Psychologist and Pittsburgh Police Department consultant Daniel Rinaldi has a new patient. Lisa Harland, a local girl, once made a splash in Playboy and the dubious side of Hollywood before bottoming out. Back home, down and out again, she married one of the city’s richest and most ruthless tycoons. Lisa’s challenge to Danny is that she intends to commit suicide by 7:00 PM. His therapist skills may buy some time—but, exiting, she’s kidnapped right outside his office.
Summoned to the Harland estate, Danny is forced, through a bizarre sequence of events, to be the bag man on the ransom delivery. This draws him into a deadly cat-and-mouse game with a brilliant, lethal adversary. Complicating things is the unhappy Harland family, whose members have dark secrets of their own along with suspect loyalties, as well as one of Danny’s other patients, a volatile vet whose life may, like Lisa’s, be at risk. What is really at stake here?
Phantom Limb, fourth in the acclaimed series of Daniel Rinaldi thrillers, will keep readers guessing until the very last page.
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A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery
By Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2014 Dennis Palumbo
All rights reserved.
The last time I saw Lisa Campbell, she was naked.
That was almost thirty years ago, when I was in junior high and she was the latest Hot Young Thing, smiling invitingly out at me—and thousands of other lonely guys—from the pages of Playboy Magazine. Barely nineteen, sprawled seductively across rumpled satin sheets. Every horny adolescent's fantasy. Perfect breasts, perfect ass, perfect teeth.
Now, as she stood in my office waiting room, cashmere sweater folded neatly over her arm, I had to admit that the years since had taken their toll. Her face—though still comely, fine-boned—was lined, leather-tanned. Framed by thick chestnut-brown hair, lightly streaked with silver. Strained, weary eyes burned behind fashionable wire-rimmed glasses.
She'd been standing at the waiting room's single window when I came out to greet her. Her still-shapely body turned away from me, she stared out at the cool light of early spring. Five floors up from Forbes Avenue, the view included the University of Pittsburgh's urban campus—its gabled buildings, chain stores and local hangouts—as well as the new green shoots on the venerable maples and oaks lining the sidewalks. Plus the familiar cacophony of car horns, downshifting semis, and shouting students crossing against the streetlight, hurrying to make their last classes of the afternoon.
At first, Lisa didn't seem to register me. Then, as if reluctant to pull herself from the sights and sounds beyond the window, she turned to face me.
I felt her shrewd, guarded gaze as we shook hands. Her undisguised appraisal of my looks, my clothes, my apparent social status. I returned the favor, taking in her designer-label blouse, slacks, and heels, her five-hundred-dollar haircut, the expensive diamond bracelet and matching wedding ring.
"Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Harland," I said. "I'm Daniel Rinaldi."
"Obviously." Her lips tightened. "And don't use my goddamn married name. Nobody else does. I'll always be Lisa Campbell."
I nodded stiffly, then led her into my office.
I knew her story, of course. At least the public version. Most people here in Pittsburgh and environs did, too. Especially in her hometown of Waterson, about a hundred miles east of the city. Her career journey, from small-town beauty contestant to Playboy Playmate to sexy film actress, had been a long, well-publicized one. Accompanied by the shrill carping of Waterson's outraged local press, excommunication from her church, and the painful yet predictable estrangement from her pious, deeply conservative family.
It didn't help that, once she'd moved to Hollywood, her acting career consisted mostly of roles in low-budget horror films, in which she was frequently naked, and invariably tortured and killed. She also developed a reputation as a reliably freaky party animal, clubbing every night with the rich and trendy, showing up late and disoriented for work, sleeping with the usual mix of celebrities and Eurotrash.
Until her very public second divorce, a protracted and ugly drug scandal, and a series of embarrassing box office flops pushed her out of the glare of the tabloid spotlight and—seemingly overnight—into the purgatory of semi-obscurity.
At least, that was how her story was told in a two-part feature the Post-Gazette ran on Lisa when, almost a decade ago, she abruptly returned to her hometown. "With her tail between her legs," as one self-satisfied neighbor had put it.
According to the paper, Lisa claimed she tried to reconcile with her family, but was flatly rejected. As broken in spirit as she was financially, Lisa had no choice but to seek work here in the city. After six weeks, she landed a job as a clerical assistant in the CEO's suite at Harland Industries, a Fortune 500 favorite. After six months, she landed the CEO himself.
Lisa Campbell and Charles P. Harland, thirty years her senior, were married in a private ceremony in Barbados. Accompanying the feature story was a series of photos of the happy couple, now back in Pittsburgh, relaxing in the expansive, manicured gardens of the billionaire's gated estate in tony Fox Chapel. A few people thought the marriage was romantic—a damaged, unhappy woman's dream come true. Most thought it was a scandal. Or else a cruel joke played on a deluded old man.
Regardless, in the years since, Lisa and Harland had become a fixture among the city's wealthy and powerful, hosting charity events, attending lavish premieres, jetting off to vacations in exotic locales. Blending in quite easily with the heirs of the Mellons, the Scaifes, and the Carnegies, until, apparently, some undisclosed illness landed Harland in a wheelchair.
Since this was hardly my crowd, everything I knew about Lisa and her life nowadays came from the occasional news item that caught my eye, or some piece of gossip excitedly shared with me by one of my more starstruck patients.
Which was why now, ushering the sharp-tongued, middle-aged woman into my office, it was difficult to match her name to that of the seductive young girl I recalled from the magazine. To be honest, the present-day Lisa Campbell looked like any number of proud, arch women in designer clothes who stride purposely through newly gentrified Shadyside, kids long since grown and flown, resigned to the inattention of their workaholic husbands, defined by their jewelry.
Lisa paused before taking a seat, giving my office the same kind of cool appraisal with which she'd favored me. The antique marble-top desk, cherry wood cabinets, my battered Tumi briefcase. Books jammed into wall shelves, psych journals piled in more or less tidy stacks in the corners. Another broad picture window, slightly opened to let in the late March breeze. The pale, diffused sunlight. The muffled sounds of the street life below.
Finally, sitting upright on the chair opposite mine, she composed herself into a picture of grim determination. Jaw set. Legs demurely crossed. Only her clear hazel eyes, blinking, betrayed any anxiety.
A long silence.
"I must admit," I said finally, "I was surprised when you called for an appointment. How do you know about me?"
"Don't be so fucking coy, okay, Doc? It's very unattractive in a man." Her gaze narrowed. "And I might as well warn you up front, I got a real mouth on me."
"The thing is, I know about you because everyone knows about you. The famous trauma shrink."
"I'm not a shrink. I'm a clinical psychologist."
"Either way, you must have one hell of a publicist."
"Sorry to disappoint you, but—"
"No shit? That is a surprise, Dr. Rinaldi. Given how often you've been on the news ..."
"Not by choice, I assure you. Last couple years, it's mostly been a case of wrong place, wrong time."
She shrugged, unconvinced.
"Whatever. Besides, I had my people do the customary due diligence before choosing you. Well, my husband's people. So I know all about you."
I risked a smile. "Really?"
She reached into the Louis Vuitton bag on her lap, withdrew a single piece of paper and peered down at it through the bottom half of her progressive lenses.
"Let's see. I know your father was a cop and an alcoholic, and that your mother died when you were very young. In your late teens, you became an amateur boxer, God knows why. Golden Gloves, Pan Am Games. Looks like you didn't set any records, though." She cleared her throat. "Then you went to Pitt, making it all the way through grad school. The first one in your family to even go to college. Though by the time you got your PhD in psychology, your father, poor bastard, had passed away, too. Cirrhosis of the liver."
She glanced sharply up at me then, obviously to gauge my reaction. Whether due to my clinical experience or some innate stubbornness on my part, I didn't give her any. Still, though my face was composed, I could feel the blood pounding in my ears.
"I know you were married," she went on reading from her notes, "and that you and your wife got mugged one night and she was shot. You both were, but she died and you didn't. So you kinda went around the bend. Survivor guilt and all that. Now you're a consultant with the Pittsburgh Police, treating victims of violent crime. Last couple years, your involvement in some high-profile cases landed you on the national news." She sniffed, looked back up at me. "My opinion, you're about ten minutes into your fifteen minutes of fame."
After which, she casually folded the paper in half, dropped it back in her bag. "I miss anything?"
I'd felt my chest tighten, the dull pang of a rising anger, as she'd calmly laid out my story like it was some anecdote at a dinner party. Then, forcing myself, I exhaled slowly. Giving myself time to carefully choose my words.
"No, Lisa. You pretty much got it right."
"My husband's people are very good. Hell, they're fucking bloodhounds. The final report ran to fifteen pages. But I just read you the highlights. None of the more ... well ... intimate details."
"I appreciate your discretion."
She snapped her bag closed. "Look, I don't give a shit what you do in your private life. But a woman in my position has to be careful. I have to know who the hell I'm dealing with."
"I can understand that."
"Good. By the way, they ever catch the prick who did it? Killed your wife?"
I shook my head. "Just some kid. Seemed coked out of his mind. Probably needed money for drugs."
"Christ, who doesn't at that age? Though I never had to shoot anyone to score. Usually a blow job worked just fine."
"I assume you're talking about your time in Hollywood. In the movie business."
"Assume what you want. Though you and I both know I could walk two blocks up Forbes Avenue, right now in the middle of the day, and carry out that exact same transaction. In some back alley, behind some bar. Cops know, everybody knows. The same holds true in my hometown. Sleepy little Waterson. Cheerleaders blowing jocks for a dime bag. It's American as apple pie."
I sat forward in my chair. Let my own eyes narrow. It didn't take a psychologist to know Lisa Campbell was in pain, and keeping me at a distance with hard banter. With attitude.
Yet here she was, in my office. Which meant she wanted something. Needed something. From me.
"Look, Lisa, obviously you're hurting, or in trouble, and I want to help. Has something happened to you?"
She placed a fist against her chest, over her heart.
"Happened?" As her face paled.
"Something bad? It doesn't have to be recent. Maybe something that happened when you were out west, or even earlier. In childhood ..."
"Has something happened to me?" Voice rising. Shrill, choked. "Has something happened?"
Her hazel eyes had gone black, lasering into mine. A fierce, unbelieving, agonized look.
"Jesus, Lisa, I'm sorry if I—"
Then, with a slow, deep breath, she lowered her head. Let her fist drop to her lap, fingers still clenched.
She just shook her head. I shut up.
Another thick, uncomfortable silence followed. Filled only by the rise and fall of the breeze sifting through the foliage beyond my window. The gentle rustling of leaves and branches. And nothing else. The street traffic below, for an odd, brief moment, suddenly hushed. Stilled. As though holding its breath.
"Okay, listen." Her eyes meeting mine again. Voice even, almost flat. "I've made all the financial arrangements. I have the means at home, in my desk. A bottle of pills." She glanced at her watch. "It's a little after four. These sessions are what?—forty-five, fifty minutes?"
She considered this.
"All right then, Doc. Here's the deal: I plan to kill myself at seven o'clock tonight. Which means you have fifty minutes to talk me out of it."CHAPTER 2
It took me a few seconds to fully comprehend Lisa's words, to convince myself I'd heard her correctly. When I did, I felt a flood of conflicting emotions.
Because what she'd said certainly surprised and alarmed me, challenged me in terms of how best to help her. But to be honest—and despite my best efforts—it also angered me.
And so, without a moment's thought, I blurted out, "Why wait till seven o'clock? Why don't you just die now?"
Lisa started. "What did you say?"
My only reply was to repeat the question, since I had no goddamn idea what I was doing. Other than stalling for time.
"I said, why don't you die now?"
She stared, at a loss. "Are you trying to be funny?"
"I don't think so."
I literally did not know what words were going to come out of my mouth, even as a vague, fairly ludicrous idea began forming in my mind.
"I just think, since you're planning to do it anyway later tonight, we might as well take advantage of the time we have now. Let's at least get something out of this session."
"I'm fucking serious, Doctor. Why the hell aren't you?"
Her own anger flamed, sheeting her face. I ignored her.
"Would you be willing to try something?" I asked.
"That depends." Though clearly still rankled, she seemed more curious than suspicious at this point.
Then, as reasonably as I could, I suggested that she lie down on the floor on her back.
"You're kidding, right?" Her voice grew an edge.
"Not at all."
She gave me a grim, openly hostile look.
"Are you afraid to try it?" Pushing her now.
"I'm not afraid of anything."
I folded my arms. "Then prove it."
We merely stared at each other for a long moment. Then, grunting from the effort, she got off the chair and somewhat stiffly lay on her back on the office carpet.
"Okay," I said. "You're dead."
She frowned up at me. "I'm dead? What the fuck—?"
I didn't answer, but instead took two chairs, a small lamp table, and the piles of psych journals from different corners of the room, arranging them in a vaguely rectangular pattern around her on the floor.
"Your coffin," I informed her, taking my seat again.
She let out a long breath. "This is such bull—"
I interrupted her. "Who's viewing you in the coffin?"
"I'm supposed to answer that? Christ, I hated this stuff in those acting classes I had to—"
"Humor me. Who's at your funeral?"
A long pause. "My family, of course. What's left of them."
"You mean your parents? Siblings?"
"I'm an only child. As for my parents ... I guess you don't read the papers, do you, Doc? Or watch TV. Or go online."
"I know you're estranged."
"We don't speak, if that's what you mean. They slammed the door in my face when I came crawling back to Waterson. To beg their forgiveness, try to fix things with them. Turns out, their pastor ordered them to shun me. In this day and age. Shunned! Like a fucking leper."
I said nothing.
"I guess," she went on, "from their point of view I am a leper. Corrupted in mind and body. Damned."
She frowned. "Been that way for years. You know, back in my Hollywood days, when I started making money, I used to send them checks. They were always returned, torn into little pieces. Then, after I came back here and married old man Harland—the fifteenth-richest man in the state, by the way; you could look it up—I sent them a humongous check. I'm talking a shitload of money. Plus the nicest mea culpa letter I could write."
"Both the check and my letter came back, torn to pieces." A short, bitter laugh. "Praise the Lord."
* * *
Outside, the wind had risen, pushing harder against the trees. Reducing the familiar, almost comforting noise of street traffic to a thin, barely audible hum. I tried to remember if some early spring shower was in the forecast.
Lisa was rubbing her eyes, glasses riding up and down on her knuckles. Then she very deliberately adjusted them again.
I leaned forward slightly, looking down at her. "When you mentioned your family, viewing you in the coffin ..."
"I was talking about my daughter Gail. She still lives back in L.A. with her husband, Tim. He's a wannabe-actor. Gay, too, but the stupid shit doesn't know it."
Another bitter laugh. Then, without my suggesting it, she closed her eyes. Her breathing slowed. She seemed to be consciously, gradually, allowing herself to "die."
Lisa wasn't an idiot. She'd quickly realized that I'd asked her to imagine lying in her coffin so that she could make real her suicidal ideation. It allowed her defensive armor to go down, her sharp wit to take a recess. In other words, "dying" gave her the freedom to express genuine, unfiltered feelings. A passive, unhurried way to ... let go.
Excerpted from Phantom Limb by Dennis Palumbo. Copyright © 2014 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
From the publisher: Psychologist Dr. Daniel Rinaldi consults with the Pittsburgh Police. His specialty is treating victims of violent crime - - those who’ve survived an armed robbery, kidnapping, or sexual assault, but whose traumatic experience still haunts them. “Head Winds” picks up where Rinaldi’s investigation in “Phantom Limb” left off, turning the tables on him as he, himself, becomes the target of a vicious killer. “Miles Davis saved my life.” With these words, Rinaldi becomes a participant in a domestic drama that blows up right outside his front door, saved from a bullet to the brain by pure chance. In the chaos that follows, Rinaldi learns his bad-girl, wealthy neighbor has told her hair-triggered boyfriend Rinaldi is her lover. As things heat up, Rinaldi becomes a murder suspect. But this is just the first act in this chilling, edge-of-your-seat thriller. As one savagery follows another, Rinaldi is forced to relive a terrible night that haunts him still. And to realize that now he - - and those he loves - - are being victimized by a brilliant killer still in the grip of delusion. Determined to destroy Rinaldi by systemically targeting those close to him - - his patients, colleagues and friends - - computer genius Sebastian Maddox thrives to cause as much psychological pain as possible, before finally orchestrating a bold, macabre death for his quarry. How ironic. As Pittsburgh morphs from a blue-collar town to a tech giant, a psychopath deploys technology in a murderous way. Enter two other figures from Rinaldi’s past: retired FBI profiler Lyle Barnes, once a patient who Rinaldi treated for night terrors; and Special Agent Gloria Reese, with whom he falls into a surprising, erotically charged affair. Warned by Maddox not to e3ngage the authorities or else random innocents throughout the city will die, Rinaldi and these two unlikely allies engage in a terrifying cat-and-mouse game with an elusive killer who’ll stop at nothing in pursuit of what he imagines is revenge. The reader is put on notice of what awaits with a quote from no less a writer than Albert Camus: “The desire for possession is insatiable, to such a point that it can survive even love itself.” The Miles Davis reference, which is the first line in the book, is from a scene where Rinaldi is reading a 3-inch-thick dossier written about his late wife, hidden in the pages of which “was an overlooked or ignored piece of evidence proving that my wife’s death almost a dozen years ago hadn’t been what it seemed. That the gunfire that ended Barbara’s life was not the lethal result of a mugging gone wrong. It was murder.” Two bullets killed his wife, the third hitting him in the head. The ensuing novel is all about finding the man who had killed his wife, who now wants him dead. He is now “working out my survival guilt. A misguided attempt to make up for the fact that Barbara had died that fateful night and I hadn’t.” It is an understatement to say that it is wonderfully well-written, suspenseful, and a complete page-turner. The descriptions of Pittsburgh are terrific [to a lifelong New Yorker]: “The Steel City continued to morph from a blue-collar, industrial town into a gentrified, white-collar hub of business and technology. . . Pittsburgh now boasted a new, modern skyline, no longer obscured by dark plumes of smoke from a hundred smokestacks.” Rinaldi and his two comrades take on Maddox in an unpredictable chase that kept me glued to the page
Head Wounds by Dennis Palumbo is an absorbing and heart-pounding read. Reminiscent of the great John Kellerman, Palumbo tells a fascinating story of revenge and psychological violence. Our hero is Daniel Rinaldi, psychologist, and consultant to the Pittsburg Police Department. Years ago, he and his wife were mugged outside of a local restaurant. He survived but his wife did not. Now the perp has returned to complete the task. His mission is to take away everybody close to Daniel. To make Daniel feel the pain that the perp feels. What emerges is an exciting and involving novel that propels the reader to the finish line in a short period of time. My prescription – Read immediately upon purchase.