Dr. Cathcart, Julies voice floated out of the intercom on his desk, Shannon Michaels and her parents are here.
He squared his shoulders and straightened his tie. Showtime.
Show them in, please, Julie, he said to the little white plastic box. A moment later, the office door opened. He looked up and paused.
They were standing in a tight group. Shannon was in front, looking at him with a clear, untroubled gaze. Murphy stood behind his daughter, one hand on her shoulder, the other around his wifes waist. Pat was looking back and forth between her husband and daughter, but casting small side glances at him.
Come in, please.
They moved forward into the room. Murphy glanced around and noticed the couch against the wall. Tapping his daughters shoulder, he indicated it and she moved to it immediately. Murphy and Pat seated themselves on chairs directly in front of his desk.
Perhaps we should dispense with the usual amenities, he said to them. Ive been over Shannons file, and Ive spoken with several of the therapists shes seen already. Im still waiting for a few more call-backs, but I think I have a fairly clear picture of whats been looked at so far.
He looked across the room at Shannon. Can you hear all right from over there, Shannon? The child nodded once, her eyes fixed on him.
Theres one test that has not, according to this file, been performed and thats what Id like to have done today. He pulled a small square of paper out of his desk and handed it across to them. You need to take this, and Shannon, up to the fourth floor, to 408. Dr. Bryant will take care of it. After that, youre free to leave. But I want you back here tomorrow morning at the same time. At that point, well discuss a specific course of treatment for Shannon which can begin immediately.
Neither Murphy nor Pat moved.
You can go, he said gently. Ive already called. Dr. Bryant is expecting you.
Pat rose and turned toward her daughter. Shannon left the couch and went to her. Murphy continued to stare for a few moments longer, then finally stood up himself.
No questions, Murphy said quietly, picking up the paper, and no arguments. Just take a test and see you in the morning. He looked down at his daughter, then back up again. I guess well be here then. He took Pats arm and the three of them left the office.
He was left at his desk, staring at the closed door for several
long moments, before letting out a long, slow breath. He picked
up his pen and made a small series of notations in the open file
on his desk. It had begun and there was no turning back now.
Laura poked her head into Mildreds office door. Any luck?
Mildred looked up. All sorts of luck, she said cheerfully, all bad. She held up a yellow legal pad and read from it. Out of a total of sixteen apartments in Jessica Beechams building, Ive tracked down eleven names. Three of them are supposed to have relocated to Arizona. No contact yet.
And the others?
Three are confirmed deceased. The remaining five left forwarding addresses. Ive located four of these, and personally spoken to three of them. Nobody remembers Jessica. Im still waiting for the company that manages the building to cough up the last four tenant names.
Four? You said there were sixteen apartments.
Thats including Jessicas apartment.
Oh. What about the building manager?
Hes one of the deceased. Drunk driver three months ago.
Wonderful. Well, keep it up. Somethings bound to break. Im going out for awhile.
Im gonna do a little working out at Jessicas club. See if I can dig up any dirt.
Have fun. And Miss Holt?
Mildred grinned. Go for the burn.
And STEP two, three, four, work those buns a little more!
It felt, Laura decided, swiping the sweat from her forehead, more like boot camp than aerobics. Wasnt this supposed to be fun? She looked around at the others punishing themselves alongside her. Almost all wore beatific smiles and a rosy glow that would have looked great if worn under someone like Mel Gibson or Harrison Ford. But under the harsh flourescents of the workout room, they looked a little hypertensive. She didnt dare look too closely into the wall-to-wall mirror herself.
At last, mercifully, the music stopped. O.k., ladies, the instructor called, shake it out! Shake it out! Now relax. Deep breaths and give yourselves a hand. Great workout! Great job everyone.
There was a scattering of applause and the class broke down into chattering groups, headed for the locker room. Laura approached the instructor.
Hello, she said, holding out one hand. Im Tracy Chalmers. Im just checking the place out before joining and I wanted to ask you a few things. About the class, that is.
The instructor rubbed a hand towel through her short, ginger hair with one hand and shook Lauras hand with the other. Hi. Im Marti. I run this end of the torture chamber. Pleased to meet you.
I was wondering, Laura said, trying to sound casually interested, have you been doing this long? Teaching here, I mean.
Feels like forever, Marti said. Of course it felt that way from the first week on. But Ive been here a couple of years now. And Ive been a certified aerobics instructor for going on seven years."
Laura glanced towards the locker room. It looked like a pretty mixed group. Any old-timers among your torture victims?
Old-timers? Honey, you look pretty young to me to be worried about fitting in around here.
Laura laughed a little self-consciously, glad her leotard covered the few stretch marks her pregnancy had left her with. No, Im sorry. I meant people whod stuck with the class for more than a month or so.
Oh, sure, Tracy flapped a hand loosely in the direction of the locker room. Weve got about a half-dozen die-hards in the group. Never miss a class. But the others come and go. You understand. Its a great idea, but hard to take on a daily basis. Most people just dont want to stick to it all that long. And thats o.k. Whatever youre comfortable with is really whats gonna do you the most good. Anyone who hates it probably doesnt need to do it. I tell people to find what they love and do it as vigorously and as often as possible and theyll do themselves as much good as taking something they hate and doing it, you should forgive the expression, half-assed.
That sounds like good advice to me, Laura said. I was wondering, maybe I could talk to one or two of the old-timers, get to know them and how they feel. I know it sounds stupid, but I really think theyd be the best advertisement this place could offer me. Any suggestions? Id like to talk with someone whod been here regularly at least a year, I think, or close to it.
Long as you dont flash any badges till you clear it with management, you can talk to whoever you want, Marti said, taking the tape out of her boombox and putting it in a plastic case. Id suggest Lucille or Lorna or Leslie, my three ellions, as I call them. Theyve been here the longest. Old friends. Theyd be best to talk to.
Badges? Laura said, the hair on the back of her neck starting to stir uneasily.
Honey, Im from New York. I can smell a cop a mile away. But dont worry. Im clean, so whatever youre looking for, you can have. You want to know who to talk to among the old-timers, well the three Ls are the way to go. Theyve been here long enough and they love to talk.
Ah, not to spoil your record, but Im not a cop, honestly, Laura said, and turned toward the dressing room.
Maybe not public, but Im betting private, Marti called after her. Am I right? Laura kept walking. Im right. Ha. Cant fool a New York girl, can ya?
Laura reached the dressing room, looked back at Marti and shook her head with a grin. Remind me to watch my back the next time Im in New York, she called back. That is, if theyre all like you there.
Ha! Marti crowed. Cant be bribed, bought
or bulled. New York rules again.
Jessica? Lorna said thoughtfully. Or perhaps it was Leslie. It was hard to tell the three women apart. All were wearing glossy leotards in varying shades of pink, and all three had tinted blond hair and identical leathery complexions, the kind achieved from too many hours in a tanning booth, under truly garish pastel makeup jobs. All were in their early-to-mid 50s. They were enough to make a person opt for a sedentary old age.
Jessica Beecham, Laura put in helpfully, handing the woman a fresh towel. Shes the one who really put me on to this place. I was hoping to bump into her, but they said she hasnt been here for quite awhile.
Jog my memory, ducks, put in Leslie, or perhaps Lucille, what did she look like?
Laura wished she could just pull the eight-by-ten portrait out of her nylon workout bag, but that wasnt a good idea. About my height and general coloring. Her hair was a shade darker, though, and it curled more. She tugged at a strand that had worked itself loose from the knot at the top of her head. Maybe a pound or two heavier, but not much. She was a paralegal student, about to graduate. Shed just gotten a job with a law firm here in the neighborhood, Stanford and Reams?
Oh! Jessica! said Lucille, or perhaps it was Lorna. Sure, I remember her. Great kid. Loads of personality. Hell of a workout maven as well.
Kid really knew how to push a tush, if you know what I mean, said Lorna, or perhaps it was Leslie. We even had a hard time keeping up with that one, and were usually way ahead of the pack. The leathery face crinkled into a broad smile that looked as if it hurt. She was some piece of work. Then she just stopped coming. I wondered what had happened to her. She was a real regular.
Yeah, put in Leslie, or was it Lucille. Never missed a class, came early, stayed late. Dedicated.
It sounded more like obsessed to Laura, but she refrained from saying so. She nodded instead. That would be her.
So why dont you check with Stanford and Reams? Lucille asked, or perhaps it was Leslie. She was just crowing about landing that job. I dont think shed have quit this soon. Its only been a couple of months, hasnt it?
Six, Laura corrected absently. Six months. She was suddenly aware that she had more of the womens interest that she really wanted. And, no, shes not with Stanford and Reams. Thats why I was wondering if, I dont know, shed moved out of the area. Maybe back to Simi Valley?
Back to Big Daddy and Mama Dear? sneered Leslie, or perhaps it was Lorna. I seriously doubt it. I dont think Jessica ever intended to return to the nest. She told me once that a cardboard condo would be preferable, and I think she meant it.
Well, Laura said thoughtfully, maybe she moved in with someone. Do you know if she was seeing anyone special?
Now there you might have something, said Lucille, or perhaps Leslie. She wasnt exactly seeing anyone that I was ever aware of, but she was definitely looking. And looking hard, from the description she gave.
The kid knew how to party, put in Lorna, or perhaps it was Lucille. Out at the clubs almost every night. I even saw her at one once and she really did know how to push a tush. In all the right directions, if you get my drift.
Laura shuddered slightly at the thought of any of these women at a dance club, but let it pass.
Did she ever talk about anyone special, though? she asked hopefully. Someone I could look up?
Almost uniformly, the three women shrugged. Beats me, said Leslie, or perhaps it was Lorna. She never once mentioned names that Im aware of. Her two companions shook their bleached heads sadly. Lauras shoulders sagged, but only momentarily.
What about clubs? she asked. Any places in particular?
Well, said Lucille, or perhaps it was Leslie, there was Mags and Crowders. Theyre pretty much here in the neighborhood. Just over a couple of blocks. And then there was Fast Eddies place. Thats where I saw her. Its out on Euclid.
I think she hung out at DiMarcos as well, put in Lorna, or perhaps Lucille. Its not a dance club. Just a bar with a little dance floor. But I heard her mention it a time or two as well.
Laura nodded, tucking the names away in her mind for later retrieval. It wouldnt do to whip out a pen and start taking notes here.
Listen, hon, if you do catch up with Jessica, said Leslie, or perhaps Lorna, laying one leathery hand on Lauras arm, tell her to get her buns back here. We need somebody who can keep up with us. Its just no fun without her. Her two companions nodded like cheerful puppets, then all three collected their gear and headed for the door.
Well, thank you very much, Laura called after them. And it was nice meeting you.
Lorna/Leslie/Lucille tossed a wave back at her and then the
threesome swept out the door and into workout history, leaving
Laura with a few new leads, but no new information. She stuffed
her towel into her nylon gym bag and headed glumly back to the
office, where the only sweat to be found was on the outside of
the water cooler.
Thats the lot, then, he said. John removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Case reviews always gave him a headache.
So youre definitely keeping the Michaels case? John asked.
Yes, definitely, he said, flushing slightly. Im sorry about giving you all that grief yesterday. You were right. This is my area and she was referred to me specifically. Ill take care of this.
Good. I was hoping youd say that. Now, on to more pleasant subjects. This weekend.
A slow grin spread across the younger mans features. Havent you heard enough about my weekend of bliss yet? he teased. John looked slightly surprised.
Oh, no. Im not talking about last weekend. Im referring to this upcoming weekend. He stared at his colleague, then chuckled. I see all the recent excitement has driven it right out of your mind, hasnt it?
It must have, the younger man said, sounding thoroughly perplexed. Whatever are you referring to?
San Francisco? John said and was rewarded by his associates almost bolting straight out of his chair. Youd forgotten completely, hadnt you?
Oh, good Lord, he muttered, running a distracted hand through his hair. And the timing couldnt be worse, could it?
Well, perhaps its not all that bad, John said, settling back in his chair comfortably. It hadnt come up before, of course, but you realize that the arrangements could be made for two?
Yes. Why not take Laura with you? That is, if she can arrange for a sitter of some kind.
He blinked slowly. Im sure she can arrange for a sitter. Mildred or Frances, I suppose. But
But would she want to go?
And why wouldnt she want to go? San Francisco? Hell, shell probably enjoy herself more than you will. So what do you think? Should I make the hotel reservation for two? When his colleague didnt answer immediately, Come on, be daring. What do you say?
It was a long moment before John received an answer. All right, he said slowly. Go ahead. The worst that can happen is I go by myself, right?
Thats the spirit! John said enthusiastically. And, who knows, this could be an important step for the two of you. After all, its San Francisco!
Yes, I suppose it is, isnt it? he said, and
finally began to smile himself. It is indeed.
She was poring over computer printouts when her office door burst open. From the reception area beyond it she could hear Graces voice raise in a wail of protest and she moved quickly toward the door.
Its all right, Grace. Ill take care of it, she called reassuringly, staring at her abrupt guest.
O.k., Laura, whats his game this time. Tell me!
Murphy, I havent the faintest idea what youre talking about. Sit down and start from the beginning, please.
She hovered protectively over her old friend as he flung himself into one of her office chairs and ran a distracted hand through his straw-colored hair. His face was drawn and his eyes looked sunken in.
You were there last night, you heard him. No questions, no arguments, just do like he said. What a crock!
Nothing. Not a damned thing. Except we get there and all he does is send us to see another doctor for some kind of test. Jeeze! He cant even do this himself, whatever it was.
What do you mean? What kind of test?
Thats just it, I have no idea. We werent allowed in with her. A nurse came to the waiting room, took Shannon inside, then returned her and told us we could leave. Doctor Cathcart would give us the results when we met with him tomorrow! His voice was dripping with sarcasm, but the pain in his eyes went straight to her heart. I guess I wouldnt mind that so much. But Shannon
What about Shannon?
His face twisted. Its like she was tortured in there or something. She hung onto Pat all morning and shook. She just shook, Laura. And we dont know whats wrong! She cant tell us and that bastard isnt saying anything, is he?
Murphy, where is Shannon now?
Back at Pats folks house. She finally took a nap. He wiped his eyes. She never takes naps, Laura. She outgrew them a year and a half ago. But she took one today. Shes curled up on Pats old bed, sound asleep, sucking her thumb. And thats something else she gave up over a year ago. What the hell is happening? He hasnt even done anything and already shes in pain! Why the hell did I ever agree to this?
Laura massaged his shoulder gently. Because you love your daughter and want to give her every chance possible.
Every chance for what? His voice was bitter. More pain? How much more can she take? How much more can Pat and I take? He lifted his face to her and she could see the tears in his eyes. Where does it end?
She had no satisfactory answer to that one.
He sealed the cardboard box carefully before handing it to the runner. You have the address? The young man with the spotty complexion nodded. O.k. Remember to get a signature for this. The receptionist will do.
He watched the door close behind the young man, then leaned back in his chair and stretched comfortably. He felt about a hundred pounds lighter. Some of the weight had been carried out the door in the cardboard box.
A burden shared, Jarvis mused, the voice of his mother coming to him down the long corridor of years since her death, is a burden halved. His burden hadnt exactly been halved, but it had been lightened considerably.
Maybe he could save his money and avoid buying that crystal ball for awhile yet.
He jumped slightly as the phone on his desk rang shrilly.
Detectives Bureau. Jarvis here.
Detective, said the familiar voice on the other end of the line. He felt gooseflesh rise along the backs of his arms. How nice to hear your voice again. We need to talk.
Suddenly, the weight was back. All of it.
It was the end of the day. The light was beginning to fade, but he sat at his desk and made no move to turn on the small desk lamp, allowing the shadows to lengthen and thicken around him.
The file on his desk was far from a detailed dossier, but it was clear enough for his purpose. There was a growing consensus among his people. This was not a brief aberration. It was apparently serious. And now, he had to decide what to do next, if anything.
There was a man. From Saturday on, hed been there every day. And every night. But who was he? The only thing his people had been able to find out was that he was some sort of doctor and worked for an outfit called Therapy Associates. Shed taken the boy there on Friday and this person had shown up the following day.
And hed been there every day since.
This wasnt how it was supposed to go. But then, when did anything ever go the way it was supposed to go? The real question now was, where did his loyalty lie? A trickier question than it might seem.
It had been almost four years. How far should he take it. She had the right to find happiness, didnt she? Especially after all this time. Still
He sighed, fingering the looseleaf paper in the folder in front of him. There had been no word. Not once in all these years. No matter what he thought about the matter, it seemed to be out of his hands at the moment.
But, perhaps not completely. He could perform one more small
service. In the darkness, he reached out and picked up his phone.
It was dark and damp and chilly. He pulled his coat tighter around himself, but stuck to the shadows, waiting. He had a feeling, deep down inside, that he wouldnt have to wait long.
It was too soon to be seen inside again, but he could watch. If she came in or if she left, hed know. Hed see.
Across the street from the alleyway, the red neon glowed steadily, spelling out The Cave. From the window in front, blue neon glowed. Inside, couples were talking, drinking, dancing. She might be inside right now, pressing up against someone, letting them buy her drinks.
But it didnt matter. Because all he had to do was to see her. The rest would follow. Patience was still a virtue. His virtue. And he was strong. She would come to him eventually. It would be, because it had to be. And so he could wait. Tonight. Tomorrow night. The next night and the night after if necessary. Because he knew she would be here. That was all he needed to know. The rest would follow.
And he would be ready when it did.