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Chapter 1I don't think most people's reaction to finding a dead body on a dock would be to call their kid to come look at it. But that's Mama. She just thought I'd be interested. I was relieved it wasn't Daddy or anything like that. You never could tell with Mama.
"I don't think you bleed when you have a heart attack, Mama," I replied. "Maybe he was stabbed or shot or something."
"Girl," Mama snorted, rolling her bright blue eyes heavenward, "this isn't New York City." That was definitive for Mama. People in New York City got murdered; people in Wilson's Pond didn't. This wasn't New York City, so he wasn't murdered.
"The knife," I said, pointing to a knife partly hidden by the body.
"The knife, Mama. It's bad for your theory."
"Well, I don't know," she said. "Folks do things different ways." It wasn't clear what she meant. She could have meant maybe some folks in Wilson's Pond got murdered, or she could have meant maybe some folks bled when they had heart attacks. It was hard to know with Mama.
One thing I know for sure. When Mama dies, those diamond earrings of hers will be on the end table. Forty years they've been in her ears, but Mama doesn't hold with burying good diamonds, and she wouldn't trust anybody to get it right.
Some folks think you wouldn't necessarily know when you're dying. Some folks believe in dying in your sleep. But no one who knows Mama thinks those rules apply to her. Mama likes to stare at things from a long way off. Personally, I'm not sure Mama will ever die, because not even God would want to take on Mama.
I rubbed my eyes, the same shade of bright blue as Mama's, and sat up straighter. Funny how when I don't have anything to do, I find myself thinking about Mama. It isn't all that often that I don't have anything else to do, but today my client was late and I was twiddling my thumbs and musing. The mental health clinic in the Department of Psychiatry at Jefferson University wasn't open yet, so I had the whole place to myself.
I am a forensic psychologist -- a specialist in court-related psychological cases: child abuse, child custody, battered spouses -- and I sometimes get difficult clients. I prefer to see them early in the morning when there isn't an audience in the waiting room.
I had almost given up on my client when I heard noises in the hall -- not very friendly noises. They got louder, and I stared at the door to the waiting room as it burst open and my client was brought in kicking and screaming. The two people carrying her barely got through the door before she twisted out of their grasp and crashed to the floor. She came up so fast it almost seemed like she bounced as she made a valiant lunge for the door. One of her escorts, much bigger than she was, grabbed the knob and held it shut. She started screaming, "Let go! Let go!" and when he didn't, she started kicking the door. The other one tried to grab her, but she twisted free again and fell in the process, staying down this time and lashing out with her feet. She started banging her head on the floor while screaming at what I hoped was the top of her lungs.
I ignored her head-banging and spoke to my client's jailers. I practically had to yell to be heard above the screaming. "Pull a chair by the door, sit down, and be as unobtrusive as possible. Don't look at anybody directly. Just read magazines and act invisible." This kind of instruction was exactly the type of thing that could never work with a full audience in the waiting room.
The man and woman sat down, and I looked at my client, who had shown no signs of calming down. Well now, we weren't off to the best start. It wasn't that we had a failure to communicate: She was communicating very well. She had managed to convey with an economy of words her opinion of going to see a forensic psychologist. The court might want to know whether she had been sexually abused by her father as her brother allegedly claimed, but three-year-old Adrienne was having none of it.
Maybe she would have been slightly more cooperative if her mother had been there. But mothers aren't allowed to bring their children to a forensic evaluation if the charge of sexual abuse was made in the middle of a custody fight. If it were a false report, just the presence of mom in the waiting room would be enough to force the child to stick to the story, and if it were a true report, the father's lawyer would use the presence of the mother to discredit it. So Adrienne had come with an aunt and an uncle -- distant enough relatives that both parents would accept them as neutral, which meant Adrienne hardly knew them.
Clearly, their rapport with Adrienne was limited -- and so was their authority. Adrienne cranked up the volume a couple of decibels. This was an impressive temper tantrum.
To be honest, I love this kind of thing. Challenge smallenge. People who interview adults don't have a clue how tough interviewing can be. No adults I've ever met -- and that includes violent Vietnam vets who sat there muttering, "I'm getting those feelings again," psychotic postal workers who thought aliens were giving them more mail to sort than anyone else, and multiple personalities where you could run an entire group with just one person -- no adults were as challenging as a table-kicking, headbanging, screw-you three-year-old.
It was my job to take this screaming, out-of-control child and get her to tell me, a stranger, about something that -- if it had happened -- she had never told anyone about, not even the people she knew the best and loved the most. Adrienne's brother, Andrew, had disclosed sexual abuse to his teacher, but Adrienne had never said anything, even though Andrew had reported seeing their dad abuse her, too. And, of course, I had to get Adrienne to open up without saying anything that would strike anybody involved in the case as being even vaguely "leading and suggestive."
I once sat next to a gifted attorney about to cross-examine a child. This attorney had interviewed hundreds, probably thousands, of clients and opposition witnesses during his lengthy career and could confidently cross-examine anyone from a con man to a college president. "Oh my God," I heard him say as he got up very slowly to cross-examine a six-year-old whose small head barely showed above the witness box.
I understood the sentiment. It would be a piece of work to get this child to talk to me about sexual abuse. it would be a piece of work to get her to talk to me about anything. It would be a minor art form to get her to leave the waiting room. Come to think of it, it would be a miracle if I could get her to stop screaming.
I started walking toward her, alert for a clue as to where her social boundaries were. Children treat social distance differently than adults do. Adults stand the same distance from friends and strangers, the same distance regardless of their mood. But children change their social distance depending on how well they know you, and how they're feeling. They'll react if you get any closer to them than three or four feet if they don't know you -- particularly if they're upset. Of course, when they know you and like you, they'll drape themselves across your knee and rub your shinbone -- something adults rarely do. Needless to say, they don't speak up when adults have intruded on their space, instead, they tend to turn away, avert their gaze, or just plain stiffen when strange or threatening adults get too close.
I had seen a tape of a forensic interview where the therapist repeatedly got too close to the child; each time the child moved away. The therapist -- completely unaware of the child's boundaries -- chased the child all over the room. At the end of the session the therapist wrote up her diagnosis: Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity.
I was four to five feet away when Adrienne turned her head away from me toward the wall. I stopped and backed up a foot. It amazes me to see adults who know they're intruding on a child's space just go ahead and do it anyway.
I got down on my hands and knees -- if other adults hadn't been there I'd have sprawled full length on the floor -- and pulled a large green turtle puppet out of my pocket and onto my hand. "Now, it's all right," I said to the puppet. "She's just a little girl, and she's not going to hurt you. She's here to play in the playroom with me. Now let's see. We have Play-Doh in there and a dollhouse and some puppets and a sandbox on a table. I can't remember everything. She'll just have to look and see what she wants to play with."
Adrienne had stopped screaming while I was talking to the puppet and now turned in my direction. I paid no attention to her. The moment I stopped talking she started to scream again. I immediately balled up my fist and pulled the turtle's head inside the shell. "It's okay. It's okay," I said. "She doesn't mean to scare you. She's a very nice little girl, and she's just here to play and visit and talk some."
Adrienne stopped screaming again and held out her hand for the puppet. I ignored it and continued to reassure the puppet while rubbing its head. Adrienne moved closer, and the turtle's head disappeared again. "It's okay; it's okay," I said anxiously to the turtle and, turning to Adrienne for the first time, went on diffidently, "She's very shy, and big girls are a little bit scary for her." Adrienne held out her hand again, imperiously, as three-year-olds do.
I reached back into my pocket and pulled out a smaller version of the same puppet for her, one that fit her tiny hand. I showed Adrienne how to work the puppet; she said nothing, but sat up and began to play with it.
I had gotten past the distance obstacle, or at least Adrienne had. She had closed the gap between us, something she would never have allowed me to do.
The trick was to draw children to you, not intrude on them.
I figured my chances were fifty-fifty. If the large green turtle invited her into the office, she might go now, but then again she might not, and once she had said "no" I'd be in big trouble. The kiss of death would be to start asking questions. "How are you?" is a totally absurd question from a three-year-old point of view. She would not answer a question like that. Strike one. Then if I followed up with "That's a nice dress. Is that your favorite color?" she wouldn't answer that either. Strike two. Then perhaps something like "What's your name?" would go unanswered. Three strikes.
At that point she'd have settled into a no-answer mode, meaning she had decided the rules of the game were that I asked questions and she didn't answer, and she wouldn't answer anything for the rest of the session.
I turned to the door of the waiting room. "Turtle," I said. "Did you hear Ostrich?" I turned the big turtle to look at the door. "I think I heard that silly ostrich. I'll go look." I left the turtle on the floor and went into my office, which was just off the waiting room. I picked up an ostrich puppet large enough to fill a La-Z-Boy recliner and put my entire arm up the ostrich's neck. I hid on one side of the door, and the ostrich peeked his head around the corner of the office and then immediately withdrew. He was quite dashing with his long curly eyelashes and inquisitive look. It wasn't entirely clear how I looked -- skinny me crouched and scrunched behind the door. (The last time I did something like this, a group of National Institute of Mental Health site visitors walked by. "Oh, that's just one of the child people," their departmental guide said calmly. "They're like that.")
Adrienne stared transfixed at the door with the disappearing ostrich. The puppet peeked out again. Without a word, Adrienne got up and walked into the office to catch the teasing ostrich, still clutching the small green turtle. I closed the door gently -- Adrienne hardly seemed to notice -- and left the outside world behind.
Now for the silence. The important thing was not to ask any questions. "Hello, Adrienne, my name is Ostrich and..." The ostrich broke off and buried his head under my arm.
"Everybody seems shy today, Adrienne," I said with a big sigh. "The big turtle is shy, and the little turtle is shy, and the ostrich is shy. You just seem like such a big girl to them, and they're a little bit scared." I turned to Ostrich and elaborately reassured him that Adrienne wouldn't hurt him, while pointing out to him all the things that Adrienne might play with instead. I stayed kneeling the whole time so my head wasn't any higher than Adrienne's. Looming over children never fosters a dialogue.
Why don't adults "get" how important size is to children? Totally bizarre. I love the way people always say to preschoolers; "Oh, don't worry, he won't hurt you," as a huge dog comes bounding up. I wonder how adults would react to a horse galloping toward them across a field and then rearing up to throw its legs on their shoulders. Would they really be reassured to hear someone say, "Oh, don't worry, he won't hurt you," as the horse sent them sprawling? But then, I seem to understand the kid point of view better than the adult. As my friend Carlotta once said of me, adults still tend to be "grown-ups" to me.
It's hard not to ask any questions, harder than you'd think. I started by mentioning every item Adrienne was wearing, "I like that pink T-shirt, and I have tennis shoes like that except mine..." It takes a while to run out of clothes to comment on, especially if you include your own. I had on black dress pants, black turtleneck, and a bright red vest with yellow suns all over it. In my line of work it pays to wear something children find worth talking about. My dangling earrings would be worth a few sentences. Unfortunately, I wouldn't get any mileage at all out of my shoes. For reasons I have never understood, children love interesting shoes. I own one pair of black flats, one pair of brown ones, one pair of running shoes, one pair of dress boots, one pair of warm boots, and a pair of sandals. None of them would turn a preschooler's head.
While I was running my fashion commentary, Adrienne headed for the dollhouse with the action figures, and I switched from fashion consultant to sports commentator. "Wow, that man is sliding down the dollhouse roof," I said, "and that girl is sitting on the couch," verbalizing what Adrienne was doing with the dolls. It was such a play-by-play, I almost added, "and this is the voice of the Boston Celtics," but it wasn't three-year-old humor.
I was prepared to act like an idiot indefinitely, knowing absolutely that sooner or later if I kept talking, Adrienne would volunteer something of her own commentary, but she surprised me by joining in right away. "He fell down," she said. "He has to go to the doctor."
Wow. This child was impressive. She might not have wanted to see me, but it wasn't because she was shy. She had recovered from her temper tantrum, made her peace with being here, and was actually talking, all within a pretty short period of time. She was feisty, a hard trait for me to knock. Feisty would make it easier to figure out what was going on. Piss and vinegar are nowhere near as hard as mute.
I had a hypothesis about what was going on, anyway. I had done my homework and gone over all existing police, mental health, and child protection reports. Mom and dad had both had psychological evaluations for the custody fight that was raging between them.
Mom was either an hysterical paranoid or a paranoid hysteric, depending on your point of view -- which is to say, she was emotionally labile, dramatic, and annoying as hell, as well as convinced everything her husband said or did was a plot to get her. The evaluators merely differed on which set of traits they thought were central -- as though which was primary and which secondary would change anything.
It was a little like two doctors arguing over whether the patient had died of a heart attack or a stroke. The point was, the patient was dead, and the point here was, the mother in this case wasn't going to win any awards for mental health with either diagnosis.
Dad, on the other hand, fell in the normal range on every test. Of course, that didn't positively mean he wasn't a child molester, since forty percent of child molesters fall in the normal range.
But this was a custody fight, which is the most frequent place where false reports occur (although they don't necessarily occur with the overwhelming frequency the media claims). Putting it all together -- a crazy mother, a noncrazy father, and a charge of sexual abuse in the middle of a custody fight -- it looked to me like there was a good chance of a false report. That was fine by me.
For lots of reasons, I'm quite happy when I have a false report. It means the child hasn't been abused and that she or he is not going to have to contend with a sex offender in the family, one who might well get custody. Court is like the NFL: On any given Sunday, either side could win.
Who knew these days what would happen in court?
In the last case I had lost, a four-year-old child had marched to the witness stand and told in graphic detail what her father had done to her. The father, unfortunately for her, was a pillar of the community and well thought of by just about everybody. The jury decided a nice man wouldn't do such terrible things.
And besides, they reasoned, if the child had been abused, she would have been too damaged to talk about it so clearly. Of course, if she had stumbled and hesitated while testifying, the jury would have said that her nervousness, her inability to look the alleged perp in the eye, meant she was lying.
Finding a report is false these days is definitely swimming downstream with a strong current carrying you. It seems to be what everybody -- judge, jury, press, public, not to mention the defense -- wants to hear.
On the other hand, finding that a report of abuse is valid is much like putting one's head in a blender and turning it on. Dad always manages to find the lawyer from hell. He always brings so many relatives and character witnesses to court, I feel like I'm running a gauntlet in the halls. As for the local newspapers -- well, they are so prejudiced that once one of them printed an account so biased, I didn't recognize it as the case I was in.
So it was okay with me if this child said "no" when I asked her if anyone had ever touched her in a way she didn't like.
But I never got that far because Adrienne almost immediately put the adult male action figure's head in the child action figure's crotch. "Adrienne," I said, "what are the dolls doing?" I kept my fingers crossed that our relationship was now strong enough to tolerate a question.
"He's licking her pee-pee," Adrienne said pleasantly, "like Daddy does."
"Daddy licks someone's pee-pee," I repeated.
"He licks mine," Adrienne said, throwing her legs open and pointing to her white panties, "right there."
Good grief. This didn't sound like a false report. False reports don't involve spontaneous physical displays. They are rarely specific. They have a rote quality about them. They often involve adult language and adult ideas of what is appropriate. With my last false report, a child had repeated over and over, "Daddy did naughty things to me," but could never say what.
I felt depressed immediately. If this was true, it wasn't just bad for Adrienne; this was going to make my life pretty miserable for some time to come. The legal case would go on forever. There would be months and months of pretrial motions and depositions. I'd be on the stand for days, attacked on every conceivable ground. I went on with the evaluation, hoping Adrienne would do something to undo the validity of her initial spontaneous reactions.
Unfortunately, she held her ground no matter what modality was used. I made people out of Play-Doh. Adrienne pointed to the man's crotch and said that white sticky stuff came out of her daddy's pee-pee. In the dollhouse she put the adult male doll on top of the child doll and simulated copulatory movements. Her drawing of a man had three legs -- sort of, only the third one seemed to be pointing up. I got more depressed as the session progressed.
Copyright © 1997 by Dr. Anna Salter
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This is the first review? I LOVE Anna Salter. Her heroine, Michael Stone, a female forensic psychologist is a fascinating character. My favorite thing about her is that after a devastating personal event she saves her sanity by simplifying her life. She lives out in the woods, and never allows herself to own more than 250 things. I just love playing with that idea...what would be essential...what I could live with out. Her storytelling is wonderful as well. Highly recommended.
Anna Salter is both a gifted fiction author and one of the most respected forensic psychologists in the country. Salter's characters are so realistic, I feel as if I know them personally. Her ability to weave a story is first-rate, as she uses her professional knowledge to lead us down paths of psychological suspense. Needless to say, the psychological information regarding victims and offenders in her novels is 100% accurate. Readers can learn through Salter's novels. Highly recommended.
A psychlogical thriller. I loved this book. A strong women with an impossible job from hell. You just want things to work out for her.