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The Interrogation Chair
By Scott L. Miller
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Scott L. Miller
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMy story began, ironically enough, with me soaring like a bird. In my dream I arrived at my destinations effortlessly and in no time, I was that euphoric.
Then the world intruded and I heard something outside go bump in the night.
A metallic and hollow sound woke me from a deep sleep. Like bone on metal or metal scraping bone. The noise intensified until it seemed to be in the bedroom with us. A shiver ran along my spine. Creepy, arcane images of dancing skeleton bones flooded my thoughts.
I felt someone dance on my grave. The unknown noise rattled my bones.
I parted the second floor blinds and smiled. Mystery solved.
Three teenagers kicked a metal can down the alley while they passed a joint. The biggest one threw a rock at a stray cat and cursed when it missed his target. As the trio passed, the rock thrower glared up at Kristin's open window. I reflexively moved away from the diaphanous white curtains. The teens crested a gentle rise and were gone. Another short spring in St. Louis melted into the dog days of summer. The cobblestones below Kristin's window were still wet and swollen from a cooling evening shower as steam rose and snaked its way to mingle with the cooler night air.
Kristin rolled over to her other side, sleeping peacefully.
No one dancing on her grave tonight, I thought, suddenly wide-awake.
The steady hum of the streetlamp on Laclede Avenue returned as the lone constant sound while the hanging spider plants and Vinca minor swayed gently in the breeze. The white ceiling fan maintained its silent, relentless pace.
Kristin's naked body lay partly covered in white linen. She was sculpted of curves-from her wavy brunette hair that at times partly covered her right eye to the swell of her breasts, from the hollow of her back to the rise of her hips.
The narrow blinds cast thin ribbons of light and shadow throughout her tiny bedroom.
She looks etched in mercury.
It's the middle of the night and I have the remnants of a pleasant buzz. I'm slap happy, maybe half-way delirious.
Other occasional night sounds of the city gradually reasserted themselves: a police siren wailed and abruptly fell silent; an ambulance sped down Laclede toward Gateway Hospital on Grand Avenue; and, deeper into the night, a trashcan overturned followed by the frenzied barking of a dog.
Bone on metal, metal on bone.
The chill passed through me again.
I remembered random sirens, breaking glass, blaring car alarms, and the echo of gunshots from earlier nights here. My chest tightened.
But it wasn't the neighborhood.
Kristin Gray, part-time Master's level student and full-time executive secretary, slept quietly next to me. Formed of flesh and blood and bone, she was a wonderful and flawed and mortal woman. For the last six months she was my steady girlfriend.
I thought of my past and my future, and Kris lay in between.
Uh oh, again.
It felt like we'd known each other forever.
When I thought of me, my thoughts invariably swung to her.
Double uh oh.
My breath temporarily left my lungs.
My fingers glided over the fresh crisp white sheet that smelled of lilacs and covered her lunate hip as her body heat radiated into my fingers. My hand lingered on the soft, firm flesh. I wanted to dive into those swells again. Her susurrant response to my touch faded; she stirred but did not waken. I felt myself drifting back to sleep when her hand lightly touched my shoulder.
Her dark tiger-eyes drew me to her; the color so profound they seemed burnished by fire. Her face still flushed from before, in a voice like velvet she said, "Thanks for dinner, the dancing, the show, and my present-"
She delicately traced a vein that ran along my arm with a fingertip and I felt myself getting aroused again. "But you make my birthday special. I'm so glad we met again."
If I'd been standing, my knees would've buckled. I felt myself flying off the bed into space, just like in my dream. The world suddenly made more sense.
I can really be a smooth talker.
Earlier, we had dined on lobster at Café Balaban, enjoyed a concert at the Fox Theatre, and slow danced past midnight at the Cheshire Inn.
"I want to show my appreciation again. If you're up for it, that is." She reached for me and a smile slowly spread on her face. "You are."
I nuzzled her neck and kissed the flat birthmark on her left shoulder before I moved to the delicate arch of her spine. She moaned and turned on her side. Her perfume of fresh lilac rolled over me like a welcoming tide. I lost myself in her again and later emerged feeling whole.
I didn't dream that night and slept but a few hours. Since we started seeing each other, I'd slept deeply each night with little dream recall the next day.
Last week we had enjoyed an adventure vacation in Maui snorkeling, sailing and scuba diving. We swam with the dolphins, hiked the Island of Molokai and did an air tour of the sheer and starkly beautiful cliffs.
This morning was back to reality and back to work.
Wanting to stay put, I lay in Kris' bed thinking of quotes. Emerson described love as "the bright foreigner, the foreign self." Shakespeare said love asks no questions and gives endless support. H.L. Mencken described love as "the triumph of imagination over intelligence."
A new world opened to me last night.
Was another closing somewhere else? So what if it was?
I had changed. Kris changed me. We changed one another.
I couldn't imagine life without her now.
Uh oh cubed.
A faint trace of lilac lingered on my clothes while I put on my shorts and shirt. I kissed the birthmark on her shoulder once more while she slept before I left for my townhouse to shower and change into my work clothes. I suddenly felt vulnerable, that I had more to lose now. I said a silent prayer for the well being of my foreign self as I stepped into the street, happy and scared to death at the same time.
Chapter TwoI drove Clayton road west to north Hanley with the top down under a clear cobalt sky. Rush hour in St. Louis had already ended by the time I waved to Gus the security guard and parked my red Solstice in my designated underground space. I took the elevator to the ninth floor that housed my private practice, dropped the massive pile of mail on my desk, and gazed out the floor-to-ceiling picture windows to the city of Clayton before I jumped back into the workweek.
I am a Ph.D. therapist, in private practice for the last seven years, but I'm not a psychologist or psychiatrist, which surprises some people. My Doctorate, like my Master's degree, is in Social Work. Most graduate students in my field stop at the Master's level and find work in a myriad of public and private settings, but I accelerated through the extra two years in a year and a half and published my dissertation on the propensity of survivors of severe sexual abuse to create their own inner worlds. I wanted to be my own boss after receiving my Ph.D., so I started a part-time practice at night along with my day job. Over time it grew so that now seven other therapists work for me and I jettisoned the day job five years ago. Most of my current clients are motivated to change, middle to upper-middle class, employed, and can pay their bills. Many are struggling with anxiety or phobic disorders and only a handful have personality disorders. In short, most are safe, predictable clients from the suburbs.
My first appointment of the week was Lisa Carter, a tall and young TWA flight attendant married to a man with a history of psychiatric problems, now becoming acute. I knew something was wrong when I greeted Lisa in the waiting room to walk her into my office. Once the door closed behind us, she extended her arms for a hug and sobbed onto my shirt. Her heart fluttered next to mine as if I held a bird with a broken wing to my chest. I couldn't help but notice a liberal dose of perfume, Samsara? When her weeping slowed, I broke off the contact. She made a dramatic fuss over the mascara she inadvertently left on my white dress shirt, brushing at it with French manicured nails as the gold hoops on her wrists jangled. She apologized profusely and promised to have the shirt laundered. I declined the offer and asked her what had happened.
She took a deep breath and with a trembling hand passed me a yellow sheet ripped from a legal pad. She fumbled in vain for a tissue from her purse. An angry hand had hastily and forcefully scribbled the note, judging from the pressure of the strokes and occasional holes punched through the paper, which read:
MISS KNOW-IT-ALL, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND ME AND NEVER DID. EVERYTHING I DO IS DIRTY AND REPUGNENT TO YOU. I WILL BE FREE YOU CANNOT WIN BY RESISTING ME BITCH IF YOU TRY I WILL TAKE ALL YOU LOVE AND SMASH IT TO SHREDS. I KNOW WHAT PAIN IS I KNOW ITS SMELL, ITS COLOR, ITS POWER. IT'S A DARK, COLD MISTRESS THAT MUST BE FED. I WILL TEACH YOU OF FEAR AND RAGE AND PAIN YOU WILL BOW DOWN TO ME AND BEG ME FOR MERCY AND FOR DEATH. I HAVE DISTROYED STRONGER ENEMIES THAN YOU AND I WILL DISTROY YOU. I WILL RAPE YOU. I WILL TEAR OUT YOUR HEART AND EAT IT I WILL GUT YOU LIKE A PEACE OF VENISON AND SET FIRE TO YOUR ENTRAILS YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE DEALING WITH NOR CAN YOUR PRECIOUS THERAPIST DOCTOR 'THE-RAPIST' GET IT? THE RAPIST YOU SEE ALL THE TIME. MAY YOU HAVE AN INTERESTING DEATH AND LIFE IN HELL. MY WILL BE DONE AS IT IS IN HEAVEN AMEN
"It's from Harold, of course."
Lisa was in a full-blown panic state. She wrung her hands and paced and hyperventilated; her next words forcefully pushed out in staccato bursts. "I can't go home ... He'll kill me ... I'm so afraid ... I have nowhere to go!'
She put her hand on her forehead and her legs went out from under her. I caught her before she fell. Lisa quickly wrapped an arm around my waist and raised her eyes to meet mine. It felt contrived, like we were actors in an old histrionic melodrama set in the south.
"You're okay, Lisa. People faint when their blood pressure goes down, not up."
I directed her to a client chair, positioned a box of Kleenex within reach, and sat opposite her. Between me and the other therapists in the office, we went through a lot of Kleenex each month.
"Did you have any other contact with him today?" I asked, pouring a glass of water and placing it on a side table within her reach.
She fished a cigarette out of her purse and tapped its end twice quickly on the chair arm before she placed it with trembling fingers between her pouting lips. It was a practiced, automatic move she probably made whenever she was stressed. Then she remembered where she was. "I need it. Do you mind?"
We suddenly had a full agenda today, so I produced a small ashtray from a drawer in the table and slid it toward her. "One, Lisa. If that doesn't work, then I'll talk you out of your anxiety."
She lit up and calmed after the first few puffs.
Hail to the quick fix.
"I found the note on the kitchen table this morning. There I am, in shock with this hateful, horrible note in my hand, when the phone rings. It was Harold. He said he hoped I'd be there when he got home from work because he 'really wanted' to kill me, like he would enjoy it. He's serious. I'm scared to death."
I allowed her time to continue, if she wished.
"We had a fight last night. He didn't like the dinner I made. I know I'm no Rachel Ray in the kitchen, but he accused me of trying to poison him. I thought it was a joke, but he said I was making him weak and taking control of his mind. He said my dinner tasted like iron and phosphorus. How can pot roast taste like phosphorus, whatever that is?"
I shrugged and waited for Lisa to continue because I knew when she was on a roll.
"If you're thinking drugs, Harold's body is a temple. He keeps himself in great shape. He doesn't even take aspirin.
"Anyway-Dave told me that Harold's parents suffered from some type of big time mental illness and were locked away in a sanitarium the last half of their adult lives. Harold told me his parents led a normal, boring life together until they passed away five years ago. He's not the man I married."
Lisa withdrew a bit, into a defensive posture. She wiped a tear from her eye and said, "I'm back in the hot seat now, aren't I? He's a mechanic at the dealership, a co-worker of Harold's. Dave also told me the other night that another grease monkey borrowed a tool of Harold's without asking and Harold broke his nose with the wrench when he returned it. Dave had to pull him off the guy."
Nighttime talks with her husband's male co-worker, does it end there?
Lisa extinguished her cigarette in the ashtray and let loose a sardonic laugh. "I don't know what to do. Leave and start my life over again? What am I supposed to do?"
Lisa moved from a Deer-In-The-Headlights look to one of Make-Everything-Better-Right-Now that I've seen many times before.
I spoke in a calm and reassuring voice to amp down her anxiety.
"Don't make snap decisions about your marriage, Lisa. Your emotions are in as much turmoil as Harold's. Make a major life decision now and it's likely to be wrong. Your husband is one of millions in this country with a treatable mental illness. With medication and short-term treatment, his illness can go into another remission just as it was during the years you've known each other. I understand why he withheld his mental illness from you, although I don't condone it. He didn't want to scare you away. Mental illness still carries a stigma.
"Here's what can be done if he poses a danger to himself or others. He can be involuntarily committed for up to 96 hours, excluding weekends and holidays. To do this, someone with firsthand knowledge of his recent mental state must complete and sign a notarized affidavit describing his behaviors and/or statements that present a danger to himself and/or others. Harold's handwritten note is also evidence, even though it's unsigned. Then the county police find Harold and escort him, hopefully with his cooperation, to a psychiatric unit that accepts his insurance."
She dabbed at a corner of her eye with a tissue and sniffed. "What happens when he refuses?"
"He'll go, restrained if needed. Hopefully it won't come to that. Most people defer to an armed show of force."
She smiled at me like I was a simpleton. "Harold's not 'most people.'"
"Maybe not. If Harold still refuses treatment when the 96 hours expire, the hospital takes him to court. A judge rules whether Harold remains a danger to himself or others and he could be committed for twenty-one more days. Family members rarely need to testify because by then there's plenty of input from hospital staff. What do you think about this?"
Lisa fumbled for the tissue box and sighed again. "He'll know I put him in a psycho ward. He'll be madder'n hell at me."
"Yes, he may be. But with the proper medicine and treatment, his anger and psychosis will subside. He should be back to his baseline and you should see his regular behaviors return after his stay."
Lisa tugged at the hem of her skirt, a lightweight blend of spring colors that rode six inches above the knee and accentuated her rich tan. Her free hand absently tugged at a diamond-studded ear lobe then brushed back a misbehaving brunette bang. She sat straight up in her chair as if she were bracing herself against a stiff wind, stared at me solemnly and said, "He needs more help than I can give him. I'll do it, but I must warn you. You don't know him."
"He'll know we were behind this."
I looked at Lisa in silence.
"He'll blame you for putting me up to this."
'YOUR PRECIOUS DOCTOR 'THE-RAPIST.'
"He's insanely jealous of the men I talk to-Dave, several of our neighbors, guys whenever we go out-but especially you."
A third reference to Dave.
The man gets around.
Here it comes.
Lisa leaned toward me and as she did her white cotton blouse hung forward from her shoulders. She wasn't wearing a bra. Her blue-gray eyes rose to see whether mine strayed, her lips parted to ask a question as a sly smile played on that full mouth.
She reminded me of a Barbie Doll.
A six-foot tall, brunette Barbie of the Friendly Skies.
She simply said, "Why?"
Her big doe eyes widened. "Why can't he be more like you?"
Excerpted from The Interrogation Chair by Scott L. Miller Copyright © 2010 by Scott L. Miller. Excerpted by permission.
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