Saturday, April 23, 2011

Telepaths: The Park Slope Conspiracy - 24

For Easter: What Happens When You Microwave Peeps
First, they should be separated.
Then arranged.

Then you can nuke them. And note that their little eyes never melt.

For a more detailed account of peep procedure see the classic: Peep Surgery.

In this week's chapter nothing will go according to plan for Elise as she discovers what her family thought of Lee and gains insight into the Senator's plans for their investigation.*

*This chapter contains strong language, offensive language, ugly language and family secrets.

24. In The Corner 


No one was in the living room when I opened the front door. I hadn't expected that and I frowned as I made my way toward the dining room. 

"I didn't expect it to be like that." I told you she would do it though. Didn't I? I heard Derek say over the clatter of dishes in the sink. 

I veered off toward the kitchen. 

Ian's voice was firm and disapproving. "You'd better not tell her that's what you were trying for all night." I can't believe you'd do that to a guest anyway. 

"Both of you, cool it," Dani said when she saw me in the doorway. 

Derek didn't look up from the sink where he was rinsing plates so Ian could put them in the dishwasher. "I didn't do anything." It's not like it doesn't happen all the time. This guy I know who was working out at Park Slope said- 

"Hey, Elise," Dani said loudly. 

Derek dropped the plate he was rinsing and Ian jumped.  

I had been worried but I hadn't been angry. I was angry now. "Get what you were looking for?" I asked Derek. 

His six-foot frame withered. "El, I'm sorry, I-" 

He stopped himself and looked even more uncomfortable. I had started toward him when I felt a hand on my shoulder. 

"Come talk to me for a minute," Mom said. She gave the others a hard look before she turned and led the way down the hall. 

I can't believe that Derek would do something like that, I thought over the muffled whispers from the kitchen. I shut the bedroom door behind us and there was silence. 

Mom sat at her vanity and looked down at the cluttered surface. I took the stool that always sat next to it. "I'm sure your brother didn't mean anything by it," she said after a long moment. 

It was my cue to get my temper under control so we could talk. I took a deep breath and loosened my grip on the edge of the stool. "Maggie wasn't feeling too well. She was worried that she scared everyone." I told her it was ridiculous because- 

"Is that what she told you?" Mom asked, her voice harsh. 

I stared and she shook her head, forestalling any comment. "That's not what I meant to say." 

What did you mean? 

Mom sat forward, forearms on her knees, her face sad. "Your friend isn't stable." Her tone was the one she used to tell me Dad was dead. 

I realized that she was talking about Maggie but her funeral voice and that sad earnest expression didn't fit. "Mom, what are you talking about?"

She patted my knee and leaned back in her seat, her hands linked in her lap. "I know you and your brother admire her and you've been, working closely with her. I'm sorry honey." 

Working closely was as much euphemism as I'd ever heard from my mother. "Sorry about what? You think she's crazy?" I saw that she shocked everyone at dinner- 

"Shocked? Elise, she imagined killing your brother. She didn't just imagine it, she was ecstatic about it. She's dangerous," Mom said, getting the bad news over with fast, like ripping off a band-aid. 

I had gripped the edge of the stool so tight that I could feel the upholstery staples under the fabric. When I stood up I could feel the tingling impression of them on my fingertips and I rubbed my hands against my pants. "She's not dangerous. She has thoughts she can't control, it doesn't mean she was going to do anything to Derek." She was upset that she scared everyone.  

Mom sighed and put her head back to look up at the ceiling before she turned her eyes to me. "There's a fine line between thought and deed," she said in the stilted voice that meant she was quoting from something. She shook her head. "You didn't feel it; you don't know how close it was."  

"I was there. I didn't see her reach for her steak knife." She was cleared by a panel of four psychiatrists; she has an echo. An echo with no physical function, I reminded her. It wasn't as though she'd never been around someone who had been echoed. It had happened to Dad a few times. 

"Don't you dare bring your Father into this," she snapped, on her feet in an instant. "He never had anything like that in his head. It was the publicity in her case that got her put on disability instead of in a room at Park Slope." 

I glanced over at Dad's diploma above the dresser. "What happened to how wonderful she was when she was saving my life?" You're upset over what she saw. If Leland Murphy had any control over her she would be at the Slope. I knew I was right. Gates had recommended her, Carl was her friend and Derek worshiped her.  

Mom sat down on the edge of the bed. "Sometimes you're very naïve honey. You'd have to feel it to know. She is dangerous." 

"She's not," I said, baffled by her attitude. Wasn't it obvious? "She isn't dangerous, she's…" I tried to think of a way to describe her and remembered the way her eyes looked out in the yard, when our faces were so close together that it was hard to focus on anything.  

"Oh my god, you are sleeping with her."  

"I am not," I said, looking down at the floor. My face burned. "I trust her, ok?" I know her. As well as I could in the time we’d worked together. 

"See? You don't really know her and even if you had a year you'd only know what she tells you." She spread her hands as though this was proof. 

"You could say that about anyone I know, Mom. Are you telling me I don't know you because I can't hear what you're thinking?" Only real paths get to know people? Is that it? I faced her, my cheeks still hot. 

She huffed and watched me with the fine frown line between her eyes that had been getting deeper the past few years. "You can't know people like the rest of us do. That's why you have to be more careful than your brothers." 

I had expected flat denial, a different angle of attack, not my Mother telling me I was defective. Her careful even tone made me want to throw something. "That talk about all of us kids being equal, that was some bullshit to feed the retarded kid?" Is it just you? Do the boys think so too? Did Dad? I turned away from her, hands fisted at my sides. I didn't want know what the rest of them thought. What Dad thought. 

"Your father understood you were different." All of the heat had gone out of her voice. She was back to what she did best, using Dad for everything. 

"You always bring him in when you're losing." Dad thought I wasn't good enough. The thought made my hands shake. 

Mom was behind me and touched my shoulder. "Honey, I didn't mean it like that. I meant-" 

I pulled away. "That my judgment is crap because I can't dig through anyone's head?" Every path in the world knows more about people than I do. Right? 

She pursed her lips and shook her head. "I'm not going to argue with you when you're like this." 

Her tone and her expression were supposed to cow me, like a kid being punished. It worked and that made me angrier. "When I'm right?" Fine. I've got to go anyway. I grabbed my bag from her bathroom and stalked toward the door.  

"Your meeting isn't for another two hours," she said in a reasonable tone. 

"I'm not in the mood for pie." I'll see you next week. If you don't think having the family retard there will blow it. 

I had never seen the expression that passed over her face then. I expected her to slap me. "You'd better go.” 

I had to pass through the living room to get to the front door. Anthony, Claire and Dani were jammed together on the sofa and Derek and Ian looked in from in the kitchen. No one said anything and I didn't say or think a word in return.

I saw Anthony exchange a glance with Dani and get up to follow me to the door. I held it open for him once I'd passed through. No escaping, is there? I walked down the path to my car expecting him to follow. 

He closed the front door behind us. He didn't say anything until I'd started the car and put the heater on. I left the door open and he leaned on the car next to it. "She was really upset. Whatever she said to you she probably didn’t mean it. You know how Mom gets." 

I put my hands over the vents even though my fingers were hot and the air was cold. "Yeah, I know Mom. And that was the most offensive shit I've ever had anyone say to me." I swore in front of my brother the way I couldn't in front of Mom and felt better. There's nothing wrong with Maggie. 

Anthony coughed and tried to smile. "I wouldn't go that far." 

I didn't smile back. "Nothing dangerous. You should've heard Mom." I looked up into his wide frowning face. You think she's right. 

He shrugged and looked uncomfortable. "It's a fine line between thinking and doing. How do you know she'll never do what she sees?" 

"Because she'd be in a padded cell. You know that." I can't believe you're taking Mom's side. 

"There isn't a lot of documentation on cases like that. It's-" 

I reached for the door. "I'm not going to have this argument with you too." Get off the car. I'll see you on Sunday. 

He stood back and let me shut the door. He waved when I pulled out into the street.  

I looked away. I kept saying I'd see them on Sunday and I wasn't sure if it was true. Get through this meeting with Gates and then you can worry about it, I told myself and ignored Derek's ring on my cell. 

He called four more times. I didn't let myself pick up even though I wanted to talk to someone about Mom and any other day it would have been him. I had the wild thought of calling Maggie. To say what? You had a fight with your Mom about her? That would scare me off after a first date. The word 'date' made me smile for a moment, but I couldn't keep Mom's defensive look and what she said about Dad out of my head. I didn't realize that I was crying until I blinked to clear my eyes and fat tears ran over my cheeks. I wiped at my neck when they ran into my collar. 

When the phone rang the bass tune I assigned Gates I sniffed hard and fumbled for the phone. It was the third ring and I didn't dare wait until I could pull myself together. "Atwood." 

"Elise, I hope I managed to call after dinner," he said with what passed for concern. He always remembered the little details like my family's Sunday dinners. 

"I'm heading home now," I told him and cleared my throat to cover the urge to cough. 

"Good. Is there a chance you can swing by early? It's been a long day.”

"I can do that. I can be there in…" I calculated the drive if I took the beltway and added twenty minutes to stop somewhere and make sure I didn't look as wrecked as I felt. "Less than an hour." 

"That's fine. I'm curious to hear the explanation behind the report on my desk." He had dropped from pleasant to stern in a sentence and I wondered how bad one night could get. 

"Yes sir," I replied. No excuses. Take your beating, point out how well we've predicted Steadman. Get him to hire more help

"In an hour then," he said and hung up. 

At the next stoplight I checked my face in the rearview mirror. It would do. It's better to show up early and have that going for you. 

Derek called again while I was gunning it down the beltway. I didn’t pick up. I couldn't afford to start crying again, even if I wanted to talk. I made it to the Senator's house in record time and didn't let myself hesitate. I walked up the drive, past his car, past his wife's, and rang the doorbell. 

As if to indicate the seriousness of the meeting, the Senator had his tie on when he answered the door. "Come in."  

I kept my sigh to myself and followed him into the living room. He gestured toward the sofa. I sat because I had to. If we were both standing he couldn't chastise me as effectively. Derek is rubbing off on you. You used to think Gates was charming. I let him pace, my eyes still grainy and irritated. 

He stopped near the television and rested his hand on the shelf beside it. "Imagine my surprise, Elise, when I arrived in Boston and found a hasty email that you and Dr. Lochlan were heading to Atlanta to do field research." He turned so he could look down at me. "Field research is interviews or tracking down records at a local level, not some half-assed attempt at surveillance." His chest rose, out of breath from the talking or the swearing. 

When he didn't continue I knew it was my turn. "From Dr. Lochlan's list and the accounts Agent Childers flagged we knew where he would be." We were right. 

"So you decided to do it yourself?" He flung himself into his armchair, exhausted by that conclusion. "What were you thinking, Elise? You're no field agent, neither is Lochlan. You could have been killed." He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, eyes full of concern. 

I had to look away, ashamed in spite of myself. Don't qualify it, get it over with. He has to see we could've had Steadman if we'd had a real agent. "We didn't want to wait for a field agent," I said, admitting the guilt he wanted.  

"And you didn't get anything. Unless you count Lochlan's dislocated shoulder and a broken camera. I can't believe you destroyed your brother's equipment." There was real frustration in his voice. "I want you to continue looking into the money trail. You leave operations to Childers." 

I knew two things. He was angry because we didn't get the footage and he wasn't hiring anyone. I felt the sting of moisture in my eyes and the anger I tried to leave in the car flared. "You're telling me to sit on a reliable lead that will get you the information you wanted?" With all of the money you're throwing at this project you could afford to have someone get the shots.

He sat back in his seat and smirked. It was the coldest expression I'd ever seen. "You're so ready to catch Steadman that you're forgetting we're concerned with Breaker. What good is it to me if we bring in another agent who doesn't understand the situation like Childers? Anyone else would run straight to their department head with what we have on Steadman so they could be the hero of the Park Slope case. Then the feds would get him and we'd be left with nothing."

I blinked in confusion. "What do pictures get you that an arrest doesn't?" I knew he wasn't doing this to save the world, but is he saying he doesn't want Steadman arrested? 

He gestured with his left hand, wedding ring glinting. "I want him arrested, with his whole department, all the way to the top. That’s a case that will take months to build. The pictures matter right now. With those pictures and the account records Childers is piling up I can approach Breaker about his part and get more information."  

"Blackmail." The word was out of my mouth before I could censor it. 

His eyes narrowed to slits. "Tactics. Winning tactics." He stretched out his legs and propped his heels on the coffee table. He looked like a grandfather again. "Childers will come around. He's going to need a day or two away from the wife. Until then, keep an eye on the money and document the missing persons reports. When we do nail him, we want to have it all." 

"Yes sir," I stood up, not sure I was dismissed and not caring as much as I should. Does he really think Carl will leave his pregnant wife to get some pictures that might not even put Steadman away? 

Gates smiled his genial smile and stood. "Keep me updated." 

I followed him to the door. "I will sir."  

He held the door open and I stepped out. He didn't say anything until I was at the bottom of the steps. "Elise?" He waited until I turned and looked at him. "Try not to get shot, all right? I have enough gray hair." His smile was tired and fatherly. Then the door closed and I was left on the stone path feeling like I had dreamed the whole conversation.



  1. My, Elise's mother certainly is, er... protective. Really interesting to see a sort of - maybe privilege isn't quite the right word, but I think it will do - in her interaction with her own daughter.

  2. Privilege is close. Though her mom would never think of it that way. Parents have their own filter.


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