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So he took me in spirit to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God . . . The twelve gates were made of pearls-each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass..
-John the Apostle, from Revelation 21
As my prerecorded voice began extolling the virtues of a Posture Perfect Mattress, Gary Ripley, my producer, came through the doorway and shoved a stack of freshly printed hate mail beneath my nose.
"New batch." He dropped the pages onto the desk. "Thought you might want to stir something up in the next hour. The what-to-do-with-Grandma topic is getting old."
I cocked an eyebrow at him, but he only grinned and leaned against the wall, lifting his hands in a don't-shoot-the-messenger pose.
I picked up the first letter, which opened with a string of expletives, then pronounced me the worst excuse for a counselor the world had ever seen. "The advice you gave that woman in Atlanta came straight from the pits of hell," someone, probably a man, had written. "Leave her husband? Marriage is for better or worse, but you want to overturn God's laws and institute your own."
I felt my cheeks burn as I leaned back in my chair. Though I had grown accustomed to vitriolic mail of all types, criticism never failed to sting. Beneath the bluster and bravado I'd adopted as part of my radio persona, I constantly worried that I would hurt someone in a reckless moment of glib patter.
"Gary"-I glanced over my shoulder-"do you remember a woman calling from Atlanta?"
"Yeah." He snapped his gum."Yesterday. You told her to pack up and run like mad."
"That was the abuse case, right? The woman with the broken jaw?"
Gary nodded. "The husband had put her in ICU the month before. How could you forget that one?"
"I didn't forget." I fingered the edge of the paper as I studied the e-mail. "I just wanted to be sure I remembered it correctly."
No, no cause for guilt on this one. God did want us to weather good and bad in our marriages, but I have never believed he intended women to be used as punching bags. The nameless coward who had sent this note could bluster all he wanted; my counsel in that situation had been sound.
I slid the paper to the desk and glanced at the clock. Nine fifty-eight, so I still had two minutes until the top of the hour, followed by eight minutes of news and commercials. Plenty of time for a break.
I flipped through the remaining e-mails. "Anything interesting in here?"
Gary shrugged. "The usual. People calling you intolerant and a hardhearted witch. Oh, and one calling you a child-abuser."
I snorted a laugh. "Because I told that one woman to swat her kid on the rear?"
"That's the one. The lady says she's going to report you to Social Services."
"She'll have to catch me swatting my kids first." I stood and stretched, then pressed my hands to the small of my back and grinned at my producer. "My kids never need swatting. They're angels."
Gary made a face at that, but he didn't argue. Truth was, my kids were good kids, and he knew it. At eighteen, Brittany Jane's only major flaw was her stubborn refusal to keep food out of the cluttered cave she called a bedroom, and Scott Daniel, age five, was a bundle of pure delight.
Taking advantage of the break, I left the studio as Gary followed. We visited the coffeemaker in the snack area, filled our mugs with liquid caffeine, then stood and drank, enjoying the quiet break while keeping a careful eye on the clock.
Our building, owned by Open Air Communications, housed several radio stations-among them WUBN, the Gulf Coast's hard-rock headquarters; WSHE, soft rock from the sixties and seventies; WNAR, home of the county's best jazz; and WCTY, the voice of new country. At any given hour you could walk down the halls and peer into studio windows of a half-dozen broadcasters, all saying something different on the invisible airways that carried our words, healthy and perverse, across the nation.
Sometimes the thought left me feeling a little dizzy.
Gary took a final sip from his mug, then pointed to the clock. "Time."
I nodded, then followed him down the hall. A door swung open as we passed WCTY, allowing a stream of country music to flow through the hall. I shook my head as the lyrics followed us: I'm so miserable without you, it's like having you here.
As Chad Potter, our sound engineer, punched up the theme music for my show, I slipped back into the air studio and took my place behind the desk.
On the phone, a half-dozen blinking buttons flashed at me; each of them representing someone who had called and remained on hold through the commercials, the news, and the theme music. I would never cease to marvel at the patience of some callers. Most of them would hang on even through the monologue I delivered at the beginning of every segment.
As the theme music faded, I settled the headphones on my head-the better to hear my producer and sound engineer from the control room-and leaned forward on the desk.
"Welcome back, friends and neighbors, to another hour of the Dr. Sheldon Show. You know, some people look for flowers and robins as a herald of spring; I look for the Nordstrom catalog. I know I'll be on the cutting edge of fashion just by perusing its contents, and this year I was not disappointed. Now I know some of you may think it's not possible to be fashionable by osmosis, but I beg to differ. I mean, what is fashion, but clothing that's in one year and out the next? Right now my closet is stuffed with things from when I first got married, so something tells me I'm about to ride the crest of high fashion once again."
I paused to pick up my notepad, then ruffled the pages in front of the mike. "As I flipped through the catalog this year, though, one group of products confused me. I don't know if you've seen these things in the stores yet, but what is the deal with toe toppers and foot tubes? I mean, have you seen those things? I suppose they're for wearing with slides and sandals, but they kind of defeat the purpose. The toe toppers-I know, it's hard to imagine anything with that silly a name being practical-are half a sock. They start at the toe like an ordinary sock, and end at the arch of your foot. Now I ask you, what is that about? Do you wear them with high-heeled, elegant sandals? And have this terrycloth thing hanging out?"
Silently I counted out a beat, then laughed. "And foot tubes-have you seen those? They're like the calf warmers we all bought when that Jennifer Beals movie came out . . . you know, the woman welder who wanted to-Flashdance, that was it. Anyway, these foot tubes are like calf warmers, but they cover only the middle part of your foot. Your tootsies and your heels are still left out in the cold to freeze or sweat, depending on whether you're wearing them in Montana or Florida."
Looking through the rectangular window that opened into the control room, I saw Gary holding a hand over his face. Because he knew women comprised the majority of my audience, he tolerated my female-oriented monologues, but just barely.
"Toe toppers and foot tubes." I breathed a heavy sigh into the mike. "Somebody please tell me this fad will pass."
I glanced up at the list of names on the computer monitor, then pressed the first button on the beige plastic phone. "Carla! Welcome to the show."
"Dr. Diana! Goodness, I can't believe I'm really talking to you."
I cast Gary a didn't-you-tell-her-to-get-to-the-point? look, then shoehorned a smile into my voice. "Have you seen those toe toppers in the stores yet?"
"No-and I agree, they sound silly."
"I think so. But how can I help you today?"
"It's my mother-I mean mother-in-law. She's mousy-I mean mouthy-good grief, I'm nervous!"
"Calm down, Carla. We haven't lost a caller yet." I glanced up at the computer screen, where next to Carla's name Gary had typed MIL insults her constantly. Advice?
Though the woman might be nervous simply because she was on the radio, I knew her anxiety might also have arisen from the fact that her mother-in-law could be listening . . . so I'd have bet my bottom dollar that Carla wasn't her real name.
My caller exhaled into the phone, eliciting an agonized expression from Chad at the soundboard.
"Okay. It's like this-I love my husband, I really do, but his mother is driving me crazy. Everything I do, she has to criticize-my clothes, my cooking, the way I keep house. I have a job, you see, so what does it matter if the shelves get a little dusty? Her son doesn't read books anyway, so what does she care? And lately Joe and I have been talking about having a baby-"
"Joe is your husband?"
"Yes. Sorry, I should have said that."
"And how long have you been married?"
"Six months." She exhaled another deep breath, obviously grateful that I had taken control of the conversation.
Flashing a grin at Chad, I silently tapped the windscreen on my microphone with two fingers, reminding him that I knew better than to huff and puff into his expensive equipment.
"I'm glad you called, Carla, and I'm glad you didn't wait to address this issue. Because if you allow this situation to continue, you will be dealing with the problem for as long as your marriage lasts-which, in my opinion, won't be long past your fifth anniversary. Men who allow their mothers to criticize their wives tend to lose their wives' respect, and respect is one of the most important ingredients in marriage."
I paused a moment to let my words take hold. "Let me ask you this, Carla-do you know much about your mother-in-law's history?"
"Um . . . not really. Should I?"
"It might be helpful. We'll talk about your husband in a moment, but first let me remind you of one of my favorite profound sayings. Are you ready?"
"Here it is: Hurt people . . . hurt people."
In the control room, Chad played the blast of a trumpet, the usual sound effect for one of what he called Dr. Diana's pronouncements.
Grinning at him, I pulled the mike closer. "If your mother-in-law is honestly vindictive toward you, she may be acting out of pain. Somewhere, someone has hurt her badly, and she has not yet learned how to deal with that hurt. You may be the source of her pain, through some direct or indirect action, or her issues may spring from something completely unrelated to you."
"So what do I do about it?"
"You do this-first, you ask your mother-in-law if you've done something to offend her. Say you've noticed that she seems out of sorts around you, and ask if you can do something to make things right. If she names something-say, for example, you inadvertently ran over her petunias-then apologize and offer to replant her flowers. If, on the other hand, she denies her attitude or says you've done nothing to hurt her feelings, then your conscience should be clear.
"Second, you talk to your husband and tell him you love him dearly, you admire him to death, but you married him, not his mother. So the next time his mother criticizes you, if he doesn't politely excuse himself and lead you out of Mama's presence, he'll be disappointing you tremendously. Leave and cleave, Carla-that's what marriage is about. Leaving the parental nest and cleaving to your spouse. If your husband doesn't want to be firm in the face of his mother's wailing-and believe me, she will wail the first few times he stands up to her-then you'll just have to resign yourself to the fact that you married a spineless mama's boy."
In the control room, Chad clicked a key and sent the wail of a frustrated baby over the airwaves.
I grinned at him while Carla sputtered protestations. "But I thought men who took care of their mothers were, like, programmed to take care of their wives! My mother always said I should notice how a boy treats his mom, and he was always so deferential to her-"
"There's a vast difference between treating a woman with respect and kowtowing to her every demand." I lowered my voice and leaned closer to the microphone. "I know it's not easy, Carla, but your husband might need a lot of encouragement before he'll be able to stand up to his mom. I wish you'd noticed his disposition toward docility while you were dating."
"I did notice his-whatever you said. But I was sure he'd change once we were married."
"Men don't change, sweetie, apart from acts of God. They fossilize."
I cocked my index finger toward Chad, who clicked the next button and took us into commercial. After pulling the headphones from my ears, I picked up the telephone. The promo for Nutriment Weight Loss Solutions dropped to a muted mumble when Chad saw I held the receiver.
"Carla," I spoke into the phone, "we're off the air now. Listen, dear, I'm not saying you should give up on your husband. I'm saying you and Joe need to open the lines of communication. Tell him you love him, make him feel like your protector. That's probably all he needs to rise to the task. If you make him feel like he can take on the world, taking on his mama will be a lot easier."
"I'll try." Carla sniffled into the phone, a sound I'd heard a thousand times, but still it got to me. "Thanks, Dr. Diana."
"You're welcome, sweetie. God bless."
I disconnected the call, then glanced at the computer monitor where a queue of bright green rectangles listed all holding callers. Gary moved interesting people straight to the top of the list; he relegated weirdos or off-topic calls to the bottom.
Rarely did we resort to bottom-feeding.
Four callers were now waiting-according to Gary's notes, the woman at the top of the queue was dealing with a blended family, the man after her was calling about a troubled sixteen-year-old, and the name beneath his belonged to ten-year-old Tiffany, who wanted to ask a question for her school report. The last caller, Lela, was wondering about the wisdom of leaving her money to a spoiled grandchild.
Lifting a brow, I peered through the rectangular window before Gary's desk. Lela was bound to strike a nerve with my local audience, so she must have sounded like a real dud to earn last place in the lineup. Though my show was syndicated and broadcast on sixty-two stations nationwide-with new stations signing on every week-the folks in Tampa cared deeply about elder issues. Probably 75 percent of the people in my local listening audience were retired snowbirds, particularly in this month of March.
Through the wide windows separating me from the technical brains of my program I could see Chad, my engineer, hunched over his board, his magic fingers adjusting knobs and sliders whose functions remained a mystery to me even after five years in radio. Gary, my producer and call screener, hunched over the phone, his brow crinkled in concentration as he greeted another caller. His hands moved to the keyboard, and in a moment he'd click enter and send the information to me.
As the commercial played out, I settled the headset back on my head and glanced at the computer screen. I didn't often buck Gary's suggested order, but I wasn't in the mood to discuss blended families. The ten-year-old might be more fun.
I clicked the button for line three as the intro music faded away. "Tiffany, honey, are you there? This is Dr. Diana."
A heavy breath whooshed into the phone, then, "Hello?"
"Hello, Tiffany. Did you have a question to ask me?"
More heavy breathing, followed by a decidedly childish giggle. "Is it really you?"
"It really is. And I hear you have some kind of school report to write?"
Another loud exhalation. "Yes."
"What's your topic?"
Yet another heavy sigh. "Dr. Diana."
I laughed. "You're doing a report on me? Well, sweetie, I hope you're kinder than my critics. Is there something special you wanted to know about me?"
I smiled. "And that is?"
"Ask the question, dummy. She's waiting."
Despite Tiffany's obvious proximity to the phone, I had no trouble hearing a woman's sharp voice. A second later, Tiffany exhaled again, then asked, "Do you have any pets?"
I clenched my fist, wishing for a moment that I could climb through the phone line and speak a few strong words to whoever would burden this tender ten-year-old with a label like dummy.
"Yes, sweetheart, I have a pet." I spoke in the warmest tone I could manage. "I have a Chinese pug, a little guy we call Terwilliger. He spends most of his time in my son's room, 'cause they're the same age. They're best friends."
Tiffany laughed, a lovely two-noted giggle. "He sounds cute."
"He is, honey, and he's smart, too. Sometimes people look at him and think he's not so smart, 'cause he has this little mashed-in face, but they're wrong about him. Terwilliger-we call him Twiggy for short-is a great little dog. And he doesn't care what people think, 'cause he knows he's okay in my book." I hesitated. "You understand, sweetie?"
"Is that all you need from me?"
The woman's voice shrilled again in the background: "Say thank you, idiot, and get off the phone."
Rage burned my cheeks. "Who is that, Tiffany? Your mom?"
"May I speak to her, please?"
No answer but the clunking sounds of a telephone in transit. A second later the woman's voice came over the phone, the sharp edges smoothed away. "Hello?"
"Are you Tiffany's mother?"
"Why, yes, I am."
"She's a charming little girl."
"Why, thank you."
"What's your first name, dear?"
"Well, Anna, I don't know your situation, and I suppose I could be way off base, but I do know this-your daughter deserves better than you're giving her now. Maybe you're having a bad day or something, but no child responds well to words like dummy and idiot. What I've heard from you in the space of two minutes amounts to verbal abuse-"
A definite click snapped in my ear. I glanced up at Gary, who shrugged as if to say she's gone.
"Well, folks," I said, aware that Tiffany and her mom might still be listening. "Let's remember one thing, shall we? Sticks and stones may not break bones, but they certainly can wound a spirit. If you have to give your child a nickname, let it be something endearing. My husband has always called our daughter sweetness, and"-I forced a laugh-"he calls me gorgeous, whether I measure up to the name or not. But he makes me feel gorgeous, and that's what we need to do for our loved ones . . . give them room to soar."
Pressing the next button, which took us into a twenty-second prerecorded bit of patter, I glanced at the call screen, where a new name had appeared at the top of the queue. Gary's thin voice filled my right ear: "A live one coming through. Be careful-he may be a crank."
I read the detail line, where Gary had typed: Tom-thinks his wife is planning to leave him. Sounds desperate.
Nodding, I picked up a pencil and tapped it to the syncopated rhythm of my ten-second lead-in, a hyped-up, whispered version of my name recorded over a funky Latin beat.
I felt good. The morning had offered a string of interesting calls, all practical problems without a single tedious question about capital punishment, politics, or abortion. I had strong opinions on those issues, but so did my callers, so the resulting merry-go-round resulted in frustrating radio for host and audience alike. On the few occasions callers did manage to bring up one of the irresolvable topics, I usually ended up having to cut them off, particularly if they became abusive. I didn't mind disconnecting rude callers, but afterward I always had to spend another hour defending my actions to well-meaning folks who thought "free speech" meant "free access to the airwaves."
As the intro died down, I punched the button for line one. "Hi, Tom! Thanks for calling the show."
"Dr. Diana?" The voice came out garbled, as if the man were strangling on repressed emotions. His tone, coupled with Gary's warning, raised my adrenaline level a couple of percentage points.
I straightened in my chair. "I'm here, Tom. Did you want to tell me about your wife?"
"She's leaving me."
I waited only a second for him to continue, then hurried to fill the dead air. "How do you know she's leaving?"
"She's outside putting suitcases in the car. And she's taking my little girl with her."
I looked up at Gary, who crossed his arms and nodded.
"Tom"-I rested my elbows on the desk-"I'm not sure there's anything I can do for you at this moment. Have you talked to your wife about why she wants to leave?"
"Yeah. She's found another man-she's moving in with him. I told her it would just about kill me if she left, but she doesn't care."
"I'm sure she cares, Tom, but perhaps she's confused at the moment."
"She doesn't give a flip."
I stiffened at something I heard in his voice, something jagged and sharp.
"She doesn't even care that I got the gun out of the dresser drawer. She saw me pull it out, but she just kept moving toward the car, dragging my daughter with her."
I pressed my hands to the headphones as the muscles in my chest constricted. "You have a gun?"
"Right here in my hand. It's loaded, too."
I looked at Gary, whose concerned expression had intensified to panic. Chad, on the other hand, looked almost gleeful at the prospect of unexpected drama.
"Tom, you need to put the gun away. You must have frightened your wife; perhaps that's why she's leaving with your daughter."
"I'd never hurt them." He paused, his words hanging in the silence as if he'd paused to question his own statement, then he pressed on. "But I'm going to kill myself. And when she comes back into the room to see if she's forgotten anything, she'll find me lying here. And maybe she'll pick up the phone, and you can tell her why I did it."
I braced my hands against the edge of the desk. "Whoa, Tom. I don't think I can cooperate with your plan. And we shouldn't rush into anything."
Oh sweet Jesus, I need you now.
My mind raced backward at warp speed, summoning up the standard protocols in crisis counseling. When a patient threatens suicide, the counselor has to stay calm. Remove the weapon if possible. Take charge. Insist you're not going to leave, you will get help, and anything is better than suicide. Be loving, but above all, be firm.
Silently praying for wisdom, I leaned into the microphone. "I'm glad you called, Tom, because I want to help you through this. You've gone through a lot today, but this is not going to be the end of your world, you understand? Your wife is leaving. But even if she drives away with your daughter, she can never take away the special relationship between you and your child. You'll always be her father, right?"
As Tom mumbled incoherently, I picked up my notepad. Grabbing a Sharpie someone had left on the desk, I wrote CALLER ID? in block letters, then ripped out the page and flashed it toward the window. Gary read the note, then nodded.
"Yeah, I'll always be her father." Tom was weeping now, his ragged voice scraping like sandpaper against my ears. "But I don't want her to remember me like this."
The adage I had so glibly recited only a few moments before flittered through my brain: Hurt people . . . hurt people. Would Tom hurt someone before the day ended?
I scrawled CALL 911 on another page, then yanked it from the notebook and held it up. Gary made the OK sign, then hunched over the phone.
I had to keep Tom talking. "You don't want her to remember you like what?" I gentled my voice. "Tom, I know you're confused, but you have to see the illogic in your statement. You don't want your daughter to remember you as sad and upset, but would you rather she remember you as a bloody corpse on the living room floor?"
"I'm in the kitchen." I could barely understand the words through his sobbing.
"Think, friend. Let your daughter remember you as a man who recovered from a temporary loss and grew strong enough to be the father she needed as she grew up. How old is your daughter, Tom?"
More weeping, then, "Four."
"Four? Oh, Tom!" I released a dramatic sigh, a breathy stream of air that defeated the purpose of Chad's prized windscreen. "You haven't had time to see her lose her first tooth, walk to her first day of kindergarten, or smile at her first boyfriend. Don't you want to be around when she goes on her first date? Even if you're not with your wife, don't you want to be nearby when your daughter wants to talk to someone about her relationship with her boyfriend? Don't you want to be the man who walks her down the aisle on her wedding day?"
He did not answer, but I wouldn't give up-not as long as I could hear him sniffling.
I had to distract him. "I have two children, Tom. A son and a daughter. I don't talk about them much on the program because my daughter's at the age where she doesn't want to admit she even has parents."
Dead silence on the other end of the line. A flicker of apprehension coursed through my bloodstream, then I heard another sniff.
He was still with me. Frantic, I pointed at Gary, giving him the sign to open his mike. I needed feedback from someone, and I didn't want to pull words from Tom if he didn't feel like making small talk.
"My kids," I said, giving Gary purposeful direction. "They're something, aren't they?"
Gary shot me a deer-in-the-headlights look through the window, then leaned into his mike. "Your daughter's a wonderful girl."
I sent him a grateful smile. "Yes, she is. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the seldom-heard voice of Gary Ripley, my producer. Gary's listening, too, Tom, and we're going to get you some help."
"I don't want help." Tom's whisper was faint and flat, the voice of defeat. "Thanks for trying, Dr. Diana, but if you'll just tell my wife why I did it-"
"My son, however, loves having his mother around-then again, he's only five." I pressed on, not wanting to give Tom an opportunity to sign off. If I could keep him listening, even arouse a little indignation, the emergency rescue personnel Gary had called-please, God, let no snafus arise on that end-would have time to reach my distraught caller.
I rattled on as if I hadn't heard Tom's last words. "Most five-year-olds are wise enough to realize they didn't spring from the primordial ooze and parents had something to do with their appearance on earth. My daughter, on the other hand, has decided that eighteen equals complete maturity and she should be allowed to do as she pleases."
Gary's wide eyes warned me away from the topic-talk of the tumultuous teen years would not comfort a suicidal caller.
I backed away and tried another approach. "What's your daughter's name, Tom?"
He hesitated, cleared his throat, then said, "Casey."
"That's a lovely name. Is she your only child?"
"Children are wonderful, aren't they? I didn't think I would ever be a mother. My husband and I were married five years before we became parents, and our first child arrived through adoption. For three years we tried to create a biological child, then the doctors told us the odds of pregnancy were pretty much one in a million. So because we wanted a baby more than a pregnancy, we adopted our beautiful daughter. I thought our family was complete, but apparently God had other ideas. Twelve years later, surprise! The rabbit died-or, in this technologically advanced age, I suppose I should say the home pregnancy test proved positive. My husband and I found ourselves on the receiving end of an unexpected pregnancy, and now when I look at my son I see undeniable proof that God still works miracles. My boy is a little angel, as delightful as any kid you'd ever want to meet . . . and I'll bet he's a lot like your Casey."
I glanced toward the control room, hoping Gary would have some sort of update for me, but he had turned away, concentrating on whatever he was telling someone on the phone. His voice was a dull murmur in my headphones, not clear enough for me to catch his words.
Without missing a beat, I returned to the tale of my family's creation, a story I'd told a number of times at pro-life rallies and mother-daughter banquets. For security reasons I rarely talked about my family on the air, but this was an exceptional occasion.
"I love my children, Tom, and I'm sure you love your Casey, too. I'd lay down my life for my kids, no doubt about it, but I know it's also important that I be there for them. Because I want to be around for my daughter's wedding, I try to eat right and exercise a couple of times a week. Because I want to be able to play ball with my son, I don't smoke. In a way, I guess you could say I'm living for them-and I know you are, too. When parents love their children, living for them just comes naturally. Wouldn't you agree?"
More sniffling sounds, followed by a muffled, "Yeah."
"That's great, Tom. I'm glad you feel that way, too." I forced what I hoped was a relaxed laugh. "Just this morning my little boy bounced into my room and woke me by covering my face with kisses. At first I thought I was dreaming, but when I opened my eyes, he was standing beside me in his little pajamas, dragging his monkey by one arm. I asked what he was doing, and he said, 'I'm kissing you good morning, Mommy. You kiss me good night, don't you?'"
My next laugh wasn't at all forced. "Isn't that sweet, Tom? I'll bet your Casey sometimes does things like that." I narrowed my eyes, listening intently, then smiled when I heard his reply.
"Yeah, sometimes she does. She likes to stand on my feet when we dance. 'Course it's not really dancing-it's me rocking back and forth while she stands on my boots and hangs on to keep from falling off."
Frantic hand-waving from Gary's window caught my eye. He pointed toward Chad, who was holding up a sign: SWAT TEAM OUTSIDE THE HOUSE.
I closed my eyes as my uneasiness shifted into a deeper and more immediate fear.
"Tom, I need you to do something for me. You called today to talk, and I've enjoyed our conversation very much. But I'm in the business of providing help, so we have done our best to help you. I've just learned some people have arrived outside your house."
"What kind of people?" An edge in his voice verged on the threatening. Apparently Tom couldn't see out a window from where he stood.
"Well, your wife and daughter are out there, right? You said they were outside. Have they come back into the house?"
"Nobody's come in."
"Did you hear the car leave?"
"I didn't hear anything. The windows are closed, 'cause it's cold outside."
He definitely wasn't calling from Florida.
"I'm glad it's quiet. Listen, Tom, I want you to put the phone down and go outside to see if your daughter and wife are still in the driveway. But before you go, promise me you'll leave your gun on the kitchen table-we wouldn't want to frighten Casey with it, would we?"
The edge melted away, leaving only soft concern. "I wouldn't want to do that."
"Fine. Leave the gun on the table, Tom, and step out the front door. Make sure Casey is okay and give her a hug for me."
I winced as the phone rattled against something hard-probably the kitchen counter-and the studio went silent as we held our breaths and listened. Perhaps this was the one occasion where dead air would not be a curse.
I slid my hand toward the next button, wondering if we should go to commercial in case something went drastically wrong. I glanced at Gary, who was staring up at the clock, counting the seconds. Ten . . . fifteen . . . twenty.
Hurt people . . . hurt people.
How long would it take to subdue a man? Surely longer than it would take to shoot one . . .
I glanced at the computer screen. Chad had cued a station promo to run next. In five more seconds I would hit the next button and go with the promo, but-
Gary's voice buzzed in my ear. "Diana? Why are you waiting?"
"I don't know why I'm waiting." I spoke into the mike, filling some of the dead air. "I just think I should."
We heard sounds-muffled voices, a shout, and odd clunking noises. I flinched as a new male voice rumbled over the phone line. "Is this Dr. Diana?"
"It is. Who are you?"
"Sergeant Michelson, of the Memphis police. We're in the house."
"And Tom? The man I was speaking to?"
"One of our officers subdued him, and he's safe. We're taking him to a hospital for a psych exam."
From the control booth, Chad triumphantly punched the next button, and a glance at the clock told me why he'd been quick to cut off the conversation. Local news aired at the top and bottom of every hour, and a suicidal man in Memphis, Tennessee, didn't qualify as local news.
I picked up the receiver to continue my conversation with the police officer. "We're off the air now, Sergeant. Were the wife and daughter outside?"
"They were gone by the time we arrived. But after the 911 call came in, we kept listening to your show so we'd know what was happening inside the house. When he went out the front door, two of our people went in the back to secure the weapon."
"Thank goodness." I leaned back in my chair as relief flooded my bones. "And you'll make sure he gets help? Unless he does, he may try something again, Sergeant. And suicidal people don't always use a gun."
The cop's short bark of laughter had a bitter edge. "Tell me something I don't know, Doc. But thanks for your help."
I hung up the phone, then paused to bow my head. As the newscaster in the next studio read the news, I exhaled a deep breath and let the Spirit pray for me. The best I could manage was a heartfelt, "Thank you, Lord, for averting a tragedy."
When I finally looked up, I leaned into the mike to ask Chad to run the long promo and a two-minute sound bite after the news. I needed a quick trip to the ladies' room and a splash of cold water on my wrists.
I slipped off the tall, padded chair and moved toward the doorway, waving to Gary as I left. If the SWAT team had fired upon Tom or he'd gone outside with his gun, that call would have resulted in an unmitigated disaster . . .
Heaven had smiled on me this morning.