Laura was fiddling with her salad fork as he approached the table. Kids o.k.? she asked with a faint smile.
Theyre just fine, he told her. Playing nicely. Sorry I took so long. He reached across and helped himself to the salad bowl. Shannons 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 shes going to be tall, like her father.
And brilliant like her mother? Pat blushed at that and offered him a small smile. Murphys 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. Havent been back in L.A. in awhile. Figured it was time.
Where are you staying?
With my parents, Pat answered. Theyre just thrilled to be able to spend time with their granddaughter. Murphys right. We dont get back to Los Angeles often enough.
Ill second that, Laura put in with a warm smile. You should visit more often.
Yeah, well, Ive never been a big fan of smog, I guess, Murphy said.
The air in Denver is that much better? It was Lauras turn to shoot him a glance. She was obviously not pleased with the tone of that remark.
Actually, the air standards in Denver arent great, but theyre miles ahead of L.A. Murphy was calm, but his voice still had an edge to it.
Hows work going these days? Busy?
I keep myself occupied, thanks. I understand Lauras doing quite well these days also. There was no attempt to soften the emphasis on Lauras name.
Laura, and he raised his water glass in silent toast, will always do quite well. Ive 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, isnt it? He lifted his water glass again, this time in Murphys direction. To change.
Muphys 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. Ive 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. Daddys home, wheres dinner? Its enough to gag a moose.
Murphy! Lauras tone was sharp, but it had no visible effect on her longtime friend.
He isnt 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 hes back and everythings just fine? Well, forgive me, but Ive lost my appetite.
And your manners, it would seem, he said quietly. Sit down, Murphy, and dont insult Lauras cooking like that. You can be as angry at me as you like. But dont take it out on her.
Laura is not the issue here, Murphy said. This is about you and the liberties youre taking with her life. Again. He leaned forward and jabbed a finger across the table. Youve got nerve you havent even used yet, dont you? Just waltz back in here like nothing happened and everythings suddenly just fine. I bet you never even broke a sweat. Well, you dont know the half of it. You dont 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 wasnt just upset. She was shouting. I will not have you talking like that! You dont know whats going on. You dont know what happened or why. You have no right to judge. And if youre 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 Im 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. Im starting to think that ninety percent of whats wrong with this world begins and ends with an excess of testosterone. Its ridiculous.
It certainly is. Laura was still glaring, but shed 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 dont seem to suit Murphy, and I must confess, Im 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, youre entirely correct. I have no bloody idea of the hell Lauras been through for the past four years. All I can say is, I hope it was better than the hell Ive been in for the same period. Id hate to think it was any worse.
Murphy took this in total silence.
Im 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 couldnt have been easy for you. And for that Ill 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 Id known, I would never have left. She and I might not be together, but I will never turn my back on any child Ive brought into this world. I lived that life and I wont be responsible for anyone else living through it. No matter what happens from this point on, understand this: I am that childs 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, youll have to find a way to live with that.
Murphy licked his lips and cleared his throat nervously. I dont mean to imply
Im sure you didnt, Murphy. I understand your anger and, from your perspective, it may seem reasonable. Ive 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 weve made our peace with it, as far as weve been able at this point. What happened is, for the moment, between us. I wont discuss the details unless Laura agrees and, since we havent had a chance to discuss it, Ill 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 didnt just up and abandon Laura, and I had no idea she was expecting when I did leave.
If you dont 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 were never going to get anywhere.
Thats not necessary, Laura said. Ill 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. Ive 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.
Its what his father called him. Its as much his name as anything else. Weve been through this, Murph. Why cant you ever let anything go?
Murphy heaved a sigh. O.k. But its 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 havent run into it yet, Laura admitted.
Ive 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. Remingtons 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, its 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 youre back in Lauras life, you wont waste much time getting back into her office. And her bank accounts.
Actually, Im committed elsewhere at the moment, he said nonchalantly, so Im afraid Laura will have to do without a Remington Steele for awhile longer. We havent really discussed any arrangement beyond a personal one at the moment.
Committed elsewhere? I dont know what amuses me more, the fact that you could be committed anywhere that wasnt 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.
Ive got a fire extinguisher in the kitchen thats been begging to be used, Laura told her. I just dont 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?
Ive had that impression for years, Murphy said with a sigh. Women. They just dont get it sometimes.
Its all that progesterone, or so Ive 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 Im 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 youre at it.
You know, Murphy he said finally, staring intently at his plate, you and I do have a real problem.
I wouldnt be surprised. But what specifically did you have in mind?
You dont trust me.
Thats a problem? Its never bothered you before.
It never mattered before.
And it does now?
It matters a great deal now. And I just dont 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 its not. I can understand why you dont trust me, but I have no idea how to change that. Laura had to learn to trust me and it took years. Im surprised she still trusts me now, after everything, but she does and its a true blessing and a great gift. But its 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, Ive 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? Im 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. Whats the big deal?
But its 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 youre starting your own agency in Denver and its hail and farewell. You just drove off into the sunset without so much as a look back over your shoulder. What happened?
It was Murphys 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. Its not an experience Im 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 Id get it running before you lost your grip on her. I almost had the wires working and I just had to look up. And thats when I saw it.
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 shed fallen, he said quietly, a part of me would have fallen with her. Id 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 werent 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 thats about right. I mean, if she didnt 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 Id 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 couldnt 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 didnt 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 youre putting what you learned to practical use, which is splendid. Im glad you have your own agency. You have so many skills and abilities you never got to use before and from what Ive heard, youre a top-notch investigator with a growing reputation. Youve come into your own at last.
Whats your point? And stop sugar-coating this, o.k.? I dont need my ego stroked.
Im 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, doesnt normally take something like that quietly. But you did. And I cant help wondering why. I know you made a big deal for a little while about how attracted you were to Laura, but I cant help thinking that it wasnt quite that way. And Im trying to get a handle on it.
Murphy was silent for a long moment. Look, he said finally, Lauras been through a hell of a lot in her life. And no matter how strong she acts, shes not. Too many people have let her down. Too many people shes trusted have walked out on her. I just didnt 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 didnt 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 whod 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, Im doing my best to rectify this with Laura, he said with quiet intensity. I know Ive hurt her, but she knows why it happened and shes willing, for some unfathomable reason, to give me a second chance. Ive 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 wasnt Laura who fell off that crane. It was you.
It was, he said simply. And now Im 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 dont 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 Id ever take seriously. He looked down at his plate. Lauras spaghetti has definitely improved, but its never going to be really good quality stuff, is it?
He grinned in return and ducked his head sheepishly. Its improved vastly from the first time she ever made it for me, but youre right. Lauras idea of al dente isnt 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 didnt want Murphy to insult my cooking? Laura said, fixing him with a look.
Murphy, if your daughter exhibited manners like that, Id paddle her behind, Pat put in.
Hey! Murphy put up his hands in mock protest. Dont 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 sons they made her heart ache for a moment. I didnt see you scarfing down bread.
Ahhh, he stammered, big lunch today. And then I ate during my evening meeting, just before I got here. Couldnt have forced down another bite and Im 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, Im 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 cant just sit in a booth at a restaurant and have nothing but water, now can you? He looked down at Lauras scowling face. Now, Laura, I didnt choose the meeting place. Honestly.
She sighed and shook her head. Well 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. Hows that going?
Its more of a group practice, really, Pat put in. Im actually enjoying it. Im 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. Its 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. Im 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 hasnt been a real problem. And Im doing whole-family counseling, which is really wonderful. Its 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 didnt 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. Its rare that I have to take it beyond that point and the recidivism rate has been wonderfully low. Im happy with the methodology Ive been using.
Which methodology is that?
Ive been following the Kemmler protocols pretty strictly and its been wonderful.
I dont know that I could agree with that, he said mildly. Ive 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 its 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?
Thats right. Age 16 and over in most cases.
But dont 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?
Its less effective, she admitted grudgingly, but it neednt 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 hasnt changed a bit, has he, Laura? She cocked an eyebrow at him. Hes still the best bull artist around. If I didnt know better, Id 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? Shes in first grade now, isnt 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, Shannons been involved with a special class this year. I dont honestly know if shes loving it as much as we expected her to. But her teachers say shes progressing. Well. Progressing well.
Laura leaned forward. Special class? What kind? I know Shannons 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 whyd you do it?
You seemed uncomfortable. I wasnt 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, isnt it? he said, pouring out the second glass. Odd time of the year as well. Might be youre here for another reason. And if youd wanted to share that, youd have said so, wouldnt you?
You surmised all that, did you?
Well, Lauras 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 didnt 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 Id 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 wasnt.
You see, Pat, Murphy, he said softly, youve already seen anyone I could reasonably recommend. And Im all thats left. Honestly. I almost wish it were different. I know how difficult this is going to be for you, but theres nothing I can do to make it any easier. Except to ask you both to trust me. And Im 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 wouldnt 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 Id 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 theres an understatement, Murphy snarled. Pat!
What? Pat said, jumping slightly.
Get Shannon, would you? Were going home.
Back to my parents? Pat said, sounding dubious.
No. Murphys 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.
Im perfectly calm, Murphy gritted between clenched teeth. and were 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 havent tried yet.
He nodded to himself. Same outfit as here, right? And the last name of that therapist, Murphy? It wouldnt 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? Hes right. Where do we go then? There isnt anyone else anymore! We cant leave now!
Murphy, he put in, Ive seen Shannons file. Now, I havent read it in depth yet, but Ive scanned it and it looks like youve already taken Shannon to every reputable specialist to be found, except me. And thats 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. Im not certain I understand that. It really shouldnt be that way, but it is. If I dont see her, theres really no one left who is dealing with this problem successfully. You wont find the help she needs.
He stared at Murphy intensely for a moment. She wont get better if you leave, Murphy.
And she will if we stay, is that it? Murphys tone was an outright sneer.
Yes, thats it.
Well, I dont 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?
Murphys chin was set and belligerent. It was Pat who answered, softly, Six months now.
Six months, he repeated softly, in wonder. And youve been referred to me, under one name or another, numerous times now, havent you? Youve 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. Its just that Murphy kept insisting we stay in the U.S. and many of the referrals were for Canada. Lately weve 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, werent you? Murphy stared at his shoes, his color still high.
Murphy, he continued softly, this is a strange situation, Ill grant you, but, whether youre aware of it or not, theres 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 isnt golden and sooner or later, it becomes habit-forming. The longer she stays speechless, the less likely it is that well ever get through to her again. You dont really have all the time in the world to play with this thing. Its already been six months. How much longer can it go on? I would personally suggest that its 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 dont think youre whats needed here. I honestly dont.
He sighed. Granted, you have little reason, knowing my checkered background, to trust me on this. But, believe it or not, Murphy, Im a real psychologist, and Im about as good as my reputation. I wouldnt suggest I could help her if I couldnt. And I wouldnt 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. Ill 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 havent really read any of the case notes, just the diagnosis and the list of those shes already been seen by. But Im guessing that there are times when shell come up to you willingly and there are times when you couldnt get her to stand within, say, six feet of you. Im also guessing, for a reason, that today is one of the latter times.
Murphys expression didnt alter, but Pats gasp was eloquent. He nodded his head to her. Im betting that, at least today, youre 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?
Id 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, Ill lay odds. Whats 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 Im right, if she will come right to you, youll stay?
Pats eyes were wide and pleading, Murphy? Please!
Laura stood absolutely still, eyes fixed on Murphys face. Murphy looked from Pat to Laura and back again.
Finally, All right, youve got yourself a deal, but you dont go anywhere near her, right? You dont look at her, you dont speak to her. I can call her down here and shell come right to me and take my hand, is that the deal?
Thats the deal.
Murphy smiled, but it wasnt warm or pleasant. You just made a sucker bet, my friend. Because Shannon wont let me anywhere near her today.
I know that, he said calmly. And I meant what I said. Ill say nothing at all to Shannon, but Ill have to do something about you, mate. He put his glass down on the counter and approached Murphy. Youre a guest here, Murphy, you should dress like one. You look as if youre 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. Youll do. Now go call your daughter. Trust me, she may hesitate for a moment, but shell come right to you. Murphy turned and left the kitchen. Laura went to him and laid a hand on his arm.
I hope youre 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 Lauras 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 fathers hands brushed her sleeve, and she stepped into the curve of his arm without a moments hesitation. He pulled her down until she was sitting on his knee, looking up at him, a quizzical expression on her face.
Its 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 youre 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 fathers 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 shed 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, heres the deal. You will bring Shannon to my office at the appointed time, 9:00 a.m. if Im not mistaken. You will follow my instructions to the letter. There will be no belligerence, no snarling. Understand me, he met Murphys eyes and paused until he was certain he had the mans complete attention, Im 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. Im 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.
Well 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. Ill say my goodnights here, then, and see you and
Pat in my office tomorrow. Goodnight. Its 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 Lauras
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.
Theyve 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. Hes 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.
Its been a long day, hasnt it? she said softly. He nodded into he shoulder, then raised his head and sighed.
Laura, I need you to understand something as well, Im afraid.
I cant discuss this thing with you, he said reluctantly. Because of your relationship with Murphy and Pat, I honestly cant 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. Im 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 wasnt sure how it would have been if you couldnt understand.
Difficult, thats for sure, she said lightly, making slow circles against the muscles in his shoulders. But its going to be o.k. now, isnt it? You can help her?
Oh, Im 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 cant explain this to you, but this particular case is going to be difficult for me. Maybe more difficult than anything Ive ever done before. And, he paused, seeming to struggle for words, Im going to need you. Im going to need you to understand, to I dont know be patient with me, I guess. This is going to be a rough one and theres no getting around it, Im afraid.
But you seemed so certain you could help her!
Oh, Im still certain I can help her. Shannon will talk again and Ill help her find a way past the thing that caused this. Its actually a fairly straightforward case.
Then whats making it so difficult?
That its Murphy and Pats daughter Im working with. I honestly cant 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, Im going to help Shannon. Its just going to be bloody hard, thats all. I cant explain it any better than that.
You dont need to, she said, pulling him close. Its 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, shouldnt we?
Yes, she said lightly as he stood up, we should. And then, my dear, were coming straight back here and youre giving me all the gory details of your little evening meeting with Jarvis, is that clear?
He winced, Crystal. Darn it, I was hoping youd forget.
She laughed and slapped him lightly in the rear as he passed
her on his way to their sons 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.