*This chapter contains strong language, bloody flashbacks, red faced reprimands and some PG -13 adult content.
12. We Aim To Please
I sat in my chair and tried not to fidget. The crook of my arm stung from all the blood Forrest and White had drawn. The knockout gas they used on the agents transporting me to Seneca, and me as well, was in an experimental phase and they needed as much information as possible about any side effects. So far it had put a funny almost fruity taste in my mouth and had given me one hell of a headache. I hoped that was the end of the symptoms. I was pretty sure my sweaty palms and the dryness in my throat was nerves.
I checked my watch and then craned my neck around the see the wall clock again. They read the same, 6:27pm. Craig’s secretary had shown me in ten minutes ago and said Craig would be right in. It was hard to know if the delay was a good omen or a bad one.
On the upside, no matter what he said, this was my last hurdle before I could go home. Sleep in my own bed and not have to worry about Park Slope or the crazies and the cops sneaking into my head. I had to close my eyes against the vivid memory of gloved hands pulling my skull apart. No one is that strong. It’s what I told myself, but the spray of blood and the placement of the bones had all been so real.
When I opened my eyes Craig was sitting behind his desk watching me with something like curiosity.
I rested my hands on the arms of my chair and met his eyes, not fidgeting. He was a big believer in body language and I wasn’t going to give any outward sign of nerves.
His eyebrows settled into their familiar line of disapproval. What a balls-up. “Nice to see you back, Andy.” The sarcasm was heavy. Usually he at least made a front of pleasantry while he needled me with sarcasm in his head.
“Good to be back, sir.” I didn’t argue it would only draw things out.
I bet. Any longer and we would’ve had to get rid of him. “Maybe you could tell me about this extended pick-up of yours. It seems to have fallen impressively out of mission parameters.” A vein throbbed in his temple and he leaned forward in his chair.
“We got the target,” I said, not volunteering anything further. It was better to let him tell me why he was angry. It was probably what that last interrogator got from me. I had considered omitting it for my report. It wouldn’t matter to him that they didn’t know if Craig was a first or last name. All that would matter was they had his name. I knew they had that much from the way their agents taunted me before the retrieval team showed up.
He shot out of his chair so fast that I barely had time to anticipate it and keep myself from jumping back. “You released classified information. You endangered this entire operation because you couldn’t keep your damn brain shut. You fell so far out of mission parameters you might as well have been on another damn planet.” He didn’t shout, but he leaned over his desk, into my space, his face red.
“It was a total balls-up. You’ve got me there, but it was in my mission proposal,” I defended, showing how tired I was. I would never have provoked him with words he had only thought if I was more myself.
His face got redder. There was sweat shining across the edge of his hairline. “I don’t remember anything in your proposal about losing it to some half-retired shrink and giving her my name,” he snapped.
“What did you expect? This was a bad op. It was a miracle we got Matthews at all. And my capture? There was a thirty percent chance of that happening. What did you think was going to happen next? I’m not a damn magician, I can’t fend off twenty interrogators and not let something slip,” I shot back, anger covering my shame at doing just that. I wasn’t sure how it happened but for a second I had been in a building full of cops with no block.
Craig stood up straight and some of the color left his face. He turned to his window, more to look away from me than to see anything on the blackened grounds. He straightened his tie. Everything about him had relaxed though his voice was gruff. “I think this is the last time I let White suggest a new target. From now on he sticks to the list.” He turned back toward me and I could have sworn there was something like approval on his face. “Forrest’s projections had you caving after the first group interrogation.” Good to know he can stand up to more than that. He sat down again and settled back in his chair.
I shrugged, I had to make some kind of reply but I was confused by his rapid mood shifts. Get to the point so I can go home. “The only problem was with the last one.”
He picked up a sheaf of papers from his desk. “Dr. M. R. Lochlan. Went on permanent disability two years ago. I’m not sure how they got her back.” He tapped the papers against the surface of the desk. “No shame in falling to the best I guess.” I don’t think we’ll have too much trouble avoiding her in the future.
I had my eyes on the papers he was waving around. Best at what? “Is that her file?” I tried to keep the eagerness out of my voice but I did a poor job.
Craig’s eyebrows crawled up and then he shocked me again by smiling and dropping the papers into a fat folder which he passed to me. “Know thy enemy.” His right eye twitched and for a second I thought he’d wink.
I couldn’t tell if he was laughing at me, or understood why I would want to know more about her. I took the file and held it in my lap. “Thank you, sir.”
His face was serious again. “Your report will be on my desk by this time tomorrow. After that I don’t want to see you at this facility for three days. Come back on Monday and I’ll have your next assignment.” No point putting him on another pick-up until he’s cooled down.
You aren’t kidding there. “I’ll do that, sir,” I said, standing at the obvious dismissal.
His hand moved against the arm of his chair and I felt his urge to lift it, maybe to shake my hand. He nodded instead.
I nodded back and got out fast. I grabbed my bag from where I’d left it next to his secretary’s desk and tucked Lochlan’s file into it before I took the nearest exit out of the building.
I’d come out on the wrong side for the parking lot but I didn’t mind the walk. The air was crisp with cold and the moon was high and almost full. It was the perfect kind of night to be free of that damn asylum and on my way home. I meant to walk slow and enjoy my freedom, but the file in my bag made me pick up my pace. I couldn’t read it until I got to the house.
I drove five miles over the speed limit and had to sit in the slow lane to do it. The last thing I could afford was to get pulled over. Even though they hadn’t gotten any pictures, a description of me was floating around. It wasn’t likely that anyone from Nevada had it, but I didn’t think my career would survive another interrogation. Not if Craig found out about it.
I kept on hand on the wheel and one on the top of my bag where the file was. Craig said Lochlan was the best, but at what? She didn’t talk like an agent, she talked like a shrink, but no shrink I’d ever heard of used tactics like that.
I pulled into my driveway and only gave a passing glance to the empty driveway across the street. I was relieved that Reva wasn’t home. Telling her I had work to do never dissuaded her.
I dropped my bag next to the sofa, kicked off my shoes and locked the door behind me. My stomach had been growling the whole ride home so I made myself leave the file and head into the kitchen. The gas had made me queasy so I hadn’t eaten anything since I was picked up. My stomach felt fine so I decided to test it out. I spread thick port wine cheese on crackers and ate a few while I moved around the kitchen, getting orange juice and some Advil for my head. I took my plate and my glass into the living room, set them on the end table and turned on the lamp. I went to my bag and pulled out the file. I sat in the light, barely hitting the chair before I was skimming the main summary page.
Margaret Reagan Lochlan.
Born in Concord, California. Mom’s a teacher, Dad’s a painter, one brother, he’s a detective in Richmond.
There was nothing interesting in the family stuff. I skipped down to medical.
There wasn’t anything much there either. On the summary all it said was that she was on disability leave. I ran my finger down to education. Decent TAT scores, grade school and channel school in NY, medical school in CA, residency in NY. Joined practice of Harold Shuman after her internship. Not many publications but a lot of consulting work for state and federal agencies.
I took a sip of my juice and scanned the list of criminal cases she had worked on. Twenty-six cases in only five years of practice. Either she didn’t do much actual therapy or she didn’t sleep. I flipped through the case summaries, kidnappers, arsonists, murders, some declared insane, some not, the only pattern that emerged was the number of crimes these guys had under their belts, at least five and some as many as twenty. Serial cases.
I frowned and rubbed the bridge of my nose. I felt disappointed. Was this all that Craig had meant? So she was a pro, a great counselor, a serial profiler. They were all pros, everyone I was interrogated by. Even Brandt from my own department was a pro and he couldn’t do what she’d done. Not that he didn’t sometimes try and shock someone into letting their block down. That could be more reliable than drugs. That was a tactic I understood. But what I didn’t understand was how the vision had been so detail perfect. When people imagined things it was in hints and snatches of motion. A flash of sensation, one clear image and the rest blurred out, sounds out of whack, almost never any smells. But Lochlan had hit me with surround sound, Technicolor, smell so real I could taste the blood in my mouth, and I could feel the way the bone edges pricked through the latex gloves she’d been wearing.
I wasn’t sure if it was better or worse that it was all from her perspective, sort of like me ripping my own skull apart. “This is the kind of person who shouldn’t be a path.” I surprised myself saying it out loud. My voice didn’t sound quite right. I cleared my throat with a look around the living room like someone could have heard me.
I was missing something. She was a profiler pulled out of retirement, but why had she retired? I turned past the case files back to the medical history, which was almost as thick. It had a separate summary page that was surprisingly short considering that there had to be thirty or forty pages of records behind it.
Wisdom teeth out, who hasn’t had that? Broken leg skiing. Gallbladder out. PES.
PES? I almost choked on the cracker I’d been chewing. I took a hasty gulp of juice and felt sharp bits of cracker forced down my throat and into my stomach. She’d been permanently echoed? I flipped through the file and found the admitting physician’s diagnostic summary.
Pos PES: Partial Echo leading to thought overlap. No medically diminished capacity. Retains major and minor personality markers. Additional minor markers of patient Leland Murphy. No significant direction from Murphy personality.
So she was echoed. But who was Murphy? I know that name from somewhere. Maybe it was one of her other cases. I went back to the case summary page, reading fast with my finger tracing the lines. He wasn’t hard to find, he was at the end of the list. Leland Murphy. I turned to the case summary.
Looking back at me was the thin face of Lee “The Coroner” Murphy. It explained the blood. He’d killed twelve people, all of them paths, and echoed seven others before he got caught. They said in the paper that the dead ones had been lucky; he hadn't echoed accidentally like projectors sometimes did, he did it with malicious purpose. The echoes lived out what he did to the others in endless loops.
“I gave of myself to cleanse them.” I remembered the quote from his interview on TV, his face hadn’t been any more animated than it was in his mug shot.
That bloody dentist’s chair, that room with the metal tables, it had to be where he’d killed them, where he’d echoed the others. My back jerked in a shudder. Had Lochlan ever been to that room?
I shook off a flash of her hands, or his hands, in my head.
All of that blood stuff had been this guy, not Lochlan at all. It had just been a fluke from her echo. That made more sense. It had had a different feel from all the other stuff she’d tried. It didn’t quite explain how he’d pictured everything so clearly, but at least it explained where the set up came from and how he knew the feel of bone through latex and the smell of blood so well.
I tossed the file aside, feeling almost dirty. And very glad that Lochlan couldn’t project. I couldn’t imagine having that guy living in my head. It was bad enough having the clear memory of his vision. I finished my last cracker and pulled the lever on the side of the chair so the footrest popped up and I could stretch out. I stared at the ceiling and did the only useful thing I’d been taught in channel school. A relaxation technique called a building exercise. I pictured flat blue water. Under it I made a sandy bottom. Silvery fish darted past. There was a beach of bright white sand. Palm trees drifted in the breeze.
I woke up with a start and no real idea why I was awake. My phone rang again. I reached over and picked it up. “Piken,” I answered, rubbing my grainy eyes with my fingers to clear them.
“Hey there handsome. I saw your light was on. I didn’t wake you up, did I?” Reva asked in a playful voice that made me sink deeper into the chair.
I craned my neck to see the clock on the microwave. 10:38pm. And three days of leave. “Not sleeping, napping. Did you just get home?” I asked with interest, wondering if I could get her to come over.
“From Sydney and I’m starved. Want to make a girl dinner?”
My head was a lot clearer and my stomach seemed settled. “Isn’t it more like breakfast or something?”
I could almost see her smiling. “Or something. You could come over and I’ll cook.”
My eyebrows went up. “You’d dial the Hunan Kitchen just for me?”
“Anything for my guy. Does that mean you’re coming over?”
I smiled for the first time all day. “Ten minutes. Get me steamed dumplings?”
“And pork fried rice and sesame beef and vegetable lo mein. I don’t know where you pack it all, slim. Now get those ugly shoes on and come over.” The receiver clicked and I could picture her dialing with the Chinese menu on her lap, running her finger down the list of dishes with the big red peppers next to the names. If it didn’t make her sweat, it wasn’t worth eating.
I stretched and made the chair creak. I shook the front of my shirt and got a whiff of sweat.
Shower first. I told myself, folding the footrest back into the recliner. I walked fast down the hall, pulled off my shirt and tossed it in the laundry room on my way past. There was just enough time for a shower.
With two minutes to spare I slipped on my ragged sneakers and locked the door behind me. Her garage was open. I squeezed between the jeep and the washing machine and hit the wide button that activated the garage door. I waited until it closed completely and then I opened the hall door. I slipped my shoes off and set them on the rug where five or six pairs of her shoes were already piled up.
“You could’ve left the door up,” she said, sounding like she was on the first floor.
I shook my head. “And you could just close it when you come in. One of these nights someone’s going to steal you.” I poked my head into the living room, the TV was muted and there was light coming from the kitchen.
I heard the tap running before I turned the corner and I wasn’t surprised to see her standing at the sink doing dishes. Anything goes. The world has gone mad today… She shook her hips to the nonexistent beat, giving an extra wiggle when put my hands on them. “You’re such a cop,” she said fondly.
I leaned forward to bury my nose in her hair. “I’ve heard that about me. How was the flight?” Her hair was damp down near her skull, cold against my nose.
She pressed into me, enjoying that, even coming from outside, I was warmer than she was. Hmm, he must've had a rough case to be so cuddly. I bet he'd like the story about that woman and the keys. "Two flights and only a couple of drunks. And this one lady, I don't know what she was on, but she kept me and Eugene busy for the last hour or so."
I liked that she could be in tune with my moods without having to read them. And she was generally positive, about work, about family, about anything. She didn't spin negative thoughts in her head all the time and that was soothing. "So what did she do? Try to pick you up? Try to pick both of you up?" I moved back so she could turn around after she dried her hands.
"I never should've told you that story," she said with the most adorable pout.
I kissed it away and licked at her lower lip. "You love telling that story. Tell me about this doped lady."
She twisted out of my arms and went to get plates from the cupboard. “Well, we got the drunk ones settled down pretty fast.” She passed me the plates and I arranged them on the table. He’s not going to believe this one. She smiled to herself and pulled down a couple of glasses. “And then someone’s call button keeps going off up front. Not just a couple of times, but over and over again. I told Brenda I’d take it. Halfway up the isle I hear this woman asking, really loud, ‘Whose keys are those?’” Her voice had gone up in an impression of the woman who sounded more nasal in her memory. She took a sip out of one of the glasses she’d filled with water, handed me the second and leaned back against the counter. “By the time I get up there I see that she’s the one ringing the call bell. Eugene kept trying to block her with his shoulder but she’d reach right around him. So, this woman, she’s looking all around, shouting about the keys and Eugene looks totally lost because she’s pointing into the empty aisle seat next to her.” The way she was picturing it, Eugene’s entire face was red and he was doing a tennis match look between the shouting older woman who had penciled eyebrows that arched high over the natural ones, and Reva, like one of them would put a stop to it. A kid across the aisle had been watching with his mouth hanging open and people further up were watching from between their seats, some even hung out into the aisle or poked their heads over their seats for a better look. “Eugene just stood there stuttering about how she was disturbing the other passengers, who you know were all watching, and she’s jabbing her finger down at the seat, so I turn to her and say,” She lowered her head so she could look up at me through her lashes with an exaggerated expression of seriousness, “they're my keys ma’am.” Reva grinned with her elbows on the counter, looking pleased with herself. “Then I picked up the seat belt buckle she’d been pointing at and tucked it between the seat cushions.”
I laughed and stood in front of her, brushing a strand of hair away from her eyes. “Did she thank you?” I asked. I knew the answer, but I didn’t want to deprive Reva of her punch line.
She smiled, the cute little smile that crinkled the bridge of her nose. “Not quite. She blinked, sat back in her seat and asks what took me so damn long.” She beamed at me and even if she had done it intentionally I found myself in a better mood. I bent down and kissed her smile.
She put her arms around my neck. Much better, she thought with some satisfaction before deciding she wanted an even better mood. Her hip pressed against the front of my pants.
I could feel her drag her hand down my chest and I knew I didn’t have much time. I kissed her hard, sliding my hands under her shirt and up her back, hoping to distract her and turn her on too.
She stopped pressing with her hip but only to make room for her hand to slide under my waistband. She wasn’t excited enough for me to get hard. It was building, but she was too focused on me. I could feel the intent in her rising, to drop my pants and blow me in the middle of the kitchen. I wasn’t about to try and explain why that wouldn’t work. Even if she knew I was a path she’d think it was about her, her fault somehow. I picked her up by the backs of her thighs, knocking her hand aside. She barely noticed, she was focused on the low swoop in her stomach and wrapped her legs around my waist for balance. I set her on the counter and continued kissing her, pulling her shirt up over her head and tossing it on the floor.
She ground against my stomach, her hands tight on my shoulders. “Control freak.” She dipped her head to lick up the side of my neck where my pulse was starting to speed up. He doesn’t look like he could pick me up but I love it when he does it.
“Are you complaining?” I asked. I unhooked her bra in the back and flung it aside. She pressed into my hands, enjoying their heat as I rolled her nipples between my fingers, firm but not too hard. It was like I was touching her much lower, the tingle went straight between her legs making her clench around my waist. I felt a corresponding tingle and knew it would only take a little more.
When the doorbell rang it was like a splash of cold water. Her annoyance with the interruption killed whatever arousal I’d built up. I dropped my hands to her waist.
She pouted. “Food.” Damn that guy’s timing.
I kissed her protruding lip. “I think I’d better get it.” I cocked my head, eyeing her. “Or you could go; he might give it to us for free.”
She pushed at my chest and dropped her legs. “Go on, I’ll finish setting the table.” When I gave her the space she hopped down primly and winked.
I had a feeling we wouldn’t be getting to dinner for a while.