In Blameless, a psychological thriller set in Boston’s Back Bay, psychologist Diana Marcus must fight to save her good name, career, and marriage when a patient, James Hutchins—who suffers from borderline personality disorder—commits suicide, and his family files charges of malpractice, sexual abuse, and wrongful death against her. Although she is far from blameless, Diana clears her name by proving that James did not commit suicide—a revelation that throws her into a battle for her life, as well as that of her unborn child, when she becomes the prime suspect in James’s murder—and perhaps the real murderer’s next victim.
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By B. A. Shapiro
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 B.A. Shapiro
All rights reserved.
Anderson Street was as steep as they come in Boston, lined by narrow townhouses with tin bays that had been tenements in the late nineteenth century. Diana Marcus was winded from both fear and exertion by the time she reached the edge of the crowd, which, despite the growing autumn chill and lengthening shadows, was large and buzzed with a hushed, ugly excitement.
"Big mother shotgun."
Diana's stomach lurched, and she staggered into a tall man who smelled of gasoline. He gently righted her and asked if she was okay. She nodded and elbowed deeper into the crowd, trying not to listen to the ghoulish chatter, even as she strained to catch every word.
"One hell of a way to do yourself in. Me, I'd take a handful of pills. Use a handgun—a magnum—anything but a shotgun, for God's sake."
"Dude must've been crazy."
"Some yuppie stockbroker, I heard."
Diana's breathing became more labored as she worked her way along the sidewalk. She looked up at James's house, and bile filled her mouth: The building was cordoned off with yellow tape.
"My sister-in-law's brother is the cop standing next to that cruiser," said a small woman in jeans as she juggled a toddler in her arms. "Told me it's a real gory mess in there—blood everywhere, bone even." The woman clucked her tongue and raised her voice. "On the walls."
Diana moved on quickly. She had to know what had happened. She had to know if James was still alive. But when she reached the front of the house, the young policeman on guard wouldn't let her through. "Can't do it," he told her, not unkindly. "The sarge'll have my head."
"I'm James Hutchins's doctor," she said, omitting that she was a psychologist, not a physician. "I just got a call."
The policeman lifted the tape, and Diana slipped under it. Standing on the cracked, steeply inclined sidewalk, she stared blankly at the scraggly geraniums flopping in the window box next door. The tumult disoriented her; for a moment she couldn't imagine what she was doing here or where to go next. It had been only a few hours since she had last stood on this very spot, only a few hours since James's incredible stubbornness had caused her to stomp from this house in frustration.
"It's okay," the policeman called. "You can go on in."
Diana nodded and walked resolutely up the granite steps and into the recessed doorway. She took a deep breath and pulled the scarred wooden door toward her. Then she marched into the dingy entryway and climbed the stairs to James's apartment.
This morning the building had been as silent and shadowy as a tomb. Now it bustled with voices and light and the unintelligible babble of two-way radios. A uniformed policewoman raced down the stairs, followed by a tall man in an ill-fitting suit who had the look of a cop. They glanced at Diana as she approached them; she put on her doctor face, and they let her pass. Three medics on the landing argued about the best way to maneuver a stretcher down the narrow stairs as blue lights from the street strobed through the dirty window above the stairway. There was a sharp, acrid bite to the air, but Diana also detected an animal-like smell that she didn't want to think about.
James's apartment was at the top of the stairs, and the door was wide open. As Diana reached the landing she could see down the narrow hallway and into the living room, although it was partly obstructed by swarms of people and medical equipment. Then the two policemen who had been talking in the living room doorway separated, and Diana gasped. There was a stretcher in the middle of the floor with a body on it. It had to be James. And he was covered with a sheet. She gagged and put her hand to her mouth.
"Hey, are you all right?" The young policeman from outside came up behind her.
Diana stared at the shiny badge on his chest. Number 247. Cameras flashed from inside the apartment, and for a moment she felt a flicker of relief: for herself and for James. Then she was overcome with a sadness so deep that it gouged at the center of her being. Sadness for James's loss, for his brilliance unfulfilled. Sadness for her own loss: never to see him, or talk to him, or hope to help him again. She was overwhelmed by guilt at her hand in it all. "What—what happened?"
"Can't tell for sure yet." The policeman shrugged. "But his head's pretty much gone and there are powder burns on his foot."
"My guess is he pulled the trigger with his toe."
Diana gripped the stair railing, unable to push away the image of James calmly considering all the details of such a bizarre death scene.
The policeman nodded. "It's been done before."
Diana felt nausea push up through her body. She gagged again.
The policeman took a step closer, glancing nervously at her slightly protruding stomach. "I thought you were a doctor." When she didn't say anything, he took her arm. "Better come with me, ma'am. Get some air."
She nodded but didn't move, her eyes riveted to the stretcher, to the two feet that dangled from below the edge of the sheet. The left foot was covered with one of the paints-plattered running shoes James always wore. The right one was bare.
She leaned into the policeman and groaned, seeing those sneakers pacing her office, tapping against the side of a chair. Seeing those feet, along with her own, leaving a wake of soft impressions in the tall grass of the Public Gardens on a long-ago summer day.
Diana watched one of the medics raise the stretcher while the other unfolded a black body bag. Before they could put James into that awful sack, before they could zip him into that airless cocoon, Diana turned and ran from the building.CHAPTER 2
The days following James's death reminded Diana of the time after her sister Nina's accident, when Nina lay pale and motionless, her tiny frame dwarfed by the adultsized hospital bed. Every evening Diana and her older brother, Scott, went with their parents to Mount Sinai Hospital. They sang to Nina, held her hand, and told her the news of the day. And then, exactly one month after the accident, Nina just stopped breathing, dying without ever regaining consciousness. Diana was eight and Nina four.
Then, as now, it was as if Diana went through her days encapsulated in petroleum jelly, existing at 33 rpm while everyone else raced by at 45. The nights were even worse. For although she knew it was impossible, she felt as if she hadn't slept since the suicide. Suicide. It was such an ugly word. She stared up at the dark ceiling and watched the fuzzy arcs of dawn light seep around the top edge of the bedroom drapes. Now she could get up and stop pretending there was a chance she would fall back to sleep.
Waves of pain washed over her, and she closed her eyes again. How could she have made so many mistakes? She should never have terminated her therapy sessions with James last summer, despite the personal and professional danger in which his bizarre actions put her, despite the advice of her colleagues, her friends, and her husband. She should never have referred him to Alan Martinson, allowing herself to believe that by furnishing him with another therapist, she had fulfilled her obligation, as if he were a dog left for a neighbor to feed and walk while she was on vacation. And she should have known better than to let herself fall so eagerly into the "great rescuer" role, allowing James's success to define her own, linking—and securing—their failures.
She had been his therapist for three years, three years of the hardest and best work she had ever done, three years in which she had made some of her biggest blunders. "Words are incapable of describing the density of my desolation when I am not with you," James had written to her when she and Craig had gone to Cape Cod for a week last June. And knowing that, feeling his neediness resonating within her, she had still let him go. She had abandoned him. Thrust him away. Just as they all had done before her: his mother, his father, his sister, Uncle Hank. But Diana, the great rescuer, had been the one whose abandonment had delivered James into his final hell.
It had seemed so easy in the beginning. In her mind's eye she could see James as he had been the first day he came to her office, leaning awkwardly against the doorjamb, tall and thin and gawky, his chiseled good looks capturing her complete attention. "Hi, Doc," he had said, shy and bumbling and slightly devilish all at the same time. "Big Sister tells me you're the one who can fix me up."
She hadn't been able to keep from smiling at the perfect pacing of his delivery, at the way his characterization of Jill so drolly captured both his sister's power and her absurdity. Diana had liked him immediately.
The failure, the guilt, and the loss twisted like spikes in her gut. She called out, and her eyes flew open. Craig stirred, and Diana gently pressed her hand to the thick muscles of her husband's upper arm, drawing strength from his closeness. Craig would never be called handsome; his nose had been broken one too many times during his high school football years, and his eyebrows were too bushy. But he was a sexy man: tall and big and kind. He smiled easily and always saw the glass as half-full. Children and animals loved him. As did Diana.
Craig turned and pulled her to him. Sweet with sleep, he nuzzled the back of her neck and snuggled her into the warm curve of his body. "Sleep any better?" he asked when they were molded together like a pair of nested spoons.
"A little," Diana said, not wanting to worry him.
He gently traced her jaw with his finger. "You were tossing around an awful lot."
She took his hand and rubbed it against her cheek. "I just have to get through feeling lousy," she said. "Eventually I'll get tired of all this guilt—and then it'll go away."
Craig chuckled low in his throat. "Letting go of guilt isn't one of your strong suits."
"I know, I know," Diana said. "And Nina wasn't my fault either." But inside her heart of hearts, Diana knew that James's death had been her fault. Just as her sister Nina's had been. She shivered, and Craig wound his arms around her more tightly.
"You can't blame yourself whenever something bad happens to someone close to you."
"But I feel so responsible—"
"Shush," he said, slipping his hand inside her nightgown and cupping her breast lightly. "You're a wonderful, caring therapist. You're sensitive"—he kissed the back of her neck—"responsive." He gently turned her toward him. "You've helped lots of people—and you'll help lots more."
Diana pulled her nightgown over her head and pressed herself closer to him, aching with pain and desire. She began to cry softly.
He kissed her eyes and her lips and her wet cheeks. "You can't rescue everybody," he murmured, rubbing the small of her back in deep, soothing circles. "Nobody can."
"I know." She buried her head in his chest. "I know." Then she was caught up in his hands and his mouth and his body. And, for a few luxurious moments, everything else disappeared.
Afterward Diana lay quietly, safely entwined in, and protected by, Craig's love. But all too quickly the world they had managed to hold momentarily at bay rushed back at her. James had killed himself. She touched Craig's cheek. "Mind if I take the first shower?" she asked.
He kissed her and then reached for the remote control on his night table. "Go ahead," he said, pointing the remote at the television. "I'll catch the news."
Diana went into the bathroom and threw cold water on her face. James was dead, and today she had to go to his funeral. No amount of love or sex or consoling words could change the facts. She pressed the cool washcloth to her eyes. Well, she didn't exactly have to go to the funeral. It wasn't as if she would know anybody there. Except for James's sister, Jill, and Diana was certain that Jill would be more than happy if she stayed away. She climbed into the shower.
Standing under the pounding water, Diana wished the shower could wash away her indecision along with the shampoo. Maybe she would just forget the whole thing. Twisting the faucet off, she stood for a moment in the silent, steamy tub. She had to go. She needed the formality of the funeral service. And she needed to say good-bye.
Diana dressed quickly, but instead of going down to the kitchen, she found herself in the nursery, thinking, not for the first time, that she had probably been the last person to see James alive. She shivered and rubbed her arms, looking around the room. Except for a solitary moving carton on the floor, the nursery was white and empty, a blank backdrop awaiting its character. The rising sun bounced slivers of light off the newly varnished floor, and an imperfection in one of the old windowpanes refracted a wavy rainbow over the closet. Diana suddenly realized that the last time she had been in this room, exulting in her own joy at the coming baby, James must have been pulling the trigger.
The day of the suicide had been wild even before she had received the phone call, a roller-coaster of highs and lows: her futile argument with James in the morning; the good news from the doctor; her colleague Adrian Arnold tearing her preliminary research results to shreds during their lunchtime peer supervisory meeting. After the meeting Diana had wandered around Copley Place, troubled by James's intractability, worried that perhaps Adrian was right, and overwhelmed with joy at Dr. Jasset's news that the amniocentesis results showed the baby was healthy and female.
She thought she would buy something special for the baby or the nursery—purchases they had been postponing until after the tests—but had found herself too agitated to make even the smallest decision. So she had gone home and tried to work on her research. But that too had proved futile, and after a couple of hours of twirling her pencil and staring blankly at computer printouts, she had climbed the stairs to the nursery.
Diana looked at the carton sitting in the middle of the empty room; it was just as she had left it that afternoon when the phone had rung. "You better come quick, Dr. Marcus," a gravelly voice had ordered. "To James's. He's tried to kill himself again. And this time it looks like he did the job right."
"Who is this?" she had demanded. "What's happened?" But the line clicked dead in her ear. For a long moment Diana had looked at the silent phone in her hand as if it were an alien being. When the dial tone began to buzz across the wire, she slammed the receiver down. James. She had to leave the nursery and the happiness it stood for. She had to go to James.
But the nursery was here now, silently urging her to reclaim her joy, to forget about James. Diana touched the slight curve of her stomach and looked up at the rainbow. The riot of strong colors confirmed Craig's decision to use primaries for the fantasy mural he was going to paint on the walls. And, Diana thought, the rainbow could be seen as a harbinger of their bright future.
Kneeling down, she reached for the carton of baby clothes her mother had sent the last time she had been pregnant. The carton she hadn't been able to look at—let alone open—for almost two years. Lifting the lid, Diana thought of the years of infertility, the ectopic pregnancy, the doctors' consensus that she would never be able to have children. Even with Craig's unerring support, she had used her career as a refuge during that painful time. Her success as a psychologist became an antidote to her sterility, as well as an outlet for her need to nurture. But now there was a healthy baby growing in her womb.
The scent of pressed cotton and baby powder and her own childhood wafted up to her. Gently, almost reverently, she lifted a layer of tissue paper. The paper was yellow and crackled under her fingers, but beneath it lay a baby-blue dress with pink and white smocking. The embroidery thread was satiny smooth to her touch, and her eyes filled with tears. She remembered Nina wearing this dress, but her mother had told her that she, Diana, had worn it also.
Pressing the dress to her cheek, drinking in its memories and its promise, Diana felt her career recede to its proper position in her life. Being a psychologist was no longer her only defining role. Suddenly she saw that Adrian's cutting critique of her research methodology was more likely due to his jealousy than to any errors she might have made. And James's death had been the inevitable result of his illness, not her own personal failure. Carefully returning the tiny dress to the carton, Diana promised herself that she would come back here after the funeral. She would go and say good-bye to James Hutchins. Then she would get on with the rest of her life.
Excerpted from Blameless by B. A. Shapiro. Copyright © 1995 B.A. Shapiro. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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