Read an Excerpt THE Marriage OF True Minds
By STEPHEN EVANS
UNBRIDLED BOOKS Copyright © 2008 Stephen Evans
All right reserved.
Chapter One Alteration
MINNEAPOLIS STAR-TRIBUNE, June 11
Local barrister Nicholas Ward was arrested yesterday for releasing more than 100 live lobsters into the indoor pool at the mayor's mansion in Minneapolis.
Mr. Ward, formerly a prominent environmental attorney and founding partner of the local firm Ward and Grant, allegedly persuaded 12 Minneapolis grocery stores to donate the lobsters by claiming that the crustaceans were the rightful property of endangered Hawaiian monk seals. The seals, Mr. Ward reportedly explained, are currently on the endangered species list because humans are stealing their lobsters.
At Mr. Ward's request, Department of Public Works employees filled the mayor's pool with non-chlorinated saltwater and more than 100 blocks of ice. Unnamed sources at the department confirmed that Mr. Ward convinced them the mayor was having a beach party. The ice, he claimed, represented the effects of global warming on arctic populations.
Once the lobsters were safely deposited in the mayor's pool, Mr. Ward summoned the media. During the ensuing lecture, he defended his actions by citing at length numerous obscure judicial precedents. He then made his getaway in a chauffeured stretch limousine, accompanied by a gray-and-white sheepdog puppet.
No charges have been filed, pending a psychiatric evaluation.
Chapter Two Impediments
After the divorce, Lena had thought Nick was just going through an understandable period of mourning. She had been certain he would snap out of it eventually. And he had, just not in the way anyone had expected.
Lena stepped alone onto an elevator in the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Minneapolis. For forty-four floors, visions of ambulances, fire departments, and SWAT teams danced in her bead. She had been out of town for three days. That was more than enough time for disaster to strike again.
On the forty-fifth floor, Lena rushed out of the elevator and sped down the corridor. At the end of the hallway, she stopped and performed her ritual invocation, running her fingers across the raised letters on the sign:
Ward and Grant Attorneys at Law
She dashed past the reception area and fled into her private office without speaking to her assistant, Sharon, who quickly followed her in.
The office furniture was a cool mixture of glass and steel, with several small exceptions: on the shelves behind the desk, stuffed animals roamed a law-book jungle. Most were elephants, ranging from just a few inches in height to nearly a foot.
Lena moved behind her desk and sat, gripping the cool edge with both bands, steadying herself for the news.
"Welcome back," Sharon began.
"Just tell me," Lena replied.
"How was the conference?"
"Just tell me."
"I'm glad to see you too."
The desktop surface was one of a kind: antique Veronese crystal, six feet long, three feet wide, and one inch thick. Clear glass pillars six inches in diameter supported each corner. At sunset on high-summer evenings, the light swept through the floor-to-ceiling windows at just the right angle, refracting in the crystal edge, spectral shards blossoming across the office walls and ceiling.
Lena never kept anything on the desk.
"Just tell me."
Sharon consulted her notes for dramatic effect, violet eyes highlighted in the reflection front the desk.
"You got calls from a chauffeur, twelve grocery stores, CNN, and the mayor."
Lena paused for a moment, evaluating the news, correlating the results. At least it wasn't an ambulance or the fire department or the SWAT team. She marshaled her energy, closed her eyes, then exhaled her mantra: WhyMe.
"Harrison Cross and the Luria gang confirmed for one o'clock."
"Good. Call the grocery stores and give them my credit-card number. Get me the mayor now."
As Sharon left the room, Lena pulled a worn notebook from the credenza behind her and flipped back in search of a blank page. To a stranger, the scribbled notes would have communicated only haste and emotional duress. Not even Sharon could decipher them. But the doodles in the margins comprised a hieroglyphic record of postmarital dissolution:
Page 1: A heart with an arrow through it.
Page 10: A heart with two arrows through it.
Page 50: No heart. Lots of arrows.
Page l00: A hairy, dog-like creature.
Page 150: AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!
She had turned a few more pages and found a blank one but had not yet begun to write when the phone rang. She swung around in her chair, stared at the device on the credenza. Again and again the noise tingled in her brain like a sweet electrocution. Finally it stopped.
Sharon poked her head into the office.
"The mayor's office is on line one."
Lena donned the wireless headset like a tiara of thorns, then punched a button.
"Lena Grant for the mayor. Yes, I'll hold."
Lena could not imagine a sequence of events that connected a chauffeur, twelve grocery stores, a cable news network, and the mayor. But she knew who could.
"Hello, Mayor, it's Lena, I'm surprised to-"
Lena stopped. Her eyes widened, then narrowed.
"Where did he get that much salt? Oh. Yes, I suppose it does look bad when road salt intended for public safety ends up in the swimming pool of an elected official. I promise I will talk to him. Thank you, Mayor. I'll see you at the fund-raiser next week."
Lena had to find Nick.
She could try his cell phone. But either he didn't remember to carry it or he didn't remember how to retrieve messages or he did remember but wouldn't. Or maybe it was just her messages he ignored.
Lena paced in front of her office windows. If she looked straight down, the height still made her uneasy. If she looked out over the city, her eyes were inevitably drawn to the southwestern part of Minneapolis, where Lake of the Isles lay hidden behind neighborhood hills. The lake also made her uneasy. The area had become Nick's favorite haunt. When she had to find him, it was always her first stop.
If Nick wasn't at the lake, holding vigil with the squirrels or marshaling the geese or communing with the Norway pines or whatever it was he did there, she could try his condo about two blocks away. She had bought the place for him after the divorce, hoping he would enjoy having a home near the lake. She had liked the feel of the place, the streaky light morning and afternoon, the old whitewashed stucco walls and the burnished wooden floor. It seemed healthy, and that was what he needed, she thought. But the neighbors informed her that he mostly used the apartment for storage. What he had to store she didn't want to know.
If he wasn't at the condo, then the bank on Lake Street would he her next stop. Nick ventured into the branch at unpredictable intervals, withdrawing large amounts of cash that apparently lasted him for months.
She had opened the account after the divorce, when she had borrowed enough to buy out Nick's share of the law firm. Nick had more or less absconded from life during that period, so Lena and Nick's sister, Grace, a real estate broker who lived in Phoenix, were also listed on the account, just in case. Lena visited the bank every once in a while to educate a new branch manager about Nick. When she had last checked, there had still been a quarter of a million dollars in the account.
Sharon interrupted the planning for Lena's expedition.
"You have a call."
"I'm not here," Lena pleaded. "Unless it's an ambulance. Or the fire department. Or the SWAT team."
Sharon paused to get it right.
"It's your ex-sister-in-law."
Lena retrieved the headset, walked back to her desk, flipped open the well-doodled notebook.
"Hi, Grace. We're meeting with-what?"
As she listened, Lena once more silently reenacted her personal psychodrama: AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!
"Where is he?"
She wrote: "GVPI 9021" and sighed
"Okay. I've got it. I'll be in touch."
Lena once again ripped off the headset and sent it flying into space. Then she donned her sunglasses, snared her briefcase (hefting it to make sure it possessed the proper density), and strode briskly into the office corridor. Sharon was playing a noisy game on her computer.
"You know, this Luria game is fun."
For a few seconds, Lena was caught up watching the game. A knight in rusty armor struggled alone across a treacherous moat while battling demon slime rats with a glowing lance to reach a haunted castle where a legendary treasure was concealed.
It all seemed vaguely familiar.
"I'm going to hell," Lena announced.
Sharon didn't lift her head from the screen.
"I'll forward your messages."
Lena's Cartoon Red Porsche convertible flared into the parking lot of the Golden Valley Psychiatric Institute, halting just before impaling the "Visitors Only" sign. She thrust the car door too wide, grabbed her briefcase, and hugged it to her breast like an umpire's chest guard.
She closed her eyes and took two long breaths.
When she opened them again, her focus drifted up to the top floor of the nine-story white building, then down the long row of barred windows.
Lena marched up the daisy-lined path and through the revolving glass doors. She entered the reception area in fullback mode, swinging her aluminum briefcase when necessary like a mirrored wrecking ball. The receptionist greeted her with "Please sign" but didn't quite get the "in" out before Lena was in the elevator.
On the ninth floor, an attendant sat reading a comic book, his orange-sneakered feet contrasting with the tiny white desk on which they rested. As Lena approached, he jammed the book into the pocket of his white lab coat and stood, apparently aiming for cool but willing to settle for official. Lena guessed he'd been on the job only a few weeks.
She stared expectantly at the attendant. Under her implacable yet marginally amused gaze, he fiddled with his bright orange Tweety Bird tie, reminding her of a beagle bravely wagging its tail at the veterinarian. After deciding that nothing was likely to happen in the near future without some form of communication, Lena gave in.
"Oscar," replied Oscar.
Lena had a daily threshold of vexation beyond which any additional exasperation began to seem funny. In the face of enormous irritation, she would sometimes begin to giggle uncontrollably. She had already passed the vexation threshold but was successfully suppressing the nervous response, which made her face turn brittle and her eyes squint slightly. Oscar began to puddle under her stare. Lena came to his rescue.
"I'm here to see Nick Ward. He's in room 9021."
"And you are?" Oscar asked.
"Busier than you."
"That's a broad category."
Lena's smile burst through but was quickly withdrawn.
"Follow me," Oscar said, more question than command.
He unlocked the double steel doors, and she followed him through and down a long white corridor in which only the numbers differentiated one room from another.
"Why is everything white?" Lena asked.
"Don't know. Maybe it shows the clean better," Oscar replied.
"I think people would prefer some color."
"This place has been here for a hundred years. Maybe back then they didn't think of patients as people."
Lena glanced at the comic book hanging out of his pocket. The cover was torn in half, and the staples holding the pages together were gone.
"I didn't mean to interrupt your reading," she said.
Oscar reached down and drew out the rumpled book.
"Doctor Strange has just entered the mystical dimension and is battling his archnemesis Baron Mordo with the All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto."
"That one looks like someone slept on it," Lena noted.
"A comic book in mint condition is all offense against the multiverse. I only collect damaged comics with torn covers and missing pages."
"Me too," Lena replied.
Oscar gently turned a few pages.
"There's no telling what you can learn from comics."
"No telling," Lena agreed.
Oscar halted at a door at the end of the corridor and raised up on tiptoe to look in the window. Then he unlocked the door, braced his weight on the handles, and, lifting his feet, rode the door open.
Quickly filling the open passage, Lena scanned the tiny enclosure. The room was small and rectangular. A neatly made single bed lined the wall to the left. A tiny dull-white table and upright wooden chair stood against the right wall, leaving a small space in front of the barred shatterproof window. There was no mirror, no decoration, no place for personal items.
At first Lena didn't see the puppet sitting on the bed, braced upright by a pillow, almost invisible on the bland bed coverings. When she had first seen him years before, twenty-four inches of soft fake fur had gleamed white amid patches of gray. Now he reminded her of a disheveled furry Buddha, his gray coat matted, wisps of ash-colored hair spilling over his forehead. Well, it happened to everyone else, she thought, why not him?
Finally she looked at Nick. As usual, she had the odd sensation that she was seeing him for the first time, as if she had never met him before. He was always taller than she remembered. And thinner, she thought. He always looked thinner. Of course the straitjacket he was wearing emphasized his lanky frame, rough cloth tapering from broad shoulders to slim waist, reminding her of a human cyclone, as though at any minute he might sweep the room into chaos. She noted the effect, wondering how she could re-create it in her own wardrobe.
Nick wheeled his entire taut body around in baby steps.
"Quick! Hide!" he warned the reclining moppet.
Lena was not amused.
"Take it off," Lena ordered. Oscar jumped.
"The jacket," she said. "Take it off."
Oscar started to peel off his lab coat. Lena, patience not quite working into a smile, explained: "Not yours. His."
Oscar glanced at Nick and assumed a worried expression. Lena guessed that removing straitjackets was beyond his charter.
"Restraints are hospital policy with new patients who are potentially violent," Oscar contended.
Lena swung her briefcase in a blurry arc into the steel door. An ominous thud reverberated down the white-tiled hall.
"The question is not," Lena informed Oscar without taking her eyes from Nick, "whether he is going to hurt me."
Oscar walked quickly over to Nick and removed the straitjacket. Then he took off his own coat just in case.
Nick tilted his head, a look no one but Lena could decode. She flashed her dark lashes in mock Morse code response.
"You want me to stay just in case?" Oscar asked with concern.
"That won't be necessary," Lena assured him.
"Actually, I was talking to him."
Lena turned to Oscar with renewed appreciation, which he appeared to interpret (correctly) as a mild threat.
"I'll leave now," Oscar added quickly.
Lena smiled her approval. Oscar mouthed the word Sorry, to Nick as he closed the door.
Lena laid her briefcase on the small table and sat on the bed. She waited without speaking.
Lena always waited for Nick to speak first. It was her only way of knowing which Nick she would be dealing with. She had come to think of his pantheon of moods as different people, in the tactical rather than psychosocial sense. She had in her mind isolated twelve different Nicks, all undeniably Nickish though she could never quite determine what core element linked them all together. Like a shattered mirror that retained in the shards the final image before the catastrophe, bits and pieces of Nick flashed out but the whole was chaos.
"Well," said Nick finally, "look what the sharks dragged in."
She sighed internally with relief, hoping she recognized ironic, slightly acrimonious ex-husband Nick. She could at least talk with him, maybe even convince him of the trouble he was in.
"I told you I'd always be there for you," Lena responded.
"Yeah, but then you threw me out."
"I meant I'd be there for you as long as you weren't there for me."
Nick rubbed his arms and wrists to restore the circulation.
"What are you doing here?" he asked. "Your sister called me."
"Grace from Grace."
"I'm defending you." Nick picked up the puppet and held him close.
"And me without my belt and shoelaces," he lamented.
Excerpted from THE Marriage OF True Minds by STEPHEN EVANS Copyright © 2008 by Stephen Evans . Excerpted by permission.
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