Part XII

By Kelly Rourke


(Author’s note:  To the best of my knowledge, there is no such thing as the “Kemmler methodology.” This is, as far as I am aware, purely a product of my imagination and should not be confused with any real-world psychological/psychiatric/medical  treatment or practice presently or previoiusly existing.)

Laura was fiddling with her salad fork as he approached the table. “Kids o.k.?” she asked with a faint smile. 

“They’re just fine,” he told her. “Playing nicely. Sorry I took so long.” He reached across and helped himself to the salad bowl. “Shannon’s lovely. Is she six or seven now?” 

“She just turned six last month,” Pat answered. Murphy was scowling across the table, sipping at a glass of water. “We think she’s going to be tall, like her father.” 

“And brilliant like her mother?” Pat blushed at that and offered him a small smile. Murphy’s scowl grew deeper. 

He finished scooping spaghetti onto his plate and bit into a warm piece of garlic bread. “So, what brings the three of you to Los Angeles?” 

“Well,” Pat began, but Murphy cleared his throat and shot her a glance. 

“Nothing special,” he said smoothly. “Just visiting family and friends. Haven’t been back in L.A. in awhile. Figured it was time.” 

“Where are you staying?” 

“With my parents,” Pat answered. “They’re just thrilled to be able to spend time with their granddaughter. Murphy’s right. We don’t get back to Los Angeles often enough.” 

“I’ll second that,” Laura put in with a warm smile. “You should visit more often.” 

“Yeah, well, I’ve never been a big fan of smog, I guess,” Murphy said. 

“The air in Denver is that much better?” It was Laura’s turn to shoot him a glance. She was obviously not pleased with the tone of that remark. 

“Actually, the air standards in Denver aren’t great, but they’re miles ahead of L.A.” Murphy was calm, but his voice still had an edge to it. 

“How’s work going these days? Busy?” 

“I keep myself occupied, thanks. I understand Laura’s doing quite well these days also.” There was no attempt to soften the emphasis on Laura’s name. 

“Laura,” and he raised his water glass in silent toast, “will always do quite well. I’ve never had any doubts of that whatsoever.” 

She smiled at him wanly and then turned to Murphy. “You handled that diamond heist brilliantly last month, I heard. The publicity from that case alone must be bringing in clients.” 

“I think the books will stay in the black for awhile, but you never know what will happen in this business,” Murphy said, still staring across the table at him. “Things happen. People come. And go.” 

“Well,” he said amiably, “change is the only true constant in life, isn’t it?” He lifted his water glass again, this time in Murphy’s direction. “To change.” 

Muphy’s response was abrupt. He snatched his napkin from his lap and threw it down across his plate. “Hell with this,” he snarled, getting to his feet. “I’ve had about all I can take.” 

“Murphy?” Pat was gazing at him anxiously. She held out one hand and laid it on his arm. Laura was looking from one man to the other, for once uncertain of what to say or do. 

“He sits there,” Murphy sputtered, pointing across the table, “like some kind of…of…pater familius. Like he belongs there. Daddy’s home, where’s dinner? It’s enough to gag a moose.” 

“Murphy!” Laura’s tone was sharp, but it had no visible effect on her longtime friend. 

“He isn’t fit to scrape your shoes on, Laura, and you sit here and let him act like the lord of the manor. What did he do? Show up, say he was sorry and now all is forgiven? Almost four years of dead silence and suddenly he’s back and everything’s just fine? Well, forgive me, but I’ve lost my appetite.” 

“And your manners, it would seem,” he said quietly. “Sit down, Murphy, and don’t insult Laura’s cooking like that. You can be as angry at me as you like. But don’t take it out on her.” 

“Laura is not the issue here,” Murphy said. “This is about you and the liberties you’re taking with her life. Again.” He leaned forward and jabbed a finger across the table. “You’ve got nerve you haven’t even used yet, don’t you? Just waltz back in here like nothing happened and everything’s suddenly just fine. I bet you never even broke a sweat. Well, you don’t know the half of it. You don’t know what this woman went through for the past three-and-a-half years. You have no idea what hell you put her through. You have no right to be here. None whatsoever.” 

“Murphy!” This time Laura wasn’t just upset. She was shouting. “I will not have you talking like that! You don’t know what’s going on. You don’t know what happened or why. You have no right to judge. And if you’re going to talk like that—“ 

“Pat?” he broke in, his voice gentle and somewhat amused. “Can you brew a pot of tea, do you think?” He blinked mildly at Laura. “Such a civilized beverage. You should serve it to all your guests, darling. Really.” 

She blinked at him. “Tea? Tea??? You and Murphy start World War III and I’m supposed to fix things by serving tea with the spaghetti?” She threw her own napkin down on the table. “Men!” 

Pat looked at her and her mouth quirked. “Kid, you just put your finger on the beating heart of the matter. Men. Like a couple of rutting rams trying to prove which has the longest horns by butting heads until they both fall down. I’m starting to think that ninety percent of what’s wrong with this world begins and ends with an excess of testosterone. It’s ridiculous.” 

“It certainly is.” Laura was still glaring, but she’d stopped shouting at least. 

“Perhaps if we just cut to the chase and talked about this it would be better,” he said mildly. “Polite trivialities don’t seem to suit Murphy,  and I must confess, I’m getting a bit weary of them myself.” He stared fixedly at Murphy for a long moment and finally, Murphy sank into his chair once again. “For starters, Murphy, you’re entirely correct. I have no bloody idea of the hell Laura’s been through for the past four years. All I can say is, I hope it was better than the hell I’ve been in for the same period. I’d hate to think it was any worse.” 

Murphy took this in total silence. 

“I’m grateful that, at least, she had good friends who could help her through it. Even family, strained as those relationships can be, is preferable to going through it alone. Laura has told me how supportive you both were during the worst times and how often you came through for her when it couldn’t have been easy for you. And for that I’ll always be in your debt.” 

“But what happened to Laura and I happened for a reason. At the point I left, I had no idea she was pregnant. If I’d known, I would never have left. She and I might not be together, but I will never turn my back on any child I’ve brought into this world. I lived that life and I won’t be responsible for anyone else living through it. No matter what happens from this point on, understand this:  I am that child’s father and I will be here for him in any way humanly possible. No matter what you or anyone else thinks of the matter. It may not seem to be my right, but it is very much my responsibility and one I intend to take seriously. Whatever else you decide, you’ll have to find a way to live with that.” 

Murphy licked his lips and cleared his throat nervously. “I don’t mean to imply—“ 

“I’m sure you didn’t, Murphy. I understand your anger and, from your perspective, it may seem reasonable. I’ve apparently done nothing in the past four years to earn any welcome whatsoever. But Laura and I have been through all that. We know what happened and why and we’ve made our peace with it, as far as we’ve been able at this point. What happened is, for the moment, between us. I won’t discuss the details unless Laura agrees and, since we haven’t had a chance to discuss it, I’ll have to ask you to wait for any further explanation until we do. Suffice it to say that there was just and sufficient cause for what happened. I didn’t just up and abandon Laura, and I had no idea she was expecting when I did leave.” 

“If you don’t mind my interrupting,” Pat put in, “I think you and Laura need to decide how much you want us to know. This is going to sound strange, but you two need to put your heads together for a moment, away from us, or we’re never going to get anywhere.” 

“That’s not necessary,” Laura said. “I’ll be only too happy to tell you both what happened, if I can do it without interruption -- from anyone,” she said with a pointed look at the two men. 

“Murphy, you know what happened in Mexico and later in Ireland. I’ve told you about Tony Roselli. You also know what happened when I learned I was pregnant. If I recall,  you were on the phone constantly, pushing me to find out who drugged me. Well, now we think we know who did it.” 

“Roselli?” Murphy sounded skeptical. 

“He used a drug that left me susceptible to suggestion. It made me act in a way that convinced Harry that I was in love with Tony. Harry quite reasonably demanded that I make a choice between Tony and himself and, because of the drugs, I left him with the impression that my choice was Tony. He simply left me to what he thought I wanted.” 

“Harry!” Murphy snorted the name. 

“It’s what his father called him. It’s as much his name as anything else. We’ve been through this, Murph. Why can’t you ever let anything go?” 

Murphy heaved a sigh. “O.k. But it’s gonna be hard getting used to that one. To me, ‘Harry’ is always gonna be that little guy upstairs. How do you sort that out?” 

“We haven’t run into it yet,” Laura admitted. 

“I’ve been going by Harrison of late,” he put in softly. “You can use that if it would help. Or you can stick to Mr. Steele if it makes you more comfortable. ‘Remington’s’ always been a bit of a mouthful. But use whatever feels right to you.” 

“Scum-sucking-swine o.k. by you?” Murphy said with a small, vicious smile. 

“Well, it’s a bit of a mouthful also, but if you like it…” 

“Stop it, both of you!” Laura snapped. “Honestly, your children behave better than the pair of you!” 

“I suppose,” Murphy said, twirling his water glass between his fingers, “now that you’re back in Laura’s life, you won’t waste much time getting back into her office. And her bank accounts.” 

“Actually, I’m committed elsewhere at the moment,” he said nonchalantly, “so I’m afraid Laura will have to do without a ‘Remington Steele’ for awhile longer. We haven’t  really discussed any arrangement beyond a personal one at the moment.” 

“Committed elsewhere? I don’t know what amuses me more, the fact that you could be committed anywhere that wasn’t a penal institution, or the fact that you could be committed to anything at all.” 

“Flip a coin?” he suggested. 

“We could try putting ice down their backs, see if it cools them off any,” Pat suggested to Laura. 

“I’ve got a fire extinguisher in the kitchen that’s been begging to be used,” Laura told her. “I just don’t know whether to discharge it, or use it as a blunt instrument.” 

“Decisions, decisions,” Pat mused, tapping one finger against her lips meditatively. 

“You get the impression,” he asked Murphy, “that the ladies want us to sit up straight and play nice?” 

“I’ve had that impression for years,” Murphy said with a sigh. “Women. They just don’t get it sometimes.” 

“It’s all that progesterone, or so I’ve been told,” he said with a sly grin. 

Laura flung up her hands in disgust. “All right. You two macho-types want to have at it, fine by me. But I’m not going to sit here and listen to this drivel another minute. Coming, Pat?” She rose from her chair and stalked haughtily out into the living room, where she could be heard rooting among her tapes. After swallowing the last of her water, Pat rose with a small smile, and followed. A few moments later, music floated back out of the living room. 

“I suppose,” Murphy said, “that tells us.” 

“Mm. I suppose it does. More salad, Murphy?” 

“Thanks. Pass me another piece of that garlic bread while you’re at it.” 

“You know, Murphy” he said finally, staring intently at his plate, “you and I do have a real problem.” 

“I wouldn’t be surprised. But what specifically did you have in mind?” 

“You don’t trust me.” 

“That’s a problem? It’s never bothered you before.” 

“It never mattered before.” 

“And it does now?” 

“It matters a great deal now. And I just don’t know what to do about it.” 

“Why do anything? Just accept it as the status quo.” 

He sighed deeply. “I wish it were that easy, but in reality it’s not. I can understand why you don’t trust me, but I have no idea how to change that. Laura had to learn to trust me and it took years. I’m surprised she still trusts me now, after everything, but she does and it’s a true blessing and a great gift. But it’s different with you and I. Our entire relationship has been nothing but mistrust from the first and now that I really, honestly need to bridge that chasm, I’ve no idea how to go about it.” He looked up suddenly. “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” 

“Depends on what it is.” 

“Fair enough. Why did you leave?” 

Murphy blinked slowly. “What do you mean, leave? I’m not the one who just up and disappeared. I opened my own agency in Denver. Nothing mysterious about it. I planned it out, I announced it ahead of time, and then I moved. What’s the big deal?” 

“But it’s not that simple, is it?” he said. “Because, from the time I walked through the front door of that agency, you were the bulldog at the front gate, constantly snarling, warning me off, circling around Laura, trying desperately to protect her from me. You did everything but camp out on her doorstep and I suspect you may have even done that on an occasion or two. Then, suddenly, you announce you’re starting your own agency in Denver and it’s hail and farewell. You just drove off into the sunset without so much as a look back over your shoulder. What happened?” 

It was Murphy’s turn to stare into the depths of his plate. After a few silent moments, “Do you remember breaking into the Treasury building?” 

He shuddered slightly. “It’s not an experience I’m likely to forget. I almost lost Laura on that one.” 

Murphy nodded. “Yes, you did. And there I was, down below you, trying to hotwire the crane that Laura was dangling from, praying that I’d get it running before you lost your grip on her. I almost had the wires working and I just had to look up. And that’s when I saw it.” 

“Saw what?” 

“I saw that mask you always wore slip away and I got a good look at you, who you really were, with no games or pretenses. You were terrified. Genuinely scared out of your mind. You thought she was going to fall and the look on your face…” 

“If she’d fallen,” he said quietly, “a part of me would have fallen with her. I’d have died myself that night, whether I made if down off that crane in one piece or not.” 

“Yeah,” Murphy said. “That was the look. That was when I knew for sure that you really weren’t going to just up and leave her. That was when I knew how much you really cared, whether you knew it yourself or not.” 

“So you were free to leave then?” 

“Yeah, I guess that’s about right. I mean, if she didn’t need to be protected from you, I could…” 

“Get on with your life?” 

“Yeah, something like that.” Murphy sighed. “Opening my own place, it was a dream I’d had for years. And I grew up in Colorado. Denver was home. It was where I wanted to be more than anything. I guess, in the end, it was just time to go.” 

“Actually, I was surprised you stayed around as long as you did,” he said. “I mean, it couldn’t have been easy for an investigator of your caliber to be relegated to chasing down autopsy reports and standing by while Laura solved all the cases. She really is a bear for hogging all the fun sometimes.” 

“She has her reasons,” Murphy said, scowling. 

“Yes, she does. But it must have been difficult for you. Lord knows, I got fed up with it enough and I didn’t have your level of expertise to fall back on.” 

“Look,” Murphy said, flushing slightly, “working with Laura was one of the best experiences of my life and I learned more with her than I ever did at Havenhurst.” 

“And now you’re putting what you learned to practical use, which is splendid. I’m glad you have your own agency. You have so many skills and abilities you never got to use before and from what I’ve heard, you’re a top-notch investigator with a growing reputation. You’ve come into your own at last.” 

“What’s your point? And stop sugar-coating this, o.k.? I don’t need my ego stroked.” 

“I’m saying you put up with a hell of a lot of crap over the years, even before I joined the agency. And someone with  your talents and abilities, not to mention personality, doesn’t normally take something like that quietly. But you did. And I can’t help wondering why. I know you made a big deal for a little while about how attracted you were to Laura, but I can’t help thinking that it wasn’t quite that way. And I’m trying to get a handle on it.” 

Murphy was silent for a long moment. “Look,” he said finally, “Laura’s been through a hell of a lot in her life. And no matter how strong she acts, she’s not. Too many people have let her down. Too many people she’s trusted have walked out on her. I just didn’t want to be one more of those people. Not before I had to.” 

“Not until there was someone else she could lean on, you mean?” 

“Yeah, I guess.” Murphy looked at him. “You were never an ideal candidate, you understand. And, yeah, I didn’t trust you for a long time. But in the end I guess it was just time to move on. And it worked out o.k. At least until about four years ago, that is.” 

“Murphy, I honestly believed that Laura had fallen in love with Antony. I thought I was leaving her with someone who’d take care of her, the same way you felt you were leaving her in good hands with me. Only, in my case, it turned out I was wrong.” 

“Dead wrong,” Murphy amended. 

“Look, I’m doing my best to rectify this with Laura,” he said with quiet intensity. “I know I’ve hurt her, but she knows why it happened and she’s willing, for some unfathomable reason, to give me a second chance. I’ve spent the last few years in hell. I never wanted to leave her. I thought it was what she wanted. And now, all I want is another chance to make her happy. If I can.” 

Murphy stared at him for several long moments. “You know,” he said finally, “it sounds like, this time, it wasn’t Laura who fell off that crane. It was you.” 

“It was,” he said simply. “And now I’m trying to climb my way back to where I was. Or as close to it as I can get.” He sighed. “So what do you say? Can we bury this hatchet? At least for the time being?” Murphy stared at him silently. “For all our sakes. Please?” 

He waited in silence while Murphy chased spaghetti noodles around on his plate for awhile. 

“You swear that this thing with Roselli was the only reason you left? And that you really are back now, you don’t intend to bail on her again?” 

“On my honor as a gentleman,” he said with total conviction. 

Murphy grinned suddenly. “That may be the only oath from you I’d ever take seriously.” He looked down at his plate. “Laura’s spaghetti has definitely improved, but it’s never going to be really good quality stuff, is it?” 

He grinned in return and ducked his head sheepishly. “It’s improved vastly from the first time she ever made it for me, but you’re right. Laura’s idea of al dente isn’t quite what the Italians had in mind when they coined the phrase, is it?” 

Surreptitiously, the two men rose and scraped their plates into the garbage can in the kitchen, then turned to find Laura and Pat standing behind them. 

“And you didn’t want Murphy to insult my cooking?” Laura said, fixing him with a look. 

“Murphy, if your daughter exhibited manners like that, I’d paddle her behind,” Pat put in. 

“Hey!” Murphy put up his hands in mock protest. “Don’t look at me. After all, I ate six pieces of garlic toast. Who could finish his spaghetti with all that bread inside him? And Laura, it was great garlic toast. Honestly.” 

“So glad you approve,” she said dryly. “And what was your excuse?” she asked, looking up into a pair of guileless blue eyes, so like her son’s they made her heart ache for a moment. “I didn’t see you scarfing down bread.” 

“Ahhh,” he stammered, “big lunch today. And then I ate during my evening meeting, just before I got here. Couldn’t have forced down another bite and I’m terribly embarrassed by that, truly I am.” 

“Evening meeting?” Murphy put in. “Laura said you were going to be late, but she never said why.” 

“Ah, well, I’m not really at liberty to discuss it, but I had to meet an old friend and, as it happened, we met at a restaurant. You can’t just sit in a booth at a restaurant and have nothing but water, now can you?” He looked down at Laura’s scowling face. “Now, Laura, I didn’t choose the meeting place. Honestly.” 

She sighed and shook her head. “We’ll discuss your ‘evening meeting’ later, in private. For now, could I impose on you to open the bottle of wine Murphy and Pat brought and pour us each a glass?” 

“Happy to oblige,” he told her and, a short time later, the small party was seated out in the living room, glasses in hand. 

“Laura tells me you joined a hospital-based practice, Pat. How’s that going?” 

“It’s more of a group practice, really,” Pat put in. “I’m actually enjoying it. I’m getting a better variety of patients than I had in private practice and the pace is better with the other group members to lean on. Plus the resources and the benefits are wonderful.” 

“Are you specializing in any particular area?” he asked, aware that Laura was giving him an odd look. 

“Adolescent behavioral disorders at the moment,” Pat said. “It’s hard work, but very rewarding at times. This is a great age group for me. I like it a lot better than treating endless arrays of single women with relationship issues.” 

“Trouble keeping a straight face at times?” Laura scowled at this, but Pat laughed. 

“You pretty much hit it. I’m not taking the difficulties of my former patients lightly. The issues were real and, in some cases, severely inhibiting, but I did tire of hearing the second verse, same as the first, over and over again. After awhile, I was almost ready to tell their stories before they were.” 

“You may find the same problem in your current practice,” he said. “Adolescents all seem to offer identical traumas with just varying shades of color.” 

“I suppose that could be true,” she said, “but so far it hasn’t been a real problem. And I’m doing whole-family counseling, which is really wonderful. It’s great to see what can happen in the group dynamic as opposed to single, one-on-one counseling. In private practice, I sometimes felt as if I were working in a vacuum, but not any more.” 

“I would think,” he said, taking a sip of wine, “that the parents would be the most difficult factor in the equation. How do you get on with them?” 

“I usually end up treating the parents more than the children,” she said. “In fact, in most cases, the problem is easiest solved by working with the parents.” 

“Why is that?” 

“Because the parents are usually more anxious to find a way to change the situation, while the adolescents are so mired in their own pain that change frightens them more than the consequences of their problem behaviors do.” 

“That makes a great deal of sense.” His bland expression didn’t change, even when Laura dug a sharp elbow deep into his ribcage. “How has your success rate been?” 

“Actually fairly good,” she told him with a smile. “The kids I treat are usually in an eight-to-ten-month treatment cycle. It’s rare that I have to take it beyond that point and the recidivism rate has been wonderfully low. I’m happy with the methodology I’ve been using.” 

“Which methodology is that?” 

“I’ve been following the Kemmler protocols pretty strictly and it’s been wonderful.” 

“I don’t know that I could agree with that,” he said mildly. “I’ve found the Kemmler methodology tends to treat the symptoms more than the underlying problem. It pretties up the picture without bringing about any significant changes that could prevent the situation from reoccurring.” 

“Perhaps in some cases,” Pat said, a small note of defensiveness creeping into her voice. “But with this age group, change is so rapid and constant that treating the symptoms is more efficacious over the long run. The underlying causes may disappear as the child matures and waiting to dig out those causes simply leaves the problem in place while significant developmental stages are missed due to acting-out behaviors.” 

“So treating the symptoms really is enough?” 

“At this age level, sometimes it’s best,” she said. “And when you work with the whole family, you can often change the dynamic enough to inoculate against recurrence and recidivism.” 

He nodded thoughtfully. “I can see where that path could work with your age group. Are you working mainly with older adolescents?” 

“That’s right. Age 16 and over in most cases.” 

“But don’t you ever run across a situation where the family dynamic is so skewed that working one-on-one with the adolescent is really the only way to proceed?” 

“Of course, but those cases are more rare than people would believe.” 

“How does the Kemmler methodology work in those instances, though?” 

“It’s less effective,” she admitted grudgingly, “but it needn’t be abandoned altogether. You simply have to modify your approach a bit.” 

“Roll with the punches, in other words?” 


Murphy laughed and looked at Laura. “He hasn’t changed a bit, has he, Laura?” She cocked an eyebrow at him. “He’s still the best bull artist around. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear these two were a couple of colleagues talking shop.” 

“Speaking of rolling with punches…” Laura muttered under her breath. 

“What was that?” 

“Nothing,” she said. “Tell me, how has Shannon been doing? She’s in first grade now, isn’t she? Does she like ‘real’ school? She seemed terribly anxious to start last year. Tired of ‘baby school,’ if I remember correctly.” 

Both Murphy and Pat exchanged glances. Murphy cleared his throat experimentally a few times while Pat began picking imaginary lint off her slacks. 

“Ah, well,” Murphy finally stammered,  “Shannon’s been involved with a special class this year. I don’t honestly know if she’s loving it as much as we expected her to. But her teachers say she’s progressing. Well. Progressing well.” 

Laura leaned forward. “Special class? What kind? I know Shannon’s always been bright. Is it some kind of magnet program?” 

“Murphy,” he put in suddenly, “can I freshen up that drink?” 

Murphy looked relieved and downed the last two-thirds of his glass in a single gulp. “If you would,” he said, holding out his now-empty glass. Laura looked from one to the other, suspicion etched on her features. Pat mutely held up her empty glass and he took it without comment and carried both glasses into the kitchen. After a moment, Murphy followed him. 

“Nice save,” Murphy said, leaning against the counter. 

“It was nothing,” he answered, twisting the bottle opener into the cork. 

“Yeah. So why’d you do it?” 

“You seemed uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure how much interrogation you and Pat wanted. Under the circumstances,” he added, pouring wine into a glass and handing it to Murphy. 

“Under what circumstances?” Murphy said evenly, holding the cup close to his chest and staring intently at him. 

“Odd time of the week to take a vacation, isn’t it?” he said, pouring out the second glass. “Odd time of the year as well. Might be you’re here for another reason. And if you’d wanted to share that, you’d have said so, wouldn’t you?” 

“You surmised all that, did you?” 

“Well, Laura’s always been an excellent teacher…” 


The two men stared at each other for a long moment. 

“Out with it,” Murphy said flatly. “Now.” 

“All right,” he said softly, putting the cork back into the bottle and twirling it idly between his hands. “I told you I was concerned that you didn’t trust me. That it was important. That it mattered. Well, it does matter. A great deal.” 

“And why is that?” 

“Because,” he said, looking intently at Murphy, “I may be the only hope you have left.” 

“Now that,” said Pat from behind them, “is a statement I’d very much like to have explained.” 

“So would I,” Laura added, standing beside her. She was looking directly at him, a small frown on her features. He sighed, wishing there had been time for a private conference between them. But there wasn’t. 

“You see, Pat, Murphy,” he said softly, “you’ve already seen anyone I could reasonably recommend. And I’m all that’s left. Honestly. I almost wish it were different. I know how difficult this is going to be for you, but there’s nothing I can do to make it any easier. Except to ask you both to trust me. And I’m not sure how that will work out, at the moment anyway.” 

Murphy straightened, a sudden sneer on his face. “You said you were going by ‘Harrison’ lately. The last name, it wouldn’t happen to be ‘Cathcart,’ would it? Oh, hell!” He slammed his wineglass down on the counter. Wine slopped over the sides, making a small puddle. 

“You never asked what I’d been doing the past several years, Murphy, a serious omission as it turns out.” 

Laura looked from Murphy to Pat and back again. “You mean you came to L.A. just to see--” She blinked rapidly and took a sudden sip of wine. “Oh my.” 

“Now there’s an understatement,” Murphy snarled. “Pat!” 

“What?” Pat said, jumping slightly. 

“Get Shannon, would you? We’re going home.” 

“Back to my parents’?” Pat said, sounding dubious. 

“No.” Murphy’s tone was flat. “Back to Denver. Get Shannon, please.” 

“Murphy, please, calm down,” Laura pleaded. Pat stood, apparently rooted to the spot, staring at her husband. 

“I’m perfectly calm,” Murphy gritted between clenched teeth. “and we’re leaving. Now.” 

“And when you leave,” he said, looking calmly at Murphy, “where exactly do you intend to go next?” 

“None of your damn business, but if you must know, we have a Canadian referral we haven’t tried yet.” 

He nodded to himself. “Same outfit as here, right? And the last name of that therapist, Murphy? It wouldn’t be Chalmers, would it?” 

“Shit,” Murphy muttered, a look of shock spreading across his face. 

“Because I have it on good authority that he was transferred,” he continued. “To Los Angeles, I believe.” 

Pat was staring from one man to the other. “You mean you…oh, my.” She reached out suddenly and put one hand on the counter for support. 

“Pat? Are you all right?” Laura said, but Pat nodded, brushing off her concern to look up at her husband again. 

“Murphy, what are you thinking?” she asked. “We came all this way and you want to just say the hell with it and leave? He’s right. Where do we go then? There isn’t anyone else anymore! We can’t leave now!” 

“Murphy,” he put in, “I’ve seen Shannon’s file. Now, I haven’t read it in depth yet, but I’ve scanned it and it looks like you’ve already taken Shannon to every reputable specialist to be found, except me. And that’s everyone I might have been able to refer you to.” He sighed and rubbed his temples. “There are a lot of people working in this field, but damned few with any kind of success rates at all. I’m not certain I understand that. It really shouldn’t be that way, but it is. If I don’t see her, there’s really no one left who is dealing with this problem successfully. You won’t find the help she needs.” 

He stared at Murphy intensely for a moment. “She won’t get better if you leave, Murphy.” 

“And she will if we stay, is that it?” Murphy’s tone was an outright sneer. 

“Yes, that’s it.” 

“Well, I don’t buy it.” 

He sighed again. “Murphy, let me ask you something. How long has this been going on? How long since your daughter said anything at all to anyone?” 

Murphy’s chin was set and belligerent. It was Pat who answered, softly, “Six months now.” 

“Six months,” he repeated softly, in wonder. “And you’ve been referred to me, under one name or another, numerous times now, haven’t you? You’ve been going at this thing geographically, from what I can see, trying all the nearer people first. But you did take her to Bremlich in New York and Wang in Chicago, I noticed that.” 

“They were both in Chicago visiting and we went there one weekend,” Murphy said. 

“Those are two of the best in the field. What happened?” 

There was an uncomfortably long pause. Finally, “They sent us to you.” 

“How many people have referred you to me now, Murphy? Six, seven?” 

“Hell if I know,” he snapped. 

“Twelve at least,” Pat put in firmly. “It’s just that Murphy kept insisting we stay in the U.S. and many of the referrals were for Canada. Lately we’ve been referred to you here in Los Angeles, so we finally packed our bags and came out.” 

“And now, faced with the truth,” he said, “ you were willing to cross the border and take that one last chance, weren’t you?” Murphy stared at his shoes, his color still high. 

“Murphy,” he continued softly, “this is a strange situation, I’ll grant you, but, whether you’re aware of it or not, there’s a clock ticking on this thing. Right now, Shannon may still be reacting to a specific trauma. In fact, I believe she is. But silence isn’t golden and sooner or later, it becomes habit-forming. The longer she stays speechless, the less likely it is that we’ll ever get through to her again. You don’t really have all the time in the world to play with this thing. It’s already been six months. How much longer can it go on? I would personally suggest that it’s gone on long enough. A few more months and we might not be able to help her at all.” 

Murphy looked at him, his lips pulled back in rage. “I don’t think you’re what’s needed here. I honestly don’t.” 

He sighed. “Granted, you have little reason, knowing my…checkered background, to trust me on this. But, believe it or not, Murphy, I’m a real psychologist, and I’m about as good as my reputation. I wouldn’t suggest I could help her if I couldn’t. And I wouldn’t want to proceed with treatment, under the circumstances, if there were anywhere else I could, in good conscience, refer you.” 

He took a contemplative sip of his own wine. “I’ll tell you what Murphy,” he said, “let me offer you a small demonstration, if you will.” 

Murphy blinked and his eyes narrowed. “Just what did you have in mind?” 

“I haven’t really read any of the case notes, just the diagnosis and the list of those she’s already been seen by. But I’m guessing that there are times when she’ll come up to you willingly and there are times when you couldn’t get her to stand within, say, six feet of you. I’m also guessing, for a reason, that today is one of the latter times.” 

Murphy’s expression didn’t alter, but Pat’s gasp was eloquent. He nodded his head to her. “I’m betting that, at least today, you’re having no trouble with her, yourself, though,” he said softly. Pat nodded, eyes wide and shocked. 

“What would you say, Murphy, if I could fix it so that Shannon would come as close to you as you wanted, as close as she ever does these days? And if I could do it without speaking to Shannon at all?” 

“I’d say you know absolutely nothing about my daughter,” Murphy snarled. 

“I know more about your daughter at this moment,” he said levelly, “than you do, I’ll lay odds. What’s wrong, Murphy? Are you afraid to test it out? Afraid I might be right?” 

“Hell,” Murphy snarled, “go ahead. Give it your best shot.” 

“And if I’m right, if she will come right to you, you’ll stay?” 

Pat’s eyes were wide and pleading, “Murphy? Please!” 

Laura stood absolutely still, eyes fixed on Murphy’s face. Murphy looked from Pat to Laura and back again. 

Finally, “All right, you’ve got yourself a deal, but you don’t go anywhere near her, right? You don’t look at her, you don’t speak to her. I can call her down here and she’ll come right to me and take my hand, is that the deal?” 

“That’s the deal.” 

Murphy smiled, but it wasn’t warm or pleasant. “You just made a sucker bet, my friend. Because Shannon won’t let me anywhere near her today.” 

“I know that,” he said calmly. “And I meant what I said. I’ll say nothing at all to Shannon, but I’ll have to do something about you, mate.” He put his glass down on the counter and approached Murphy. “You’re a guest here, Murphy, you should dress like one. You look as if you’re off to a bloody business meeting. Take off your coat and tie and loosen your collar if you would, please. Then give me your suitcoat and tie, go into the livingroom…and call your daughter.” 

Murphy remained belligerent, but he managed to divest himself of coat and tie and headed for the livingroom. Pat stopped him in the doorway and loosened his collar for him. 

“Well,” he said, turning back for a moment, “do I pass inspection, doc?” 

He looked Murphy over carefully, after laying his tie and coat on the kitchen counter. “You’ll do. Now go call your daughter. Trust me, she may hesitate for a moment, but she’ll come right to you.” Murphy turned and left the kitchen. Laura went to him and laid a hand on his arm. 

“I hope you’re right about this,” she said softly, too low for Pat to hear. 

“I do too,” he told her. 

Then he, Laura and Pat went to stand near the dining room table to watch. Murphy stood in the center of Laura’s living room, hands at his sides, eyes straight ahead. Laura wondered if anyone else noticed that his hands were almost imperceptibly trembling, then decided that Pat probably had. 

“Shannon!” Murphy called. “Could you come down her a moment, sweetheart? Shannon!” 

There was a small thud from the bedroom upstairs and a door creaked. Then Shannon was there, coming down the stairs, Harry, Jr. right behind her with the ubiquitous Joji clutched in his arms. Shannon paused at the foot of the stairs and stared at her father silently, waiting, her face expressionless. 

“Shannon,” Murphy said, getting down on one knee and holding out an arm in her direction, “I need you to come over here a minute. I want to see something, all right?” 

The pause that followed these words seemed to stretch out impossibly long as the tableau held. Shannon stood at the base of the stairs, looking at her father, who knelt motionless, one arm reaching for her. Laura risked a glance behind her. His face was set in a grim scowl. Then suddenly it cleared. Laura turned back quickly. 

Shannon was crossing the small expanse of living room. She was coming closer and closer, almost there. Now her father’s hands brushed her sleeve, and she stepped into the curve of his arm without a moment’s hesitation. He pulled her down until she was sitting on his knee, looking up at him, a quizzical expression on her face. 

“It’s o.k., sweetheart,” he told her softly, brushing a loose strand of blond hair back from her face. “I just wanted to see if you were o.k. Are you and Harry having fun?” She nodded at him. “And you’re playing nicely, right? No fighting.” Again, a silent nod. “O.k., maybe you should go back to playing.” She stood up. “Wait! Shannon?” She paused and her father swallowed heavily. “Can I have a hug, sweetie?” 

She leaned forward with a small smile and wrapped her thin arms around her father’s neck and held him tight for a moment. Then she stood up and waved silently at him before turning back toward the stairs. Murphy remained on one knee, watching her and Harry, Jr. vanish upstairs again. 

From the dining room, Pat let out a gusty sigh. Even Laura realized she’d been holding her breath. She turned and looked behind her, but he was already stepping past her, headed for the living room. 

He paused in front of Murphy and held out one hand. Without comment, Murphy took it and got to his feet. From the dining area, Laura could see the glint of moisture in his eyes. 

“O.k., Murphy,” he said softly, “here’s the deal. You will bring Shannon to my office at the appointed time, 9:00 a.m. if I’m not mistaken. You will follow my instructions to the letter. There will be no belligerence, no snarling. Understand me,” he met Murphy’s eyes and paused until he was certain he had the man’s complete attention, “I’m gong to be working for your daughter. Everything I do is going to be for her sake. You need to understand that. None of this is for you. Or Pat. I’m going to be trying to help Shannon. That is my only goal. If I ask you to do something, no matter how strange or awkward it seems, I need you to comply. Not question, not argue, just do what I say. Is all of this clear?” Murphy stared at him, swaying slightly. “Murphy! I asked, is this clear?” 

Murphy nodded and turned toward Pat, who had come to stand next to him. 

“We’ll be there,” she said, “at 9 a.m. sharp.” 

“Fine,” he said with a small, tired sigh. “And now, if all of you would be good enough to excuse me, I think I should go take a look at some of the case files I brought home tonight. I’ll say my goodnights here, then, and see you and Pat in my office tomorrow. Goodnight. It’s been good seeing you again, Murphy. Honestly,” He held out a hand and Murphy took it automatically, not seeming to notice what he was doing. Pat consented to a friendly peck on the cheek. Then he turned and went upstairs. From the livingroom, they could hear Laura’s bedroom door close. 


It was about 45 minutes later when the bedroom door opened again and Laura stepped in. He was sitting at her small desk, hunched over some paperwork spread out before him. 

“They’ve gone,” she said softly, and he turned to face her. “They left a few minutes ago. I told Harry it was so late we could skip his bath for one night. He’s waiting in his room to say goodnight.” 

“In a minute,” he said and held out one long arm to her. She moved forward and let herself be pulled into the circle of his arms. He buried his face in her shoulder and sighed. She found herself stroking his dark hair. 

“It’s been a long day, hasn’t it?” she said softly. He nodded into he shoulder, then raised his head and sighed. 

“Laura, I need you to understand something as well, I’m afraid.” 


“I can’t discuss this thing with you,” he said reluctantly. “Because of your relationship with Murphy and Pat, I honestly can’t share any of the details with you at all. Can you understand that, do you think?  Can you accept it?” 

She stroked his hair for a moment, considering. “I suppose I understand. I’m not sure how much I like it, but I guess it makes sense.” 

He sighed and laid his head down on her shoulder again. “Thank heaven. I wasn’t sure how it would have been if you couldn’t understand.” 

“Difficult, that’s for sure,” she said lightly, making slow circles against the muscles in his shoulders. “But it’s going to be o.k. now, isn’t it? You can help her?” 

“Oh, I’m certain I can help her,” he said softly. 

“Then why do you sound so miserable?” she said softly. 

“Laura,” he said, looking up at her again, “I can’t explain this to you, but this particular case is going to be difficult for me. Maybe more difficult than anything I’ve ever done before. And,” he paused, seeming to struggle for words, “I’m going to need  you. I’m going to need you to understand, to…I don’t know…be patient with me, I guess. This is going to be a rough one and there’s no getting around it, I’m afraid.” 

“But you seemed so certain you could help her!” 

“Oh, I’m still certain I can help her. Shannon will talk again and I’ll help her find a way past the thing that caused this. It’s actually a fairly straightforward case.” 

“Then what’s making it so difficult?” 

“That it’s Murphy and Pat’s daughter I’m working with. I honestly can’t explain it to you, Laura, but it just makes it exponentially more difficult. I have to almost work against myself in order to help Shannon. And whatever else happens, I’m going to help Shannon. It’s just going to be bloody hard, that’s all. I can’t explain it any better than that.” 

“You don’t need to,” she said, pulling him close. “It’s going to be o.k.” 

He sighed and rested his head on her shoulder again for a long moment, before pulling back and looking up at her again. 

“Thank you for that, Laura, more than I can say. We really should go in and say goodnight to Harry, shouldn’t we?” 

“Yes,” she said lightly as he stood up, “we should. And then, my dear, we’re coming straight back here and you’re giving me all the gory details of your little ‘evening meeting’ with Jarvis, is that clear?” 

He winced, “Crystal. Darn it, I was hoping  you’d forget.” 

She laughed and slapped him lightly in the rear as he passed her on his way to their son’s room. “Not a chance, Ace. Not a chance in hell.” 


In the silence of his living room, he sat, working with an oily rag, newspapers spread out across the floor. It was almost ready again. The chain was cleaned and freshly oiled, the machinery in peak condition. 

He inspected his handiwork carefully. No hair, no bones, no blood, no messy scraps of flesh caught in the works anywhere. The small machine was ready to sing again. Soon. Very soon now. 

He stared out his livingroom window at the neon sign across the way, “Start Over Again With Ace Financing.” The way his livingroom window curtain was draped, he could only see the first three words, blinking on and off, on and off. “Start Over Again.” “Start Over Again.” 

It was almost time to do just that, to start all over again. And he wanted to be ready. 

It was time to begin the hunt again. 

To Part XIII

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