Part XX
By Kelly Rourke

When the door opened, she came inside, looking wary. He smiled at her from the far end of the room and then walked toward her.

"Good morning, Shannon. How are you today?"

She looked around her uncertainly and he shrugged. "I know we usually meet in my office first, but it felt like a good day to spend just playing, so I thought we'd meet in here. What do you think?"

She looked at him for a moment, and then walked over to the corner where the rug was different and knelt by the rocking chair, taking a small stuffed hand in her own. He smiled, encouragingly.

"Millicent seems glad to see you anyway." She eyed him quizzically, then looked across the room at the area where she'd colored before. She looked back at him, not letting go of the doll's hand, and scratched at her leg with her free hand.

“I thought we’d skip coloring for now. Toys seemed like they’d be more fun. What do you think? I picked out some nice ones for us.” He walked over to a table set up near the center of the long room. “This is our sand table. Do you remember it?”

Her expression was a cross between doubtful and worried, but she gave a small nod. "The nice thing about a sand table," he said, as if she'd spoken, "is that we can set it up any way we want, to be anything we want. I was thinking we could build our own city. Or maybe our own neighborhood. What do you think? We've got some houses and cars and stores, and even places for people to play. We could make it interesting. Want to help?"

Still looking ill-at-ease, she stood up and walked over to the far end of the sand table from him, but made no move to touch any of the plastic pieces he had scattered randomly across its surface.

"This isn't like the doll's house we played with the last time you were here. Do you remember that? Last week? These little houses don't open up for real. So we have to just pretend there are people inside." He set up several small cars near houses. "And these are the cars that some of the people take to go to work every day, like your Daddy and Mommy go to work." He pulled one of the cars away from its house with a soft zooming noise. "Some of the Mommies are going to stay home today, I think. Your Mommy used to do that sometimes, didn't she?" He looked at her, but she didn't look up or meet his eyes. She was staring at the little plastic car he was driving toward his own end of the table. "When she was sick that time? I think she stayed home then and sometimes that happens. Mommies and Daddies do get sick sometimes. And then they get better and go to work again. But for today only the Daddy from this house is going to work." He pulled the little car around and abandoned it behind a squarish building in the corner away from both of them.

"I think we need a Mommy for this house. What do you think?" He pulled out a small cardboard box filled with female figures of all types and varieties. He selected one with short, brown hair and a blue dress. "She looks nice, doesn't she? But she's not feeling well today, so she'll have to stay in bed." From a small plastic bin, he pulled out a plastic doll house bed and set it on the sand table behind the house he'd indicated earlier. Then he laid the female doll on it, lying on her back. "There. She looks comfortable, like she could rest. That's what people need to do when they're not feeling well, right? They have to rest. And probably drink plenty of fluids. But we'll just let her rest for now. I don't think she's too thirsty, do you?"

He put the cardboard box full of female figures away and took out another box, this one with more figures, all young girl dolls. "Ah, there should be a little girl who lives here, too, don't you think?" He pawed through the dolls for a moment and then selected one with blond pigtails, a white shirt and red pants. There were tiny red ribbons in her hair. Shannon didn't say a word, but her hands clenched and she became very still, almost rigid. He put the doll down in front of the house. "She looks like a friendly little girl. I think she should have some fun today."

A brief sound from the unseen gallery above made him pull a new box out and drop it, somewhat loudly, on the sand table. "Ah, here are the playground things I told you about. I like these. See? We have a swingset and a slide and a teeter-totter. It even goes up and down. Someday I'm going to get a merry-go-round, but for now, these will have to do." He set the small things up in the sand, diagonally across from the house where he'd positioned the woman and girl dolls. Shannon pulled a strand of her hair across her cheek and into her mouth, where she began to chew on it nervously. "And we even have some trees and bushes and things, just like in a real park." He began placing small plastic greenery at random between the houses and the playground area. "There. That looks nice, don't you think?"

He took the little girl doll and placed her on her feet. "And it's a fine day, I don't think she wants to spend the whole day in the house, do you? Maybe she should play in the yard for now."

As Shannon stared, not moving, but trembling, he began to 'dance' the tiny doll back and forth across the table. He did this for a few moments, and then paused. "This is o.k., but really, there's a park right across the street. I think playing in the park would be much more fun, don't you?"

The child's shoulder's visibly jerked, her mouth opened, but no sound came out. "Hm?" he asked, mildly. Shannon grabbed her own elbows, trembling strongly now. He watched her for a moment, then turned his attention back to the little girl doll. He began to move it, in small, hopping steps, towards the playground area. "We call this 'kitty corner'. When you cross the street, but not quite straight across. Have you ever heard of that? 'Kitty corner'? That's where this playground is, kitty-corner from her house."

Shannon made an abortive move and her hand came up and paused over the sand table. He watched her out of the corner of his eye, but kept his face trained on the doll he was still "walking" toward the playground area. Slowly, jerkily, Shannon moved over to the side of the table, closer to the house area. Now the little girl doll was actually in the playground area, and he was trying to position it on a swing.

"There we go. I think she'll sit there nicely and not fall off. What do you think?" He looked directly at Shannon and smiled encouragingly, but she didn't seem to notice. She was looking at the playground area in what seemed to be near-despair. But it was set up in the middle of the table and out of her reach.

The Mommy doll behind the house was still lying on the pink plastic bed. However, it was within reach, and Shannon grabbed it and banged it on the table sharply. She waited, staring intently at the little girl doll. But it was still on the swing. Again, she banged with the Mommy doll. Her face was set and tense, her shoulders rigid.

"No, dear," he said mildy. "Remember? The Mommy in this house doesn't feel well. She's lying down, sound asleep. It's o.k. This little girl is right across the street. She can see the house from where she is. Can't she?" Gently, he pried the Mommy doll from Shannon's fingers and laid her back on the bed behind the house. "There, now she can rest again. That's fine."

He turned his attention back to the playground area, but watched, without seeming to, as Shannon's face crumpled, tears filling the corners of her eyes, but refusing to actually spill over. He guided the little girl doll on the swings for a few more moments, then sighed.

"It's too bad there aren't more children out today. Don't you think? She looks friendly. I wish she had someone to play with, don't you?" He looked around, then pulled one more box out from under the table.

"It's a shame there aren't more children out, but there must be some people out today. Maybe some of them are walking by the park. What do you think?"

Shannon was once again clutching her arms, and trembling again, almost violently. He peered intently into the box and began pulling out more dolls, this time men dolls. He found one with a plaid shirt, grey slacks and brown hair and walked it slowly past the playground area. Shannon stared at it in a kind of anguish.

"He looks friendly, doesn't he?" he said mildly. "And such nice blue eyes. Do you think he'll stop and play with our little girl today?"

A tear spilled over and ran quietly down her cheek and he saw her shake her head, very slightly. He moved the doll further along and then laid it down on the far side of the table. Another doll was pulled out, darker skinned in a t-shirt and jeans. The doll began to walk past the playground also.

"I think we'll call this guy José. What do you say? He has a nice smile and I knew a José once who had a smile like this. Do you think José should stop and play today?"

No more tears fell, though they stayed in the corners of her eyes. Again there was a slight shaking of the head. Her face was still anguished. Jose ended up face-down in the sad next to the first male doll. An Oriental doll sauntered forth this time, but received an almost imperceptable head-shake as well and "Lee" joined his two companions in the sand also. There were no more tears falling, but the tracks of the first few were still on her cheeks and she made no move to wipe them away.

Suddenly she grew tense, rigid. Her hands clasped into fists at her side, her arms stiff. He pulled the African-American doll in the dress shirt and slacks out of the box and set him up on the table quietly. Even her breathing seemed to stop. Her jaw was clenched. He started to walk the doll toward the playground area.

He said nothing, but watched her out of the corner of his eye. Her hands were clenched so tightly, he almost expected blood to drip from the palms where her nails were digging in. He walked the doll closer to the park area and slowed. Shannon's trembling increased and the tears finally spilled over her cheeks once again, but instead of sad, she looked enraged.

Her eyes were bright and her gaze hard. It never left the doll he was silently manipulating. When he stopped it, just across from the swings, she jerked visibly.

"I think he'll stay awhile and play. What do you think, eh?"

Now she moved. Circling the table quickly, she edged up to him and one hand reached out, coming to rest on his free arm, clutching the fabric of his suitcoat and twisting it savagely.

"Something you wanted, Shannon?" he asked quietly. She was still staring fixedly at the dolls, just out of her reach. He waited, but she didn't move again. Finally he moved the doll closer to the swings.

"I don't think he's going to get on the swings himself. He's a bit too big. Maybe he could push her. What do you think?"

Her lips were pulled back in a snarl, but still no sound issued. The two dolls were placed together and her eyes were burning a hole in them as she stood rigid, unmoving.

He began moving the dolls, making the adult male doll bump against the swing, pushing it slightly to simulate "swinging". The girl doll teetered slightly, but stayed where it was.

"He seems nice enough. I bet the little girl is glad to have a friend to play with."

Shannon's hand had dropped to her side again and tears were running freely down her cheeks as she stared at the two dolls. Her face was anguished.

"I think she's had enough of swinging for now. But that slide looks like fun, doesn't it?"

He "hopped" the girl doll off the swing and moved her over to the slide. He had the male doll follow her a bit. The slide was toward the center of the playground area and Shannon almost visibly relaxed as the two dolls moved further away from the swings themselves.

"This is nice," he said after "sliding" the little girl down a few times. "But you know the best part of having a grownup for a friend? They can show you things. And that's the most fun. Seeing things you haven't seen before. I wonder what this guy can show her that would be interesting?"

He took both dolls and began walking them back toward the swings. Again, Shannon made an abortive move, but the dolls where still out of her reach. Her teeth clamped down on her lower lip so hard it turned white for a moment. He paused both dolls briefly at the swingset, then moved them past it, toward the small plastic shrubbery behind.

By now Shannon was gripping the side of the sand table with both hands.

"Wonder what's back here? Interesting bugs maybe? Perhaps some caterpillars! Those are always fun to -"

She had his arm in both hands and a soft growling left her throat. Yanking hard, she pulled the dolls away from the table entirely, and grabbed for them. He didn't resist her, and she swung away, letting the girl doll drop to the floor at her feet. The male doll was in her hands now and she stared down at it, eyes blazing, that same weird growl still vibrating.

Suddenly, she pulled the doll up to her own face, opened her mouth wide and began savagely biting the head of the doll. It came off in her mouth and she spat it out on the floor at her feet and began stomping on it. The torso she flung as far away as possible.

Now the growl was turning into a sobbing whine. Her lips were moving, almost randomly and at last he began to make out words amid the random sounds.

"No! Bad! No more! You're bad! Hate you! Hate you! HateyouhateyouHATE YOU!!!"

The last was a primal shriek that resonated through the carefully contoured walls of the room itself. Above him, he heard abrupt movement and then the echo of John's soothing tones. He hoped John was soothing enough.

"Shannon, it's o.k. You can be as angry as you like. He's not here, so you go ahead and be as angry as you want to be. It's o.k. You're o.k. Do you understand?"

She bent down and plucked at the doll's head at her feet, then hurled it across the room. It landed a few inches from the torso itself while she continued to rage incoherently. Finally, she began wordlessly sobbing. He stretched out an arm toward her but she twisted past it and lurched toward the sand table again. Plucking the mother doll from its plastic bed, she began to cradle it and her sobs took the shape of words once more.

"M-m-mommy! Mommy!"

He moved toward her, but made no further attempts to touch her.

"It's all right Shannon. The Mommy doll is fine. Nobody hurt her. She's just fine. And your Mommy is fine, too. She's perfectly all right. You know that, don't you? Nobody hurt your Mommy and nobody will." She twisted around to look at him, tears pouring down her cheeks. "In fact, she's right outside now. Did you want to see your Mommy? And see that she's o.k.? Did you?"

Her chin trembled helplessly for a moment. Finally, she looked at him directly. "M-m-mommy!"

Looking up, he gestured and now the sound of scraping and a door opening could be clearly heard. A moment later, the door to the therapy room opened and Murphy and Pat rushed in.

Pat cradled her daughter, but had no words of her own. Tears were streaming down her face, mingling with the tears on Shannon's face. But the small hand unclenched itself from around the doll and wrapped itself around her mother's neck instead.


Murphy glanced, almost helplessly between his wife and daughter, and finally threw his arms around both, pulling them into a small, huddled group.

John stood, just inside the door. "Well done, Dr. Cathcart," he said softly to the taller man beside him. "Now if we can get her parents through the rest of this, I think Shannon will do just fine."

"The difficulty is getting her parents through the rest of it," his colleague said softly. "Pat might be all right, but Murphy…he's going to have all sorts of problems. I may need your help with this one. Do you have any time this afternoon?"

John eyed him carefully. "I would have thought the mother would have the worst problem with it. She was in the house, a few yards away while some monster was raping her daughter. And you think it's her father who's going to have the bigger problem?"

His colleague sighed. "You're going to be a bit angry with me, I'm afraid. I should never have taken this case. But I honestly didn't know who to refer it to. You see, I know Murphy Michaels. I've known him for years. And I know that the biggest component of his make-up is a protective instinct that can override almost anything else in his nature. Just the thought that someone could have done this to his daughter, without his knowledge, without his being able to do anything about it, that alone will drive him half mad in no time. As I see it, the best thing for him now is to stay focused on Shannon. On what she needs, immediately speaking. Not to dwell on the man who did this. That way lies seriously dangerous ground for him. He's a private investigator and going after this man will be paramount to him unless I can divert him enough, to keep him focused on Shannon, on what she needs. Much better at this point, don't you agree?" John nodded, looking grave. "And for that, I'm going to need your help. I might not have enough pull to keep him focused the way I need him to be. Will you help me with that?"

John looked at him appraisingly, still frowning. "Well, I said I'd help you out on this case, didn't I? I suppose I have to keep my word on that, at least. But we will be talking about this matter, doctor. We will be talking seriously about this matter in the very near future."

The small trio near the sand table paid no attention to their soft conversation. But there was movement. Shannon pulled away first, and looked down at the doll on the floor. She handed the Mommy doll to her father and grabbed the little girl doll. Grasping it in one hand, she pulled the pants off the figure, then savagely stuffed them deep into the sand behind the small house. Her mother and father stared, confused, but Shannon seemed content with this, and laid the little girl doll down on the now empty dollhouse bed. She returned to her parents and snuggled up in their arms again.


It was late when she opened the door to find him half-sagging over his briefcase outside. She took one look, then pulled him inside.

"You look exhausted. Are you all right?" she asked. He wrapped his arms around her for a moment.

"I suppose Harry's been in bed for awhile," he said softly.

"Yes, I let him stay up a little late, but I finally settled him down about an hour ago. He's sound asleep."

He grimaced. "I promised I'd read him a story and tuck him in. So much for promises." He pulled away from her and sank onto a chair. "I've been a father for just over a week now and I'm already letting him down."

"You aren't 'letting him down'," she scolded. "And he's fine. Do you think I've made good on every commitment I ever made to him? I've missed stories and games and I wasn't even there when he pulled himself up on his feet for the first time. My mother had to tell me about that one. And don't think she didn't rub it in."

That brought a smile to his face, and she answered it with her own. "Stop beating yourself up. You're doing fine and you're going to continue to do fine. You're not going to be perfect, which is a good thing, because I couldn't stand it if you were. But you're going to be a good father. And you're going to be there for him. I trust that above everything else. You're here now, aren't you? So take a breath and then tell me what happened today. You look like you've been fighting dragons all alone, and getting the worst of it."

He shook his head, still smiling. "Not really getting the worst of it. It was a long day, though. If you can bear with me, I think I'd like to tell you about it. Actually, I think I need to."

"You have my undivided attention," she told him, then held up a hand. "That is, you will have it, but first I'm guessing you haven't had dinner yet, have you?"

Ignoring his protests, she went to the kitchen and retrieved a foil-wrapped plate from the refrigerator. She unwrapped it and set it on the dining room table with some silverware. "I didn't feel like cooking tonight, so it's cold chicken salad. And I mean a real salad with lettuce and veggies and the works. Now, since Harry's in bed, what about a beer to go with it? I actually have some for a change."

He moved toward the table, a look of amazement on his face. "You saved dinner for me?" he said softly, fingering the edge of the plate she'd set out.

"Of course I did," she said simply. "I knew you'd be here. You said you'd be here and I told you, that's the kind of thing I trust you for." She held up two bottles. "Now, about that beer?"

But he pulled them from her hands and set them both on the table, then took her in his arms and kissed her thoroughly. "I love you, Laura," he said. "More than I ever thought possible."

She hugged him for a moment, then broke away with a small laugh. "See if you can say that after you've had the salad. The dressing's generic and not that good. Now sit down and eat something! I can hear your stomach rumbling and it'll wake Harry up if we don't do something about it."

She pushed him into a chair and pressed a fork into his hand. He tried a few times to start a discussion, but she waved him off until he'd eaten most of what was on his plate.

"Now then," she said finally, watching him chase the last bits of his dinner across his plate, "tell me the name of the dragon you've been slaying today and why it seems to have taken so much out of you."

He smiled and raised the bottle of beer to his lips. "I will say I needed this. But do I look that bad tonight?"

"Let's just say GQ won't be calling you anytime soon," she said, "not with those lines under your eyes. And between them. How bad was it?"

"Fairly awful," he said shortly, then looked down, seeming to search for the right words. "Remember when I told you that I needed you to sort of be there for me, that this thing with Shannon was going to be difficult?"

"I remember. Is that what this is about? Shannon?"

"Shannon. Murphy. Me. I don't know what part is the worst, to be honest. Well, to be fair, it had to have been the worst for Shannon, but Murphy's going through hell over this and there's only so much I can do to help him."

"Is it-" She hesitated, almost afraid to continue. "Is it anything you can tell me about now?"

He offered her a slightly sad smile at this. "Yes it is, finally. I'm sorry about keeping you in the dark before. I know Murphy must have been driving you nuts over it."

"Patient confidentiality," she said. "I get it. And Murphy hasn't been bugging me. He did try to get me to tell him what you were doing once, but since I had no idea, there was nothing I could tell him. After that, he really hasn't bothered me about it."

"Well, he showed admirable restraint, then," he told her. "Because I couldn't tell him anything at all and it's been driving him mad from what I can see. Add to that what he learned today and I'm just happy he didn't offer to slit my throat on the spot."

"Why couldn't you tell him anything?"

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "It was frustrating. But despite the fact that I know the bugger will never be caught, as long as there's a chance, I had to play this strictly by the book. Anything else would have screwed up any case Murphy or his lawyers might have hoped to bring. And prejudiced any jury against them, no matter what happened."

She took his now-empty plate and put it on the counter next to the sink. Then she grabbed two more beers out of the 'fridge and brought them over to him.

"O.k., this is starting to sound complicated. Want to go sit on the couch and see if you can explain it to me? From the beginning?"

He nodded and took one of the bottles from her. When they were settled on the couch, she gave his shoulder a comforting pat.

"Look, no matter how upset you thought Murphy could get, I don't think he'd have slit your throat. Throttled you, maybe. But knives are awfully messy and Murphy's not a big fan of mess. Now, what couldn't you tell him and why?"

He sighed and looked down at his hands for a long moment.

"I couldn't tell him that Shannon had been raped. That was why she stopped talking. And it wasn't a simple violation. It was ugly and messy and she was hurt. There had to have been blood."

"Dear God!" She stared at him in total shock. "You knew this and you didn't tell him anything? Why?"

"I couldn't. And it killed me in more ways than you know."

She set her bottle down and face him, shoulders rigid. "So there's some rule among psychologists that parents don't need to know specific details of their own children's case? Only the almighty doctors can know the messy details, because a mere parent might think the wrong thing?"

He sighed. "No, Laura. That's not how it works. Normally, I'd give a parent any and all details I can. But in this particular case, that would have been a disaster."

"Why? What was so different in this particular case?"

"Take the names out of if and look again. A five year old child turns up in a doctor's office and medical evidence proves that she's been raped. And she can't tell who did it. The only people the doctor can talk to about it are either the child's parents or the police. Because that's how serious it is. Now, let's make this any five year old. And she's accompanied by her parents, neither of whom she's talked to in almost six months. And reports say she hasn't talked to any friends or teachers or other relatives. Now, there are two issues here. One, can the child be helped past the trauma and two, can the rapist be found."

"So you had to deal with these things one at a time? You couldn't help Shannon while helping her parents find the rapist? Lying to them was going to be better than letting anything be done to find the animal that did this?"

"Really, Laura? How would you go about doing that? How would you begin looking for an animal that raped a child? Where would you start?"

She was silent, but still rigid, angry. He laid a hand on her arm, his eyes anguished, his voice gentle.

"Where would you logically start such a search, Laura? Be honest."

She continued to stare at him, but her eyes began to fill with tears. Finally, "I'd start with the child's father. That's the logical place to look."

His shoulders relaxed a bit. "But you know Murphy would never do anything like that. He's not capable of it. Simply not capable. You know that. And so do I. But let this case come out, let someone, anyone be accused, and their lawyer will come looking. And the charge will come: 'Oh, you set this up. You went in from the beginning deciding that the real predator hadn't done it. You screwed it up. You let the bastard in on all the details so he could cover it all up. Now my client is being accused of something he didn't do so your client's father, your friend, can't be found guilty.' And that's the ball game right there. Not only would they never get the real rapist convicted, but Murphy's reputation would be destroyed, possibly permanently, for something he never did. If I'd trusted what I knew, instead of going on what I could prove, it would have destroyed everything down the road in ways that nobody could fix. So I put Murphy and Pat through hell, so that down the road, they can live their lives without fear of anyone thinking the worst of them. Don't you see? I had no choice."

"But you knew he hadn't done it."

"Of course I knew. Whatever I may think of Murphy, I know beyond question that he is incapable of any action that would harm a child in such a way. I know that. But can I stand up in court and prove it? What I know and what I can prove are two different things. I had to act as if he were a suspect, even though, in reality, he wasn't. So that when and if a real suspect comes along, they can't say anyone set it up by covering up what someone else might have done. And even if another suspect is never found, no one can ever look at Murphy and say that nobody looked closely enough at him."

He took another long pull at his beer. "I knew Murphy wasn't guilty, but I had to act as if he could be. When anyone goes over my case notes, they'll see only what they should. I was careful. I kept both written records and video logs of all sessions. And I took care not to see Pat and Murphy outside of the office once the case started. So nobody can come back with tar and feathers and plaster either of them to this thing."

She picked up her beer again and took a few tentative sips, then leaned back against his shoulder. "That's why you said what you did when all this started, isn't it? You said this would be hard on you, that you had to work against yourself. That's why you couldn't tell me anything."

"I couldn't tell you. I couldn't tell Pat. Because either of you could be said to have talked to Murphy. I'm sorry, Laura. There are some actual rules on patient confidentiality and I keep those easily enough, but this one was worse. At least it's over now. I have as much proof as I can ever hope to have that it wasn't Murphy. I don't know who it actually was, but I know it wasn't Murphy."


"Well, a kind of 'racial profiling', to be honest. I used dolls. One white, one black, one Hispanic and one Asian. Male dolls. And I walked each past the little doll I was using as a stand-in for Shannon herself. She had minimal reactions to the other three dolls, other than general stress. But when the black doll came out, she went berserk. She grabbed it away from me and literally bit its head off." He chucked wryly at the memory. "I think, when I get her talking a bit more, I might be able to get a few more details out of her. But remember, this rape happened over half a year ago. Whoever this bastard is, he's long gone by now. And the memory of a severely traumatized five-year-old won't be enough to track him down. The chances of ever getting him are almost negligible." He smiled and took her hand. "But you and I both know that the impossible does sometimes happen, so I had to take the chance and run things by the book, just in case."

"So even though you didn't believe he was a suspect, you just had to treat him like one."

"Exactly. And that's over now, thank God. It's been a long bloody week. And then some."

"Do you think she'll ever talk again?"

He laughed. "She's talking now. Not a lot, but she's talking. Mostly to her parents, but it's going to be all right. She'll need help for awhile. And now there are a few people closer to home who can do some of the follow-up work. Another week, tops and Murphy and Pat should be able to take her home and get back to their lives."

She sighed and snuggled into his arm. "How did you know? I mean, you seemed to know what was going on from the start, that first day, with Murphy and Pat right here. You even told me that it would be hard and you couldn't talk to me. It was like you knew the whole thing right then."

"I did, sort of. I just had to test the theory and confirm it, and I did that the first Monday."

"How did you know all that the first day?"

"I had some help. I had the file John sent home with me. That listed the other doctor's findings. They concluded it was some kind of severe trauma. Plus, they noticed that her anxiety level rose with men more than women, and that when she was alone with men, it went through the roof. Then, when I saw her playing with Harry in his room, I noticed her reaction to the color red. She wouldn't lay on the rug, because it had so much red in it. And she wouldn't touch any of the red Legos with her bare hands, but would only pick them up using other blocks. All this told me that, quite likely, blood had been involved. Put all that together and rape is pretty much a foregone conclusion. I just had to test the theory, so that first Monday, I sent her to a pediatrician who works with our group to check her for any signs of rape. And he found exactly that."

"But how did you do it, that day in the living room? How did you get her to go up to Murphy so easily? He said she wouldn't go anywhere near him."

He laughed again, and then pulled a strip of fabric from his pocket. "Remind me to give this back to Murphy tomorrow, will you?" He held it out to her and she took it and spread it out across her lap. "They call that a 'power tie' these days. Red. All I had to do was get him to take it off and she'd go right to him. That was the only reason she wouldn't. She wouldn't go near anything red. I just made him take off his coat and loosen his collar to disguise what I really wanted him to do."

"But why do you have this? You gave his tie back that day. I remember that."

"Oh, John took this from him. He had it on again today and I was calling him and Pat down to the therapy room to be with Shannon, so John took it from him before he went in. John remembered it later and gave it to me to give back to him." He plucked the tie out of her hands and folded it back in his suitcoat pocket. "What I did here that day was basically a trick. Anything to get him not to leave. I honestly had no idea who else might be able to help her and someone else could have cast around for months before stumbling on what really happened. Plus, they wouldn't have had my one best advantage."

"Your best advantage?"

"Knowing that Murphy didn't do it. That kept the wandering around to a minimum. It makes it much easier to get to the truth when you know some of the facts in advance."

She hugged him. "Well, let's hear it for the truth."

And that was the last of that discussion, or any discussion, for quite some time. Fortunately, the tie stayed in his coat pocket, so he had it the next day. Because the rest of that evening was entirely distracting. The truth can have that effect on some people, fortunately.


Pain was usually a good distraction. But it didn't seem to be working this time. He flexed his hands again, then bore down even harder. But it was no use. He could still hear the voice in his head. Silently accusing without words. He'd failed. Again.

He stared straight again, not seeing the bare, cracked walls where they met the warped floorboards covered by stained carpet. If he'd focused on them, they'd just have screamed his incompetence even louder than the accusing, wordless voice.

He clamped down one more time, finally feeling the blood from his own palms seep between the fingers of his clenched fists. The drops matched the ones on his cheeks, leaking from the corners of his traitorous eyes.

Crying about it was all wrong, but it just wasn't fair! It happened every time. No matter what he did, no matter how careful he was, she continued to escape him. Over and over again, he failed. Because of her. Her treachery. It wasn't fair. It had been years. You wouldn't think anyone would take it this far, but she did. And it seemed nothing he did could stop her. She taunted him and moved constantly out of his reach. How much could any man tolerate? It had to end!

He drew a long, shuddering breath and forced his hands open again. He laid them flat against his knees, ignoring the blood soaking into them. It didn't matter. She could do whatever she wanted. He would prevail. He would outlast her and outwit her and defeat her. No matter how long it took. Because he was strong that way. He was. His mother's voice, also in his head, told him so.

He wouldn't pay attention to the slight impression he had that the two voices were one and the same.


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