On the surface they are beautiful and talented. But few know of the harrowing darkness inside each of them, how close they are to losing their tenuous grip on sanity. Dr. Elias is their only hope. But he's dying. And he's made his cold, final judgment: Those he can't cure, he must kill.
For The Perfect Crime
In order for Dr. Elias's deadly prescription to succeed, none of the eight patients must know someone is stalking them, murdering them one by one. Even if they were to suspect that their lives are in danger, no one would believe them. But if there's any chance they can stay alive, they must face the madness within. . .
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By JOANNE FLUKE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1985 Joanne Fluke
All rights reserved.
Snow swirled past the office windows high above the city. The white, glittering particles seemed to have a life of their own, whirling gracefully above the city streets. The beauty of a snowflake was brief. Soon it would spiral inevitably downward to the street below, to turn to muddy slush under the wheels of traffic.
Dr. Elias opened his desk drawer and pulled out the list of alternate therapists he had prepared. These were the best psychiatrists in Minneapolis. He had to trust that they were competent to handle his patients. It would be inconceivable for one therapist to take over his entire group. That was a job only he could handle. His patients would be upset, but the group would have to be disbanded. He was forced to refer them individually to eight different therapists.
He would tell them tomorrow and give them the names of their new therapists. Out with the old and in with the new. It was appropriate for the season, but Dr. Elias doubted his patients would appreciate the irony. There would be tears and panic, but he would be firm. Tomorrow would be their last group meeting, and the last time they would see him alive.
He opened the first folder and read the neatly typed synopsis he had stapled inside. Kay Atchinson, age forty-two, wife of Charles Atchinson, mayor of Minneapolis. Diagnosis: paranoid schizophrenia.
A photo was clipped to the sheet of medical background. Kay was a pretty black woman dressed in an expensive, well-cut suit, hair carefully styled. Everything about Kay was careful, from her fashionable but not pretentious home on Lake Harriet to her studious, well-mannered children. In the fall of 1980 Kay had been under a lot of pressure, caught between a conservative political party and the radical black caucus. Charles had made public his plans to run for the Senate, and both Kay and Charles had anticipated the governor's endorsement. It had been a shock when the governor had backed out at the last minute. The time wasn't right, he'd stated. It would split the party. The governor was sorry, but he felt obligated to endorse a white candidate.
The night of the announcement Kay had put a gun in her purse. She'd planned to assassinate the governor. He was a racist, just as the black caucus claimed. Luckily Kay had been intercepted by Charles, who'd managed to keep the news from the press. After his wife had had two months of unsuccessful therapy in another state, Charles had called in Dr. Elias. Now, after over four years of therapy, Kay was functioning well as the mayor's wife. Dr. Elias had successfully sublimated her hostility, but if the defense mechanism failed, Kay could be dangerous.
Dr. Elias selected a therapist for Kay and wrote a referral. The new psychiatrist might help Kay maintain a cloak of normalcy. Of course, no one but Dr. Elias could cure her.
The next folder was thicker. It contained years of notes. Greg Davenport, age twenty-three. Single. Diagnosis: pyromania.
Greg had not smiled for the camera. His elbow was propped on a table and his chin rested on his hand. A handsome young man with dark, intense eyes. Greg had the world by the tail, as far as anyone knew. His inheritance was considerable, and now Greg was making a name for himself as a songwriter. No one knew much about Greg's childhood, no one but Dr. Elias. And certainly no one but Dr. Elias knew that Greg had set the fire that had killed his father.
Dr. Elias remembered the day, eleven years ago, when the trustees of the Davenport estate had called him in to examine Greg. The boy had been twelve years old, his slight frame making a barely discernible bulge under the maroon hospital blankets. His face had been pale, eyes turned inward, seeming not to notice Dr. Elias at all as he'd conducted the examination. Greg had been catatonic, unable to move or speak. He'd been like that since the night his father had died.
After long months of treatment, Greg had finally broken his silence with a tortured confession. He had set the fire in a desperate bid for attention. He'd been lonely after his mother's death, and his father had been more interested in women and wild parties than he'd been in Greg. The boy hadn't realized the small fire would spread so quickly, and he'd been horrified at what he had done.
As Greg's therapy had progressed, Dr. Elias had discovered he was dealing with a classic pyromaniac. Fire excited Greg. It made him feel powerful and compensated for his low self-esteem. Now, after eleven years of therapy, Greg's pyromania was under control. Dr. Elias had taught him socially acceptable ways to satisfy his need for power. But Greg was not cured. Under stress Greg could revert to setting fires that could kill anyone caught in their path.
Greg needed good maintenance therapy. Dr. Elias consulted his list and finally settled on a compassionate young doctor with the University Medical Facility. Now two of his patients were referred. Dr. Elias picked up the third folder and massaged the back of his neck as he read his notes.
Debra Fields, age thirty, widow of Steve Fields, newspaper correspondent. Diagnosis: postpartum depression, complicated by severe melancholia leading to a psychotic episode of kidnapping.
Debra faced the camera squarely, her classic features perfectly balanced. She was a beautiful woman who took pains to appear ordinary. Her short brown hair was cut in a no-nonsense style, large green eyes hidden behind tortoiseshell glasses. Her blouse was severely tailored, without lace or frills. Debra's femininity was masked by an aloof, professional exterior, but Dr. Elias knew it was fear that made her appear cold and unapproachable.
Four years ago, when he had first met her, Debra had been in restraints, screaming for her baby. She had totally lost contact with reality. The shock of her husband's death on assignment in El Salvador had sent Debra into premature labor. The baby had survived for a month, but then died suddenly in the night. Driven frantic by her grief, Debra had kidnapped another baby from the hospital nursery and fled in a cab to the airport. When the authorities had found her, she'd insisted she was taking her baby to her husband in El Salvador. The infant Debra had abducted was unharmed and the parents did not press charges. After Debra had received several weeks of unsuccessful therapy at the hospital, Dr. Elias had been called in by her employer, the Minneapolis Tribune. Since Debra's husband had been on assignment for the Tribune when he was killed, and because of her own employment by the Tribune, the newspaper had assumed the responsibility for her medical bills.
It had taken six months of intensive therapy to bring Debra back to her empty reality. After a year she'd been able to return to her work as a photojournalist. Dr. Elias used a process of substitution in Debra's therapy. A doll took the place of her baby; whenever Debra felt anxious, she rocked and cuddled her placebo. Even though Debra was performing well at work, her personal life was a void. She was afraid of social contact, afraid to get involved with anyone on a personal level. Unless she continued her therapy, Debra's depression could deepen and trigger another psychotic episode.
The list of therapists that had seemed so inexhaustible held only one option for Debra. The Psychiatric Institute had a pilot program for parents who had lost their children. Dr. Elias wrote the referral and moved to the next file.
The next case was critical. Dr. Elias read over his notes and frowned. Doug Sandall, age thirty-six, wife and children deceased. Diagnosis: suicidal depression.
Doug's sandy hair and clear blue eyes gave him a boyish appearance. To his coworkers at MilStar, he appeared to be a conscientious pilot, never complaining about long back-to-back flights. Only Dr. Elias knew the fear and the compulsion that rode with Doug, thousands of feet above the ground. Six years ago Doug had flown his wife and small daughter to Detroit, to visit relatives. The plane had crashed in a sudden storm, killing Doug's family. Doug's friends said it was a miracle he wasn't injured, but Doug thought it was a curse. He still relived the accident in his dreams, agonizing over whether there was some way he could have avoided the tragedy. He had killed his family and he should have died with them.
Flying was Doug's life, and after a month of intensive therapy, Dr. Elias decided it was safe to let him return to work. Now Doug had five years seniority at MilStar Corporation and a reputation as a dependable, dedicated pilot. Only Dr. Elias knew that Doug needed continual therapy to keep his suicidal tendencies under control.
The Swiss clock on the bookshelf chimed the hour softly as Dr. Elias completed Doug's file. He pushed back his leather chair and got stiffly to his feet. There was a dull pain in his abdomen, which he decided to ignore. If he took the powerful analgesic now, he would not be alert enough to finish his referrals.
With slow, careful steps, Dr. Elias crossed to the window. The pain diminished a bit as he stood looking out at the city. From his penthouse apartment, he had a view of the entire downtown area. Lights gleamed from the offices in the Foshay Tower and the surrounding buildings. The copper dome of the Basilica of St. Mary stood stark and solid against the darkening sky. A plane flew high above the skyline in the wide flight pattern that would take it to World-Chamberlain Airport, midway between Minneapolis and St. Paul. And far off in the distance he could see the strings of headlights on the freeways that encircled the Twin Cities. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and traffic was heavy. People were leaving work early to avoid the rush. The grocery stores would be packed tonight. Turkeys and cranberries would be in short supply. Tomorrow was the traditional day of celebration and feasting, and on Friday the downtown area would be crowded with Christmas shoppers. The Friday after Thanksgiving was the heaviest shopping day of the year.
Softly falling snow covered the grimy streets with a frozen blanket of white, and the traffic slowed on Marquette Avenue below. The double glass window was cold to the touch as Dr. Elias watched in the gathering gloom. The temperature would be in the low twenties tonight. In a few weeks the mercury would drop to the below-zero figures hardy Minnesotans had learned to endure. This was the last winter he would see. Suddenly the icy streets with their early Christmas decorations seemed oddly dear to him.
This year Christmas fell on a Tuesday. A bitter smile crossed Dr. Elias's face. Celebrating a holiday on a weekday had always made him feel vaguely guilty. The week was for working, and Christmas was an excuse for a lot of commercial nonsense. This year he was spared his guilt. His work was nearly over. By Christmas his patients would be resigned to life without him.
Two men in parkas and moon boots were putting the finishing touches on the strings of lights that decorated the roof of the Northwestern National Bank Building. Cables of bulbs were anchored to a huge circle on the roof and met at the top of a pole, thirty feet high. Dr. Elias saw the workmen step back and signal to someone below. A moment later there was a blaze of multicolor brilliance as the switch was thrown and a mammoth Christmas tree appeared against the night sky.
This would be his last Christmas, if he lived long enough to see it. The holiday was less than five weeks away. Chef Leon Lossing of the Orion Room was preparing a special holiday dinner for him, and Dr. Elias had been looking forward to it. Wild rice soup, lobster and sweetbreads with raspberry sauce, and black velvet torte for dessert. Dr. Elias smiled in anticipation.
It was convenient to have a fine restaurant in the same building. Every evening, at precisely five thirty, Jacques delivered and served his meal. Wednesday's menu was rack of lamb boulangère. Dr. Elias reminded himself to open a bottle of Château Margaux 1974 to complement the lamb.
Jacques had the perfect blend of deference and efficiency that Dr. Elias expected in a waiter. He would prepare Jacques's envelope with his yearly gratuity in advance this year, just in case.
On his way back to the desk, Dr. Elias turned on his favorite music. Gustav Mahler's Ninth Symphony would help him to concentrate. Mahler understood his anguish. He was a kindred soul. Mahler, too, knew torture and disappointment in his search for excellence.
There were four folders left. Dr. Elias flipped open the top file and stared at the photograph. The man's face was tanned and healthy—brown eyes, hair thinning slightly on top. His most striking characteristic was a wide smile that displayed a full set of perfect white teeth.
Jerry Feldman, age forty-four, married, no children. Diagnosis: sexual aberration—child molester.
Jerry was a successful dentist specializing in cosmetic reconstruction. He claimed that he had worked on every one of the city's leading newscasters. It was an in-joke. All the dentists in town knew they could switch to any channel to see Jerry's handiwork.
His wife, Dotty, was a typical midwestern woman, warm-hearted and eager for a house full of children. Jerry hadn't told her about his vasectomy. And Dotty knew nothing about Jerry's darker secret.
Jerry's trouble had started early in his marriage. In 1979, he'd come to Dr. Elias after he'd nearly raped a ten-year-old girl. After six years of therapy, Jerry still was not cured, but he had learned to avoid situations that put him into contact with young girls.
In two weeks, Jerry would face a crisis. His ten-year-old niece, Betsy, was coming to stay with him over the Christmas holidays. Dr. Elias knew he had to find a good therapist to help Jerry deal with his niece. Without help, Betsy could be in real danger from her uncle.
The light in the room was fading rapidly. Dr. Elias switched on the Tiffany desk lamp and wrote a short letter of referral for Jerry. The golden circle of light illuminated the next file as he opened it, hitting the photograph like a spotlight. It was appropriate. Nora Stanford was an actress.
Nora Stanford, age thirty-six (actually forty-six), single. Diagnosis: thanatophobia leading to episodes of psychotic aggression.
Nora was a classic beauty with high cheekbones and a mass of shining blond hair swept back from her marvelously mobile face. She had refused to pose for a snapshot and had insisted that Dr. Elias use one of her publicity pictures, heavily retouched to make her appear younger.
Ten years ago Nora had viciously attacked the young ingenue who'd replaced her in The Debutante. The young actress had been hospitalized and Nora had been referred to Dr. Elias by the court. She was a brilliant actress driven by her talent, desperately afraid of growing old and not being able to perform. Dr. Elias had discovered that Nora had other problems in addition to her fear of dying. She was terrified of her attraction to other women. Once Nora had accepted her lesbian tendencies, her therapy had progressed. She'd found a compassionate lover and opened a theater workshop within walking distance of the Guthrie. There were no more aggressive incidents, but Dr. Elias knew that Nora's jealous rages were barely under control. She needed constant therapy to keep from becoming violent again.
After he had chosen a therapist for Nora, Dr. Elias reached for his eel-skin tobacco pouch. He selected his favorite pipe from the rack, a handmade natural briar crafted by Ed Kolpin, founder of the Tinder Box. Every month he received a package of his personal blend of tobacco from the original store in Santa Monica. Several years ago Dr. Elias had voluntarily cut down on his smoking. Now that precaution seemed ridiculous. His smile was bitter as he lit the pipe and tamped it with the gold tool a former patient had given him. There was no reason to deny himself any of life's pleasures now. There was little enough time to enjoy them.
There were only two more patients to refer and he would be finished. Dr. Elias opened the next file. Father Vincent Marx, age fifty-one, single. Diagnosis: violent schizophrenia.
Father Marx prided himself on being a modern priest. In the photo he was dressed in a blue-striped polo shirt and chinos. Only the small gold cross that he wore around his neck was an indication of his profession. Father Marx was streetwise. He knew all the current street slang and used it in everyday conversation. That made him especially effective in his church on lower Hennepin, relating to broken families and rebellious teenagers.
Excerpted from Cold Judgment by JOANNE FLUKE. Copyright © 1985 Joanne Fluke. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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