On a blistering summer day, a bank robbery goes wrong, resulting in the deaths of all the hostages except Treva Williams. Pittsburgh psychologist and trauma expert Daniel Rinaldi is called in by the police to treat Treva. Soon an unforeseen series of events plunges the investigating officers, Sergeant Harry Polk, Detective Eleanor Lowrey, and Rinaldi into a vortex of mistaken identity, kidnapping, and surprising revelations about District Attorney Leland Sinclair's gubernatorial campaign. Is Sinclair somehow involved in the bank case?
Rinaldi's attention is diverted by the suicide of a young patient and his growing attraction to Eleanor, as the recently-divorced Harry Polk spirals into an alcohol-driven, self-destructive free-fall. Then sudden death threats against Sinclair fuel a new frenzy of accusations and political maneuvering, and Rinaldi begins to make connections. Soon, what he knows - or thinks he knows - will pull him toward a shocking and possibly lethal confrontation.
About the Author
Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter, Dennis Palumbo is now a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. He's the author of a mystery collection, From Crime to Crime , and his short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine , The Strand , and elsewhere. Head Wounds is the fifth in the Daniel Rinaldi series.
Read an Excerpt
Fever DreamA Daniel Rinaldi Mystery
By Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2011 Dennis Palumbo
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTreva Williams, the only hostage to be released, sat on the curb beyond the cordoned-off area, wrapped in an EMT blanket. Shivering, teeth chattering, though the afternoon temperature had topped 100 for the third straight day.
She looked up at me with dull, disbelieving eyes.
"They shot him." Voice strained, a whisper. She was dissociating. Half out of her body. In shock.
"Who got shot?" It was Detective Eleanor Lowrey, standing beside me. The implacable heat had raised beads of sweat on her smooth black skin, though her violet eyes maintained their focus. "How many were there?"
"They shot Bobby. Bobby Marks."
"The assistant manager?" Lowrey consulted a Xeroxed page tucked in her notebook. The cops had just gotten a list of all on-site employees at this branch from the bank's home office in Harrisburg.
A long way from where we were now. Downtown, the corner of Liberty and Grant. Normally a busy intersection in the business district. The cacophony of traffic horns blaring, harried pedestrians shouting into cell phones, street vendors hawking Italian ices as relief against the blistering heat. The Brownian motion of urban life.
But not today. With the streets blocked off, traffic halted, sidewalks emptied, there was only the crackling tension of a city block under siege. The smell of sweat, the buzz of adrenaline, the pall of fear.
I looked down and saw that Treva had buried her chin in the folds of the thick blanket.
"They shot Bobby in the head," she said again, her words muffled. "Blood everywhere. Blood and—"
She paused, touched her forehead with trembling fingers. Looked at the bits of scarlet and grey dotting her fingertips. Blood and specks of brain matter. Bobby's.
Treva convulsed then, doubled over under the blanket. Colorless bile splattered the pavement at our feet. Eleanor Lowrey gasped and took a step back.
"It's okay," I said to her. She nodded.
Lowrey was a good cop, one of the best I'd ever seen. A rare combination of steely competence and empathy. But right now, her awareness of Treva's emotional state was in conflict with her urgent need for information about what was happening inside that bank. Other lives were at stake.
I turned my attention back to Treva. Put my hand on her shoulder, felt it trembling under the coarse blanket. Her auburn hair, tangled and drenched with sweat, curtained her face.
"I'm right here, Treva. The police, too. You're safe. You're not in the bank now. You're far away from those men."
It took a supreme effort, but she finally straightened again. Looked up with blinking, vacant eyes first at Eleanor Lowrey, then at me. Then at the uniformed men and women positioned beyond us, behind a semicircle of black-and-whites, lights flashing. Weapons pointed from every conceivable angle at the First Allegheny Bank building.
Standard containment of a robbery-in-progress. With hostages.
My own eyes riveted on her pale, stricken face, I heard the sounds of frenzied activity taking place behind my back. The angry shouts ringing down the chain of command. SWAT teams in Kevlar jackets taking position. News vans choking the streets beyond the perimeter, reporters and camera operators scrambling. Overhead, the persistent clattering of the police choppers, and, just beyond, those of two rival TV news channels. The controlled chaos of a full-scale police action.
Treva barely registered any of it. She drifted in and out of conscious awareness of her surroundings, including Lowrey and me. Perhaps even of what had just happened to her.
"Tell us about Bobby Marks," Lowrey was saying, not unkindly. She squatted on the pavement to put her face at eyelevel with Treva's.
"I told you, they shot him. They said don't move and he moved, and then they shot him in the head. Right there, in front of me."
She swallowed air, gulping it like a fish pulled from the sea. Her eyes shone, wet with grief.
Treva looked with sudden curiosity at her stained fingers. "He's on me, isn't he? That's Bobby on me."
Lowrey leaned closer and tried again. "How many men, Treva? Can you tell us? How many guns?"
I glanced over at Eleanor and shook my head. She sighed, rolled the kinks out of her neck, and sat back on her haunches. Giving Treva some space.
Moving deliberately, I sat next to Treva on the curb, shoulders touching. Letting her know I was there. Anchoring us in the here-and-now. Keeping her in the present.
The heat shimmered off the cracked, sun-bleached pavement. This section of Liberty Avenue was without trees, without shade. The air hung thick and unmoving as a shroud.
"Do you know where you are now, Treva?"
She stared straight ahead. "Outside. On the street."
Suddenly, an unmarked sedan screeched to a halt just beyond the perimeter. Two guys in jackets and ties got out. One was the assistant chief of police, scowling as he brushed past a woman reporter from WTAE-TV who'd rushed to intercept him. He waded into the throng of uniforms, barking orders, his subordinate at his heels.
Lowrey and I exchanged glances. Treva hadn't even reacted to the squeal of tires, the slamming of car doors. The upraised voices of the cops on the scene.
"Can you look at me, Treva?"
She nodded, then turned her head. A pretty, oval face. Muted makeup smudged, etched with tears. Deep brown eyes, gone nearly black as her consciousness kept trying to recede, to escape an unacceptable reality.
Treva Williams was a smallish, slender woman of thirty or so. Under the blanket, I saw her standard bank officer's pale blue skirt and jacket, collared white blouse, and appropriately tasteful pearl necklace. Only her earrings betrayed any individuality. Larger than you'd expect, loops with tiny green stones dangling. A personal statement. Saying to the world, I'm not just some drone in a bank ...
A world she was drifting away from, moment by moment. Pulled as though by a powerful force into a different time and space. Someplace far removed from bank hold-ups, men with guns, sudden violence. A place where the blood and brains of a colleague didn't end up on your fingers.
"Are you still with me, Treva?"
Her "yes" was unconvincing.
I kept my face composed. No smile, no reassuring look of empathy and concern. Nothing to set off her warning bells, remind her that people were worried about her. That something bad had happened.
"What color is my tie?" I said.
"What about my shirt?"
"You're wearing one."
I had to smile. "Yes, I am."
She stared me. Waiting. Compliant.
"Am I wearing a jacket with my tie?" I said. "And don't forget to breathe now, okay?"
"A jacket? Yes, you are. You must be hot." A long pause. "Did you say something else?"
"Yes. I said, don't forget to breathe."
"Okay." As if to comply with the crazy man, she took a deep breath.
Eleanor leaned across then and tapped my knee. Hard. We need real info, Dan, she was signaling me. Get her to give us something we can use.
I stared back at her. Treva Willams was in no shape to be a star witness. She was barely holding it together as it was.
"Do you want anything, Treva? More tea?"
For the first time, she looked down at the cooling Styrofoam cup in her small hands. Unpainted nails. No rings on her fingers. Odd, I thought, given the earrings.
"Is this tea?" Her voice thin, a wisp of sound.
"Yes. Would you like another cup?"
She was about to answer when her hands, as though with a will of their own, opened, and the cup fell to the pavement. Tea splashed my trouser cuffs.
"Treva?" I brought my face closer to hers, which had turned once again away from mine. Staring with unseeing eyes past where we three huddled at the curb.
Her face was frozen, a pale mask. Her body slumped, folded in on itself, as though deflated. As though her spirit had fled.
She was alive, unhurt. Saved from her ordeal in the bank.
But Treva Williams was ... elsewhere.
Chapter TwoTwo hours earlier, I was in session with one of my regular patients. Mary Lewicki had been in therapy with me for over three months, the victim of an armed carjacking that had left her with recurrent nightmares and a frequent, debilitating anxiety.
Like many of my patients, she'd been referred to me by Angela Villanova, the chief community liaison officer for the Pittsburgh Police. And a third cousin of mine, twice removed. From the neighborhood, as my old man used to say.
When I first met Mary Lewicki, she was sitting nervously in my waiting room, kneading her chafed red hands on her lap. After we'd exchanged brief, careful smiles, she seemed momentarily confused, as though unsure what to do next. Then, reluctantly, she got to her feet and allowed me to usher her into my office.
Like most new patients, she took a few minutes to acclimate herself to the place. She sat up straight in the chair that faced mine, looking expectantly at the diplomas on the walls, my bookshelves holding both clinical texts and old copies of Ringsider magazine. My weathered Tumi briefcase was in its customary position against one leg of the marble-topped antique desk.
Finally, as though a wary animal slowly trusting to the safety of her new home, she settled back against the brown leather chair. Her shoulders relaxed. Then she took that long, acquiescing first breath and brought her gaze up to meet mine. The familiar ritual, enacted by almost every patient on his or her initial visit.
Mary was a heavy-set woman in her late fifties, a long-time employee of AT&T, and a recent widow. As she later explained during that first session, "I just buried my husband, God rest his soul, and two months later this other thing happens. I don't know, Dr. Rinaldi. Maybe somebody up there's tryin' to tell me something."
The police had managed to arrest a suspect in the carjacking, but Mary was unable to pick him out of the line-up. Her nerves, she said. But according to Angie Villanova, Mary had actually had a panic attack while looking through the one-way glass at the line of suspects.
Fearing she'd had a coronary, the cops drove her to the ER at Pittsburgh Memorial. An hour later, given a sedative and a clean bill of health—at least physically—she was taken home.
After which, an angry Assistant D.A. named Parnelli figured there was no sense pressing charges against the suspect, some career loser from Wilkinsburg. If Mary couldn't make it through a line-up, there was no way she'd be able to point out her assailant from the witness stand. At least, Parnelli figured, the odds weren't good.
Besides, nobody gets promoted in the District Attorney's office for clearing routine carjackings. Not unless somebody had ended up dead.
But Angie Villanova, exposing the bleeding heart she keeps hidden under that alligator-tough hide—as well as a similar middle-aged, blue-collar kinship—referred Mary to me anyway.
"You've gotta help this lady, Danny," Angie had said on the phone. "She's the walkin' wounded. And her husband just croaked, which don't help. Though if it were my Sonny who kicked it, I'd be bookin' a goddam cruise to celebrate. But don't quote me."
She knew I wouldn't. She also knew I'd take the case.
I'm a clinical psychologist, and people like Mary Lewicki are my specialty. Victims of violent crime whose traumatic experience has left them with residual anxiety, depression, paranoia and fear.
Feelings I know all about myself ...
Years ago, my wife Barbara and I were mugged coming out of a restaurant near the Point. Coked out of his mind, the mugger lost it and started shooting. Barbara was shot twice, killed at the scene, while a stray bullet in my brain kept me in the hospital for months.
After being discharged, I went into a tailspin, both personally and professionally. The grief was searing, unendurable, like someone was peeling away my skin. The only thing worse was the survivor guilt. The knowledge that I had lived, and Barbara had not.
During those long, agonizing months, I replayed the mugging a thousand times in my mind. I'd done some boxing when I was young. Golden Gloves. Pan Am Games. I should have been able to stop the guy, I thought. I should have protected her. Saved her.
It took me two years to finally accept that I didn't kill Barbara, some hooded thug with a 9 mm did. Some guy who's never been found. And probably never will be.
I still carry the scar from that bullet in my skull, as well as other, perhaps deeper scars—which, though less painful with each passing year, can still ache during certain long, quiet hours of the night ...
* * *
It took a lot of time and therapy to recover from that experience. Part of that recovery, as it turns out, was signing on as a consultant to the Pittsburgh police seven years ago.
Over that time, crime victims of all types and ages have consulted with me in my cluttered office overlooking Forbes Avenue. From the mildest of symptoms to the most severe ravages of post-traumatic stress disorder. From the survivors of rape and armed assault to kidnapping victims and battered spouses, I've borne witness to their anguish and, often, unexpected courage. Ordinary people struggling to make sense of their experience and trying, somehow, someway, to move on.
Over time, I've come to believe that trauma victims live in a very different world than everybody else—a world where the tragic, the inconceivable, the horrifying can and does occur. They're denied the complacency, the normal assumptions of daily life that most people walk around with. But I also believe that, with help and luck, they can learn to cope with the reality of what's happened to them.
All I can provide them is the help, to the best of my clinical ability. As for the luck part, I'm afraid that's above my pay grade.
But against the odds, and for reasons I'll never fully understand, I'm still here.
Chapter ThreeMary's appointment that day of the robbery had been coming to a close when my office phone rang. As usual, during a session, I let the answering machine pick up.
It was almost one o'clock, and a fierce sun shone stubbornly through the window blinds. Even the Oakland traffic rumbling up from the street five floors below seemed strangely muted, as though sluggish in the heat.
As had been the case for weeks, the suite's AC was putting up a losing battle with another typical Pittsburgh summer.
Mary was dabbing her forehead with a tissue.
"At least today I'm just mopping up sweat," she said ruefully. "Usually it's tears. Does that mean I'm getting better?"
Before I could reply, my cell phone rang. Unusual. My friends and colleagues knew not to call that number during office hours, unless there was an emergency.
"I'm sorry, Mary," I said, reaching for where it beeped insistently on the side table.
It took me a few moments to recognize the throaty voice on the phone. Detective Eleanor Lowrey. I hadn't seen or spoken to her in almost a year, when she and her partner, Sgt. Harry Polk, had worked with me on the Wingfield case. Or, as Polk would probably put it, when I had gotten my lame-ass self mixed up in the Wingfield case.
"This is Dan Rinaldi, Detective. But I'm in session with a patient and—"
She briskly cut me off. "I need you to excuse yourself for a minute so we can talk. It's important."
I didn't hesitate. I remembered Eleanor Lowrey as a nononsense cop, with none of her partner's angry swagger, owning instead a cool, somewhat guarded determination. I'd never heard this much intensity in her voice before.
"Of course." I asked Mary to excuse me, closed my office door behind me, and stood in the empty waiting room. Without a window facing the sun, the room was a full ten degrees cooler than my office. Almost immediately, I felt the sweat starting to dry on my shirt.
"Sorry to bother you, Doctor," Lowrey said. "But there's a situation. Have you heard the news? The story just broke on TV."
"I've been with patients all morning. What's going on?"
"An armed robbery in progress. Midtown, the First Allegheny Bank. We've got uniforms, SWAT. Half the damn force. Looks like a couple perps. Somehow the thing went down wrong, shots were fired. Apparently somebody's dead in there. Probably an employee."
Excerpted from Fever Dream by Dennis Palumbo Copyright © 2011 by Dennis Palumbo . Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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