wherever they went.
Donnie held the door for a man with a Newfoundland. He saw me and kept the door open. I wonder where she got that scarf.
“Thanks.” I pulled hard on the leashes of the two standard poodles that didn’t want to go back in. Come on, I don’t have time for this.
Doesn’t match the hat though. Too red. “No problem. I'm just glad you could walk them this morning. The last time they sent me out with seven I almost got pulled in front of a truck.”
“They were good today,” I said, trying to head off the truck story. The clock above the rack of custom leashes and collars said 10:58am. Plenty of time, I told myself over my tight stomach. “I’m going to stick them in the playroom. Tell Gus when he comes in, he can get them fed.”
“Yeah, sure.” He smiled and followed me in; the bell rang when he let the door go. He slid behind the counter and squinted at me through his shaggy hair. She still looks tired. He didn’t pursue it, just leaned on the counter and petted Ghost, who sat next to the register. The gray cat made a run for it when one of the dogs tried to jump up and say hello.
Gus ignored us. He was in the front playroom, with the half walls so customers could watch, throwing balls with one hand and playing tug of war with the other. All the while chatting up a woman in a long red coat. “Oh no, I don’t think we’ve ever had any kennel cough, this isn’t your standard kennel.” Look at those legs. I wonder if she’s got a boyfriend.
I smiled to myself and pulled the pack through the door into the hallway that lead to the back playroom. As I made my way down the hall I could still feel Donnie out front. He was trying to coax Ghost down from the shelf behind the register. I’m in a good mood buddy, he assured the sensitive cat.
Carmen was cleaning out the kennels where the dogs slept and whistling the theme to the Smurfs absently while she worked on composing her college entrance essay. Do I need to say that I’m hardworking or can I just imply it?
It took forever to unhook all of the leashes, with the dogs trying to pull away or lick me, with Patches almost directly under my feet. Now you like me? My stomach was getting tighter, I was back early but I felt rushed. I shut the gate and hung the leashes on their hook. I stalked fast down the hall and hoped I wouldn’t run into Charlie on the way to the locker room. Get changed and get out of here.
“Hey Maggie. Did you see if the mail’s in yet?”
I turned to see Charlie sticking his shiny bald head out of his office and tried not to sigh. My twenty minute lead was going fast. “Nope, probably not though. They don’t usually come until after noon.” Come on Charlie we have phones. Call and ask him.
To my surprise he just nodded and popped back into the office. I’m just going to call them back. In his head he was angry and determined. How am I supposed to feed fifteen dogs with no kibble? I can’t wait another three days for them to ‘find’ my order. “Hello, this is Charlie Sloane from Puppy Love. Yes I’ll hold.” Christ, I know it’s organic, but do they have to let farmer John answer the phones? Listen to that accent.
Did we run out of food? I shook the thought away. Unless there was a payroll problem, how they ran this place didn’t have anything to do with me. This was just another temporary job in a string of temporary jobs, something to fill the time and supplement my disability checks. I pushed the door to the locker room open and moved into the relative cool and dark. I took a deep musty breath and fumbled at the padlock on my locker. I was pulling my sweater over my head when I got a strong whiff of wet dog. I raised my hand to my nose and sniffed. “That’s disgusting.” My voice bounced off the blue metal of the lockers and I shook my head. Going in smelling like dogs wasn’t going to help my case.
I tossed my sweater in the bottom of the locker and went to the sinks on the far wall. I had to use both hands to turn the pitted hot water knob. It gave with a squeal and I barked the back of my hand against the faucet. Shit. I put it automatically in my mouth and cursed again. Really gross. Dog tasted worse than it smelled. I laughed at myself, squirted a ridiculous amount of soap into my hands and scrubbed up to my elbows. I glanced up at the mirror over the sinks and rolled my eyes. My hair made a static-y halo around my head where the wind had blown it loose. You can go in looking and smelling like a dog. I took an experimental sniff at my hands. I got more soap and worked it under my nails. I watched myself critically in the mirror. Besides the hair it wasn’t too bad. The bags under my eyes were almost gone, more from allergies than lack of sleep. My eyes were clear and when I smiled at myself it looked natural enough. When I sniffed my hands again there was just the harsh smell of soap. I used my wet hands to smooth down my hair and gave up after a minute. I’d have to brush it.
I didn’t let myself check my watch while I hurried into my slacks and buttoned my blouse. I pulled on my clean blue sweater and went back to the mirror with my hairbrush. “You look like a school teacher.” I shook my head and pulled the collar of my blouse over the edge of the sweater. School teacher was better than dog walker at least. I took down my hair and brushed out the tangles. It needed a cut but it wasn’t too bad when I pulled it back again. You could almost pass for yourself.
I cleared my throat and looked away from my frowning reflection. I dropped the brush back into my purse, got my coat and shut the locker door too hard so the sound of metal on metal seemed to follow me out of the room.
The subway was a pleasant distraction. There was something about being surrounded by a press of busy minds, the snatches of conversation, daydreams, plans, novels. Once, when I was going to school in the city, I sat next to a playwright. I rode an extra seven stations and missed my morning class to find out how his scene ended.
There wasn’t anything that fascinating today, but I turned off the sound on my iPod and payed attention.
From my right was the full-body heaviness of sleep. But over it, skipping along the surface, was heart-pounding, full-tilt running. Dream running, with the excitement and the wind but not the body sense, that sensation of feet hitting the ground and sweat. Just amorphous speed. Chasing or fleeing? There was a flash of red ahead and a corresponding flash of excitement. Chasing then. You have to slow down. How can I give you the flowers if you don’t slow down? he shouted ahead to the retreating figure.
A jerk of the train pulled us both away from the woman in red and the flowers.
The man pulled himself out of his seat when the train stopped and I slid over so I was at the end of the row. Someone sat next to me before the train started again.
God, look at those pants. Shouldn’t there be a weight limit on leather? Or just a ban on red leather. Look at the way they pucker at the knee, it looks like something that guy from Silence of the Lambs would make. That was such a creepy movie. There was an internal shudder that drew my own attention away from the red pants. Wonder if that guy really talks like that. ‘Put the lotion in the basket.’ She remembered the quote with eerie clarity, getting the voice and inflection just right. He was creepier than the other guy. So much creepier than the guy in Saw. An hour and a half just so a guy could cut his foot off, off camera. Still better than a disaster movie. I wonder what would happen if the subway really flooded or something. Would everyone just get electrocuted because of the third rail? Or would the trains short out and then they’d have to evacuate everyone through the tunnels with the rats. That would be so gross. Shit, this is my stop.
I felt breathless when she moved. Most people didn’t have such a distinctly worded train of thought. Hers was all clear, all go and no pause. She most likely tended toward attention deficit disorder. It would have been interesting to read her while she was performing a task to see what her attention span was like.
Her seat was filled almost instantly. The guy was so much larger than the seat that I was jammed into the partition.
Much better, he thought with so much overwhelming physical relief in his knee that I forgave the squishing.
Would you look at that. He was quickly distracted and by something that elevated his entire mood. Those boots and that skirt. He degenerated into something less coherent but I picked up, loud and clear, that whoever he saw was attractive. To him at least.
I turned my head discreetly and found the woman he was watching. He was right about the boots. They were dark green leather and some sort of canvas-like material in a riding boot style that rose to just under her knees. Those were bare for a few inches until the flared wool skirt covered her thighs and above that was a cowl-necked sweater that showed a hint of her perfect collarbones. Her hair was a dark blonde and obscured most of her face as she bent forward to read.
I hesitated, waiting to see if that feeling would come. The low clench in my stomach that meant Lee approved too. It didn’t and I breathed a sigh of relief. I didn’t close my mind to the guy next to me; I enjoyed his attraction along with mine. I tried to stay out of his specifics though. I didn’t need to know what he wanted to do to her with those boots still on.
The next stop was mine and I got off the train with my heart beating a little faster and a bounce in my step.
I stepped out of the subway into the wind and felt energized. I checked my watch; there was half an hour before I was supposed to meet Diane. I picked up my pace and passed the turn to the police station. Two more blocks and there was the white and green sign just where I remembered it.
At 11:15am the line was short. I scanned the menu over the heads of the scurrying baristas. I didn’t need the menu, my guilty pleasure was always the same. Grande Chai latte with soy milk and a lemon bar.
The woman behind the register eyed me expectantly when I stepped down. Oh my god this shift is never going to end. That’s an interesting necklace. “Ma’am?” she prompted.
I touched my necklace absently. “Quad shot latte, extra hot, and a lemon bar,” I told her and dug in my bag for my wallet.
She paused to write my drink down on a cup and pass it on before she got a lemon bar out of the display case and bagged it. She pushed it across the counter with her thumb. “That’ll be $7.68.” Huh, the necklace matches her eyes.
I passed her a ten and put my change in the tip cup before I took my bag and went down to wait for my drink.
I watched my cup make its way through the line, anticipating the spicy and very sugary tea. I broke off pieces of lemon bar and ate them while I waited. I stepped forward when my cup hit the counter, not really listening to the drink call.
I took a sleeve and made my way over to the milk and sugar. Very sugary was bad for tea. Way too sugary was just right. I dropped two sugars into the cup and stirred it. If my nose hadn’t been so stuffy I would have smelled it too.
I sat at one of the stools next to the window so I could watch people go by. It wasn’t a touristy area but there were a few people out.
I took another sticky bite of lemon bar. I liked to make myself really thirsty before I took my first drink of tea. I sipped it carefully, not wanting to burn my mouth.
Except when it hit my tongue I knew it wasn’t tea. I didn’t spit it out but I swallowed and made a horrible face. I ripped the lid off and parted the foam with my finger. “Fucking coffee,” I muttered to myself. I hated coffee. Or this case some espresso concentrated shit. I put the lid back on, crumpled what was left of the lemon bar in its bag and dropped them both in the trashcan on my way out the door.
At the deli down the block I bought a root beer and stood outside, drinking it to get the bitter taste out of my mouth.
I really preferred it when Lee’s impulses were bat shit crazy. Ordering his favorite drink was much more innocuous than picturing torture or mutilating squirrels but it left me feeling more violated. At least when he imagined cutting someone up I was sure which thoughts were mine.
I swished another gulp of soda around my mouth and threw the can away. I walked slowly back toward the station, my good mood evaporated.
By the time Diane rescued me from the waiting room full of nervous civilians and bored cops I wasn’t as cool and collected as I had planned on being.
Sorry they made you wait. I told them to send you back but they insisted I come up front and get you. She offered her hand when I got up. “Good to see you Maggie,” she added insincerely.
Seeing her extend her hand, I gave full reign to my irritation. Diane was the kind of tac path that didn’t like to talk to someone until she touched them. And she knew I couldn’t refuse to shake her hand in front of all of these people without drawing attention to us. You don’t really want to know about my day so far, I warned as I took her hand. I let the clear vision of the mutilated squirrel and the growling dogs sit on the surface of my mind. Let her deal with Lee and his bullshit for a minute.
Diane was prepared too. All I got from the brief contact of our hands was her irritation over convincing her captain to keep the kid from the bank robbery in her custody until I could get to the station. That was Diane all right, always straight to the point and as subtle as a meat ax.
She released my hand first, her eyes narrowed. Anything that had to do with Lee made her nervous and she was annoyed I’d used him deliberately to fend her off. “Let’s go up to my office.” She turned around and led the way down the hall. After a few steps she had collected herself enough to comment. So it’s still happening?
Because she had to say something about Lee, she tried to use it to put me on the spot. If we’d talked more often she would’ve known it took more than that nowadays. Once or twice a day. Did it take that much talking to get the captain to hold him? I changed the subject. I wasn’t about to let her of all people try to psychoanalyze me.
She made an impatient sound. “It was damn near impossible since you aren’t practicing anymore,” she said aloud, making a woman we passed in the hall look at her oddly. I’ve seen the kid. I talked to him and I don’t see why you’re so hell bent on getting him into rehabilitation.
When I didn’t rise to the bait she was forced to continue.
He didn’t shoot you. He didn't even discharge his weapon intentionally. The captain wants to send him to juvie and be done with it. At the most he’ll be convicted as an adult. She held open the door to her office to let me pass, her minded touched the surface of my thoughts but didn’t try to dig any deeper.
I sat down in one of the chairs in front of her desk and waited for her to close the door. “My report wasn’t enough?” Did I forget how to write one? Was the language off? Was my diagnosis ambiguous? Putting her on the defensive wasn’t nice, but when two psychiatrists disagreed on a diagnosis it was war. And when the opposing opinion was Diane’s, I was willing to fight dirty.
She sat back in her chair, trying to seem at least physically relaxed. Her eyebrows crawled up at each of my comments. “You’re diagnosis was pretty clear cut,” she conceded. And it could be influenced by the heat of the moment and emotional involvement. Her inflection was acid, daring me to disagree.
That was fair, more than fair; it was something I would have suspected in her place. It didn’t change the fact that I was being maneuvered. Her palm was itching with the urge to touch me and find out exactly what I had read off the kid. “Do you really think I’m incompetent? I don’t suggest rehabilitation and intensive therapy lightly, I never did.” He’s a sociopath, I don’t want to see him in jail where he’s going to learn how to lie, steal and kill people better.
Her long face was set into a skeptical look that put lines around her mouth and made her seem years older. “So his remorse was insincere, he’s seventeen and cocky, that doesn’t make him a sociopath.” She tapped her fingers against the blotter in front of her. After a long minute her frustration got the better of her. Come on Maggie, I know you’ve got more than this.
That was as close as she would get to asking. “I should take this to Psychiatric Board,” I threatened. I just wanted this over with, I didn’t want to involve the district supervisor over a diagnostic dispute, which could take weeks and end the same way. I’d have to let them read what happened. I sighed and I pulled my chair closer to her desk. I put my right hand on the blotter, palm up. You aren’t going to like parts of this. I dredged up the day of the robbery and the first time I was aware of the kid, Bobby. I relaxed as best I could, I put more weight against the desk, getting down into where and how my body had been, feeling the gritty salt on the floor under my hands, the hard tile through the knees of my pants, the throb of my right knee where I’d hit it dropping to the floor. I nodded to Diane.
It’s not my first big day. She gave me a sardonic look and reached for my hand.
Reaching for my memories made Diane’s blocking less effective. When her cold fingers touched mine I got a wash of irritation directed at me and under that physical pain in her shoulder, the taste of orange juice lingering in her mouth, the angry tone of a woman’s voice arguing with her through a bad telephone connection. I had to concentrate to bring my memories back to the top, this was more important than finding out why she was arguing with her mother again and I didn’t need any stronger impression of how she felt about me.
I tried to remember every detail. Not just for accuracy, if she wanted to know what it was like in that bank, then she was going to get it all. If she wanted to know how it was to get slammed in the small of the back with the butt end of a rifle then she could have it. But that wasn’t the clearest memory. The clearest, jumping up to the surface with vivid clarity, was after that blow, when I had opened my eyes again and there was the end of the shotgun in my face and past it the kid picturing his cartoon fantasy of what it would be like to shoot my face off. That was clear. I felt Diane’s fingers twitch against my palm and I put everything into remembering what came next, Lee’s retaliation, his graphic reality of hot intestines felt through latex and the coppery smell of blood.
She made an indistinct sound and tried to pull away. I trapped her hands between mine and held them firm until the kid was touching my forehead with the cold barrel, picturing the blond guy in my place, his finger twitching on the trigger, ready to fire before he was interrupted.
I let her hand go then and she retreated into her chair. She rubbed her fingers on her pants like the memory would wipe off. I watched and felt her brief unfocused fight with panic.
She cleaned house quickly with one of the standard building exercises, pictured a green field of grass, added weeds and bald patches, clouds and wind until her full attention rested on the field and its details. Then she looked at me, blue eyes wet with strain. “So I guess I should be looking to commit both of you.” Her voice wavered. How do you deal with that every day? It’s horrible.
I shrugged. He doesn’t do it all the time. Two or three times a week I get a full vision, the rest of it’s pretty innocuous. “Does this mean you’re going to back my diagnosis?” I brought us back around to the point. I’d scared Diane enough for one day.
She shook her head to clear it. “I’ll back it. He was really going to shoot you.” And you were still making a plan. You should have been a cop.
I didn’t laugh, but I smiled. It was probably the only compliment I’d ever gotten from Diane. “Oh no, I’ll leave the jumpers and the hostage stuff to you. I was about to crap myself the whole time.” Just give me a quiet book lined office and a secretary, I added glibly.
You belong with patients. You should get back to it. Her face had taken on an expression that was a lot like concern.
I preferred Diane catty. Pity didn’t hang right on her face and I’d already had enough of it to last me a lifetime. “Do you need anything else from me?” The bitterness in my tone was stronger in my mind. Don’t tell me about patients. How long do you think I’d keep any of my path patients after Lee shows up in session? There isn’t even a path shrink on either coast that can handle that. I gave her a hard look that told her I included her in this group.
Her back straightened and her shoulders tensed. “We’re good here. I think you remember the way out.”
I got up and went to the door. My hand was on the handle.
Do you really walk dogs now? she asked. There was a touch of curiosity along with the old familiar dislike.
I turned the handle and stood in the doorway for a moment with my back to her. As much as I ever wished for such a thing, a part of me wanted Lee to show up and put her in her place. Instead it was left to me. Dogs are good for mental rehabilitation. You might want to try it the next time you get echoed. I let the door shut behind me and started down the hall. Her burst of anger faded the farther away I got.
In her line of work and back when I had something I could call a line of work, echoing was the ultimate dirty word. The buried fear for every professional that dealt with projecting paths. We had all been echoed at one time or another, a piece of someone else shoved into the mind. But in little ways, in tiny invasions, things like craving pickles or suddenly knowing how to knit, and it lasted a few days or a few weeks, tops. Permanent echoes like Lee, the ones that dug down into a brain and stayed forever, were the stuff of whispers and real fear. Everyone had heard of someone it happened to. A friend of a friend’s cousin.
Back on the train my crowd-reading mood had evaporated. I put the volume up on my music and repeated the words in my head until the chatter around me was just a buzz in the background.
I knew I shouldn’t have baited Diane. It was the pity that did it. I knew that. The half-selfish pity that felt terribly sorry for me but at the same time was grateful that it hadn’t happened to her.
I was even better than an urban legend. I was a walking, talking cautionary tale. Be careful kids, you could end up sharing your head with a serial killer one day. And every time I was reminded of it I lashed out. I knew that too. A shrink who constantly acted out. It could have been funny if it had happened to someone else.