Read an Excerpt
By C. E. LAWRENCE
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2010 C. E. Lawrence
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe phone call was unexpected-unbidden and out of the blue. It took him so much by surprise that Lee Campbell found himself stumbling for words. The last thing he expected on a Friday night was a call from a former patient-and certainly not this former patient.
"Is this Dr. Lee Campbell?" The voice was high and breathy, petulance lurking underneath the seductiveness, like a bad Marilyn Monroe impersonator. He recognized it at once.
"Uh-yes." Yes, Ana, he wanted to say, but some part of him still hoped that it wasn't her.
But of course it was.
"This is Ana Watkins."
"Oh, yes-hello, Ana. How are you?" His professionalism clicked in automatically, keeping his tone steady and objective-or so he hoped.
"I'm downstairs-can I come up and see you?"
"At McSorley's, actually."
How did she know where he lived?
As if reading his mind, she said, "You're in the directory."
Not true, but never mind. His explanation that he wasn't in private practice anymore didn't seem to put her off. She insisted that she wouldn't take up much of his time, but that it was very important to her.
"Please? I wouldn't ask, but-"
But what? he thought irritably. You didn't cause enough trouble the first time around?
"I'll come down and meet you at McSorley's."
"It's too loud in here," she said, and he could hear the din of clanking glasses and boisterous laughter in the background. McSorley's was always loud on a Friday night.
He glanced at the clock. It was just after six.
"I have a dinner meeting at seven."
"I won't take long-I promise."
He peered out the window down at the street. It was August, but as evening drew in a cold rain whipped the naked branches of the trees on East Seventh Street. They shivered in the chilly gusts, shaking like frightened skeletons. He caught a glimpse of his own ghostly image staring back at him-curly black hair, angular face, intense, deep-set eyes. He knew it was a face many women considered handsome, and wished that Ana Watkins weren't one of them.
Lee had an impulse to pour himself a Scotch, but decided against it-he needed his mind clear for the encounter. When the downstairs bell rang he took a deep breath and buzzed her into the building.
Her footsteps on the carpeted stairs were light and quick, the tread of a young person. He opened the door and fixed a smile on his face. She entered in a cloud of lilac perfume, and as soon as he breathed the aroma, he inhaled the memories of that time in his life along with it. It all felt so long ago.
She had changed very little-tall and thin and so pale that she always reminded him of an albino. She wasn't an albino, she had told him in their first session together, but her pallid skin lacked the shade and depth of ordinary skin; it looked two dimensional, like paper. She wasn't exactly pretty-her nose was too big and her lips were too thin-but she was striking, and she knew it.
She took in the apartment with one nervous glance, probably noticing more than she appeared to. Lee remembered her IQ was 160, or so she had claimed. That could have been a fiction, of course-much of what she had told him was. She was one of his earliest patients, and he had not yet acquired the skill of seeing through the myriad lies and obfuscations of the narcissistic personality. Still, there was no doubt that Ana was bright-very bright. Her sessions may have been frustrating, but at least they were never dull.
She slipped off her gray raincoat and dangled it from her outstretched arm, as though she expected Lee to take it from her. That was so like her-her helplessness always had an aggressive quality, and she could turn even a small gesture like removing her coat into a demand. Evidently years of therapy had failed to change this. He suppressed a sigh and took the coat, hanging it on the antique bentwood coatrack his mother had found at an estate sale in Bucks County.
"Do you have any coffee?" she asked, rubbing her thin hands together and blowing on them.
Another demand. Lee was flooded with relief that they would not be continuing their sessions together. He had always done his best to disguise one of the uglier truths of the therapeutic relationship: there were some patients he just didn't like. If his enmity toward a patient ever threatened to compromise his effectiveness, he would find an excuse to suggest they seek out another therapist, but in the case of Ana Watkins, his dislike of her didn't become entirely apparent to him until after their last session together.
"I can make some coffee," he said in response to her question, though from the way her fingers twitched and her eyes roamed restlessly around the room, he thought coffee was the last thing she needed.
"Never mind-I'll be all right," she replied, the familiar tone of self-dramatization in her voice, as if instead of coffee, she were speaking of a rare and lifesaving drug.
"It's no trouble at all," Lee insisted. He wasn't going to let her win this first stab at manipulation-she had requested coffee, and coffee she would have.
Instead of thanking him, she tossed her tiny red leather knapsack on the nearest chair and flopped down on it as though this were her apartment, not his. It was, of course, his favorite chair-but that was probably why she had instinctively chosen it.
"Make yourself at home," he said, knowing she couldn't miss the sarcasm in his voice. He turned and went into the kitchen, glad for the opportunity to collect his thoughts and steel himself for what could be a very sticky conversation. Ana Watkins was, he felt, his first major failure as a therapist.
She was also the first patient who tried to seduce him.
And she had tried hard-very hard-and very nearly succeeded. And now she was sprawled out in his living room, in his favorite armchair, with God knows what in mind. He wasn't normally afraid of his patients-even the violent ones-but he was afraid of Ana Watkins. There was something about her, an undercurrent of needy malice, which had made it very difficult to be her therapist. Even her attempted seduction had been more of a conquest, like a declaration of war.
As the coffee beans rattled around in the Krups grinder, he wondered what had brought her here, and whether she would tell him the truth or only her version of it. When the coffee grinder stopped, the silence made him wonder what she was up to in the living room. He shoved the filter into the coffeemaker, dumped some water in, jabbed at the ON switch, and ducked back into the living room.
Sure enough, she was standing in front of his bookshelf, a thick volume of poetry in her hands. Like a lot of narcissists, she had boundary issues: what was yours was hers, as far as she was concerned. As he entered, she turned and smiled at him, one lock of blond hair falling artfully over her pale blue eyes. He wouldn't have put it past her to have planned that moment the whole time she was standing there. If she inclined her head just so, the hair would fall over her eyes, and then all she needed was to cap it with that sultry, come-hither smile.
"You have a lot of poetry here," she commented, still smiling.
"I like poetry." He tried to keep his voice neutral, to avoid showing his irritation.
"I guess so," she said, slipping the book back into its place on the shelf. Lee recognized the jacket-it was his Anthology of English Verse, from his days at Princeton. He knew its contents well: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Maxwell, William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience. The young woman before him could have been cast as Oothoon herself, with her wispy, waspish body-except that she was only pretending to be innocent. Experience had hardened her into something else entirely.
He poured them both generous mugs of steaming coffee and brought them out on a tray, along with the lead crystal cream pitcher and sugar bowl-more of his mother's estate sale coups.
"Nice crystal," Ana commented, helping herself to a heaping spoon of sugar and following it up with a lavish amount of cream.
"Thanks," Lee answered. To another guest, he might have mentioned the amusing anecdote of his mother's triumphal purchase, but with Ana he instinctively played his cards close. He sat on the couch opposite her and sipped his coffee.
Sticking her long nose deep into the mug, Ana slurped up the coffee greedily, and to his surprise, it did seem to calm her. Her bony shoulders relaxed, and her thin body seemed to soften. He realized only then how stiffly she had been holding herself. She shook herself, like a dog flinging excess water from its coat. Clutching the mug between her long fingers, she looked at him through lank blond bangs.
"You're probably dying to know why I'm here."
Lee noted the familiar, overly dramatic phrasing of the chronically narcissistic, but all he said was, "Yes, I am curious."
She looked around, gulped down some more coffee, and leaned in toward him.
"I've recently recovered memories of-being sexually abused."
A dozen questions darted through his mind, but all he said was, "Really?"
"At first I wasn't sure. It was just this one dream that kept repeating itself, you know, so I found a specialist in buried memories, and I've been working with him for about a year-and then one day I woke up sure of it."
Lee wasn't sure how to respond. He didn't entirely trust so-called recovered memories. Though repressed memory was a real, documented response to trauma, there was a subset of "specialists" in this field who, through a combination of subtle suggestion and hypnosis, could convince patients that they were the victims of anything from ritual satanic abuse to alien abduction.
In Ana's case, of course, it would explain a lot: her belligerent girlishness, her passive-aggressive attitude toward men, her childlike affect. But there were other things that would explain these traits as well-and the subject of abuse had never come up in their sessions together.
"When was this?" Lee said.
"I don't have all the details yet. I think it happened when I was a child, and that it was someone I knew."
"But you're not sure?"
She shook her head. "I haven't been able to make out his face. But Dr. Perkins-he's my therapist-says it's only a matter of time."
"Why did you come to me? It sounds like Dr. Perkins knows what he's doing." What exactly he was doing was another matter, but Lee wasn't going to dive headlong into that particular tar baby. Professional etiquette aside, he had no wish to challenge a colleague's competence or motives based upon so little information.
Ana tightened her fingers around the handle of her mug.
"Of everything. I just have this feeling that something's going to happen."
"Is there any particular reason you should feel this way? Could it be a response to"-he hesitated-"the memory of your abuse?"
She frowned at her mug, as though it contained vinegar instead of coffee.
"That's what Dr. Perkins thinks."
"And what do you think?"
She got up and began pacing the room, restlessness running through her like an electrical current.
"I don't know what to think. I'm jumpy, I can't sleep. I see potential attackers around every corner. And not only that, but I think-well, I think someone is stalking me."
"You're sure you're not just-"
"No, see, that's the thing-I really think I'm being watched."
"What makes you say that?"
She sat down again on the armchair and wrapped her long arms around her thin torso, swaying back and forth, her lips clenched. Lee really did feel sorry for her. She looked like a lost girl right now, and he felt the urge to make everything all right. But immediately the warning sounded in his head: Steady on, Campbell. She's a first-class manipulator, and you know better.
He leaned back and forced himself to take another sip of coffee.
She looked up at him, her pale eyes tragic. "There have been some things happening, you know? Scary things."
"Like the phone ringing, but when I answer they hang up. And one time I know I left my car locked, but when I got out of the store it was unlocked."
"Was anything taken?"
"No, but I had the feeling someone had been in there."
"What about the phone calls-do you have caller ID?"
"Yes, but it always reads 'Unavailable.'"
"Do you still live in Jersey?"
"When my dad died last year I moved into his house."
"Oh, I'm so sorry for your loss." The words sounded like what they were-a stock phrase-but he hoped there was comfort in them anyway.
"Thanks." She looked down at her hand, the corners of her mouth twitching.
"He lived in Flemington, right?"
Flemington was in Hunterdon County, about ten miles away from Stockton, the town Lee grew up in and where his mother still lived. When Ana was his patient, they were both New Jersey residents, but that felt like another lifetime now.
"Yeah," she answered. "When he-uh, got sick, I tried to be there for him, you know...." She trailed off forlornly.
"So he left you the house?"
"Yeah. It's kind of big for me, but I don't think he wanted me to sell it."
"Is that what he said?"
She shook her head. "No, it's just that he loved that old house, and I feel like if I sold it he'd be sad."
Hunterdon County was full of charming old stone houses, some of them dating back to the eighteenth century. Lee imagined her father's house, tucked away among the green rolling hills of the southwestern Jersey landscape, with its fertile farmland, the rich black soil perfect for growing the famous Jersey tomatoes, and the sweet, sweet Silver Queen corn he loved so much as a child.
He looked back at Ana, who was chewing absently on the cuticle of her index finger.
"Is there anything else?"
"Yeah," she said, fishing around in the pocket of her green corduroy skirt. She had an unusual way of dressing that was all her own, Lee remembered-on her, even green corduroy looked stylish. Under the skirt she wore knee-high leather boots with sharp, pointy high heels.
"Here it is," she said, producing a crumpled piece of paper.
He took it and opened it up. It was a clumsy version of the kind of ransom note you might see on a cheaply produced television crime drama. The letters had all been cut from different parts of various magazines and pasted onto a plain sheet of white paper. RetrIbuTion is coMinG, it read. Prepare To meEt Your FAte." His first thought was that she might have created it herself, a ploy for the attention she had been seeking all her life to fill the cavernous hole in her soul. But a look at the terror in her eyes banished that thought from his head. She was genuinely frightened.
"Have you gone to the police?" he asked.
She waved off his suggestion as though it were an annoying insect.
"Jersey cops," she said, rolling her eyes. "Let us know when someone tries to kill you, and then maybe we'll be interested. Better yet-give us a call if you are actually murdered."
"They said that?"
"More or less. They made it clear they didn't want to be bothered."
"So you came to me."
"I didn't know what else to do," she moaned, the old petulance creeping into her voice. "Raymond-that's my boyfriend-he's really nice, but he's just a restaurant manager. He didn't know what to do either."
At the mention of her boyfriend, Lee breathed a bit more freely.
"I mean, you work with the police, right?" she said, her blue eyes imploring.
"Well, yes, but we don't have jurisdiction in New Jersey."
"But can't you-I mean, couldn't you investigate this on your own or something, without telling them?"
"Well, I'm not a detective-"
"But you're a criminal profiler, right?"
"I'm a forensic psychologist."
"Right-but you profile criminals, don't you?"
"Among other things. What do you expect me to do?"
"Find out who's stalking me. Do a profile on him-or whatever it is you do."
"Do you have any idea who it might be?"
She bit her lip and shook her head. "I've been trying to think of someone. My boyfriend before Raymond broke up with me, so I don't think it's him. And he was really sweet and everything, anyway."
"Does Raymond know you came to see me?"
She looked at him and frowned. "Am I terrible to not tell him? It's just that I didn't want him to worry."
Or get jealous in case you decide to try to seduce me again, Lee thought, but he said, "You shouldn't be keeping secrets from him right now-not when your life could be in danger."
"So-so you think it is?" she said, her voice wavering between fear and hope.
Excerpted from SILENT VICTIM by C. E. LAWRENCE Copyright © 2010 by C. E. Lawrence. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.