A missing child. An eccentric mother. An obsessed and troubled investigator. A police psychologist trying to help them allat her own peril.
Police psychologist Dr. Dot Meyerhoff is pulled into the vortex of a terrible crime involving an eccentric photographer whose images of children make her a prime suspect in the disappearance of her own daughter. The principal investigator in the case is a young officer whose dedication to work and obsession with finding the missing child is tearing his own family apart. Trapped between her allegiance to the investigator, her complicated connections to the photographer, and her unstable relationship with the police chief, Dot must find a way to help everyone involved. As Dot's psychological expertise and determination contribute to solving the mystery, her involvement with the missing child's extended, dysfunctional family brings her face-to-face with painful psychological issues of her own. The Fifth Reflection delivers a chilling, up-close look at the psychological strain of investigating Internet crimes against children, the complexities of being married to a cop, and the deadliness of jealousy.
About the Author
Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D. has been a police psychologist for thirty years. She is the recipient of the California Psychological Association's award for distinguished contribution to psychology as well as the American Psychological Association's award for outstanding contribution to the practice of police and public safety psychology.
Ellen is the author of the award-winning I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know, and lead author of Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know. Her works of fiction feature amateur sleuth Dr. Dot Meyerhoff, a police psychologist who should be counseling cops, not solving crimes. The Fifth Reflection is the third in this acclaimed series, following Burying Ben and The Right Wrong Thing. Ellen and her husband live in Redwood City, California.
Read an Excerpt
The Fifth Reflection
A Dot Meyerhoff Mystery
By Ellen Kirschman
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2017 Ellen Kirschman
All rights reserved.
I didn't become a psychologist like some of my colleagues who went from BA to PhD on Mommy and Daddy's credit cards. My parents didn't have credit cards. Didn't believe in them. My father thought bankers were Shylocks who cheated the poor with exorbitant interest rates and balloon payments buried in the small print. My mother was for simplicity and against needless consumerism.
I worked my way through college and grad school waiting tables, serving cocktails, and pleading for scholarships. Turns out I am better at reading people than serving them food. I acquired this skill trying to anticipate when the sins of the rich and powerful would send my father on a rant, barging around the house for twenty-four hours, spewing letters to the editor. While my mother, for whom all life's challenges contain lessons to be learned, regarded my father's tantrums as an opportunity to practice patience and understanding. With righteous indignation for the underdog combined with the ability to normalize bizarre behavior as my parental legacy, how could I have not become a psychologist?
Currently, I work as a paid consultant for the Kenilworth Police Department. It's a moderate sized agency, seventy-five sworn, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. I didn't intend to be a police psychologist. I was aiming to be an academic, dazzling graduate students and writing acclaimed books. That was until I got a taste of graduate school, which was only slightly less treacherous than swimming in a shark tank. I fell in love with my advisor, Mark Edison, while I was helping him write a book. We married, wrote two more books together, and when I got my PhD, I joined his forensic practice. Kenilworth PD was his biggest client. Years later, I wrote a book on my own. Mark was happy for my independent success. Or so I thought until he left me for Melinda, his psych intern and twenty years his junior. We divorced. He got the forensic practice. I got Kenilworth PD.
Police officers are not eager consumers of therapy. They think it makes them weak to have problems. I think it makes them human. Almost every cop at Kenilworth PD regards me with skepticism, worried that I'm reading their minds and getting ready to report them to the chief as unfit for duty. They are not as stand-offish as they were when I started three years ago, but it's still an uphill battle to win their trust, let alone put a dent in the male dominated culture of rugged individualism. My biggest skeptic is Chief Pence. Maybe he doesn't like psychologists. Maybe he doesn't like me. All I know is that we've been in a push-pull battle since before he was promoted to chief. He can't live with me and he can't live without me. He wants my advice when I least expect it and when I have something to offer, he avoids me.
I'm not saying that Pence is to blame for what happened. He couldn't have predicted the future and he didn't mean to offer anyone a convenient narrative. But, in retrospect — pardon me for dredging up that tired saying about hindsight having 20/20 vision — his blundering ego may have started the ball rolling last Spring, the day I met JJ for the first time.
* * *
It is springtime, seven months before Frank and I go to Iowa for Thanksgiving. Pence has called a special session of the city council. He's invited the public and the press. All members of the Kenilworth Police Department, including me, are encouraged to attend. In Pence-speak encouraged means show up because he'll be taking names. He cloaked the subject of his announcement in secrecy, responding with a Cheshire Cat smile to any questions that "all will be revealed" Pence likes drama and will do anything to get his name in the paper, providing the press is positive. If it isn't, then he is as tight lipped as a double agent. I sit in back of the council chambers looking at my watch. I'm supposed to meet Frank at an opening reception for his photography teacher's new exhibition. I've been hearing about this woman for months. He's described her as an extraordinary photographer and a wonderful teacher. Innovative, daring, inspiring, and — I took note — exceptionally beautiful. Frank is passionate about his photography. I'm relieved that he has something absorbing in his life beside his remodeling business and me. We're quarreling less about the hours I spend at work and how often I change plans at the last minute because police departments are open 24/7. He's known this from the time we met. I think he hopes that when we get married, my priorities will change. They won't. Police psychologists don't have nine to five jobs. When cops work, we work.
This is a red-carpet affair. The mayor is here, as is the city council. Chief Pence greets them one by one, his silver hair gleaming in the overhead lights. He's a handsome man if you like your men looking like they stepped off the cover of GQ. I don't know much about men's clothes, but if I totaled up what Pence spent on his outfit, it would equal the down payment on a small car. I prefer shaggy men like Frank, who orders his jeans and work shirts on-line by the half dozen. He can look spiffy when he wants to, but mostly he just looks touchable. There's nothing touchable about Pence or his wife, Jean, who is sitting in the front row, coiffed, buffed, and color-coordinated from head to toe. Not a hair, out of place. They are a matched pair, age adjusted versions of Ken and Barbie.
Cops, dispatchers, and records clerks file into the chambers, some in uniform, some in jeans and t-shirts. No one looks happy with this mandated show of support for the chief when they could be at home with their families, catching up on their sleep or out catching crooks. I see Manny and his wife, Lupe, sitting in the front row. He's wearing a suit and tie. Lupe is wearing a dress and high heels, her tiny figure snapped back into shape after having a baby. I'm very fond of Manny and take pleasure in watching him mature on the job. He's always been a quiet, serious young man, who kept his own counsel, even when it meant standing up to popular opinion or to the chief. He was never one of those rookies who tried too hard to fit in and be one of the boys. He's well-liked and served a term as president of the Kenilworth Police Association. I haven't seen much of him recently and I wonder why he isn't sitting with his buddies.
The mayor taps the microphone, asks everyone to take their seats, thanks us for coming in at the last minute and promises that we will be rewarded for our efforts by being the first to hear about an innovative new police program. He hands the microphone to Chief Pence who's been smiling and nodding at people in the audience. As soon as he takes the mike, Pence's smile disappears. He sucks in his cheeks, furrows his brow, and takes a deep breath.
"The announcement I have to make this evening concerns crimes that are perpetrated against our most vulnerable citizens. Our children. Day after day, the citizens of Kenilworth go about their daily activities feeling safe, thanks to the dedicated employees of my police department" There is a smattering of applause. "Silicon Valley is the birthplace of a technological innovation, so profound that it has changed the world. It was here, in our backyard that the microcomputer revolution began" He looks at his notes. "Hardware, software, data storage, networking, data sharing and delivery — I have to ask my ten-year-old neighbor what these things mean" He waits for a laugh that doesn't come. "Our lives have been significantly and positively affected by technology. We've all come to depend upon our electronic gadgets." He waves his cell phone in the air so everyone can see it.
"But there is a dark side, too. One that is difficult to understand and impossible to tolerate. These same technological advances that enrich our lives have enabled pedophiles to distribute child pornography around the world with the click of a mouse. Pedophiles trade images the way you and I used to trade baseball cards. They use chat rooms to lure unsuspecting children away from the safety of their homes. Every month, 60,000 new images are added to these websites. Sixty thousand. Think of it." He looks at the audience, gauging his effect.
"In 1998 the United States Department of Justice initiated a task-force to provide state and local law enforcement with the tools to catch distributors of child pornography and stop sexual predators who solicit child victims through the Internet."
"Has something happened to a Kenilworth child?" someone in the audience shouts. Everyone looks around to see who is talking out of turn.
"No. And I am determined it will never happen here. Not on my watch." His wife starts to applaud and stops when she realizes no one else is joining her. "But, forewarned is forearmed. Therefore, ten months ago, in a trial run, I committed staff from KPD to join the county Internet Crimes Against Children task force, part-time. Something my predecessors were unable or unwilling to do. Officer Ochoa, would you stand please and face the audience." Manny stands up and turns toward us. A red blotch seeps up his neck. He waves once, turns around, and sits down. "That moving blur was Officer Manuel Ochoa. Known to most of us as Manny. He is a dedicated young officer, who in his three years on the department has shown himself to be a hard-working, effective professional. When I asked for a volunteer to join the task force, he was the first to respond"
No wonder I haven't seen much of him.
"Today I am making this trial effort public and official and I am increasing Officer Ochoa's hours to full time" There is another smattering of applause. "This will be a major commitment for Officer Ochoa and for his wife Lupe as well" He smiles at Lupe and bows slightly in a mock show of gratitude. "Even being assigned part time to the task force, his hours have been long and irregular. Pedophiles peddle their wares in all time zones. Assigning Manny to work full-time on the task force means other officers will have to work harder and longer to fill in. No doubt this will increase the overtime budget. But I believe, with all my heart, that it's a small price to pay for keeping our children safe" He pauses to let this sink in. "Now, are there any questions?"
Hands fly in the air. There is a lot of shouting. I don't have time to stay for the answers although I have plenty of questions of my own. The first one being, why all the secrecy around the task force ? Money's tight. If no crime has been committed, how is Pence going to justify an increase in overtime ? And most irritating of all, why didn't Pence consult me before appointing Manny? Investigating child pornography is one of the most stressful assignments in law enforcement. No one should be placed in a stressful specialty without first being screened. Manny has a small child of his own. That brings everything closer. Makes him vulnerable to over-identifying with the victims, losing whatever emotional Kevlar he needs to investigate these horrendous crimes. Had I known what was going on, had Pence told me, I could have helped innoculate Manny, prepared him to deal with the stress. Strategized with him and Lupe both about how best to minimize the emotional contagion that comes with such an assignment.
My cell phone vibrates with a reminder that the reception for Frank's teacher starts in twenty minutes. I want to stick around and talk to Manny and Lupe. Before I'm even out of my seat, it vibrates again courtesy of the damn calendar app Frank installed after telling me my Day Runner was so retro it made me look out of touch.
"We need to keep up," he had said, "We live in Silicon Valley."
* * *
Frank is waiting for me at the front door of the gallery. He's leaning against the wall like a cowboy. All he needs are boots and a ten-gallon hat. His eyes flicker back and forth, looking for me, anticipating that I'll be late. The minute he sees me he breaks into a grin. He's a truly good guy. I'm lucky to have found him. Pickings are slim for women in their fifties. After Mark and I divorced, I figured I'd be single the rest of my life. A more appealing alternative then pairing up with the men my girlfriends were meeting on-line, most of whom were depressed widowers with bad teeth and a penchant for golf clothes with contrast stitching. I debated signing up for an online dating program but couldn't think of how to describe myself in five sentences. I got as far as "thick in the waist, not in the head" before I gave up. That was when my colleague Gary introduced me to Frank who was remodeling his house.
"Right on time. Thanks." Frank bends down to kiss me. He's at least a foot taller than I am. "JJ's photos will blow your mind. They are amazing. You've never seen anything like them before." I wonder if anyone says "blow your mind" anymore, but decide not to ask. "Controversial. Cutting edge." He takes me by the elbow and steers me into the gallery.
In an instant I move from the warm summer air and the dimly lit night into an air-conditioned cavern with refrigerator white walls and ceilings. It's so bright my eyes water. A woman with neon red hair and a Celtic chain tattooed on her arm offers me a glass of champagne. I take it. Then a skinny young man with a partially shaved head holds a tray of stuffed mushrooms and kale chips under my nose. I refuse.
"This way," Frank has to yell at me to be heard over the din. We move through the crowd to a wide doorway leading to a large room filled with a veritable rainbow of people. Once again California's lure of bottomless opportunity and fortune has sucked people from around the globe. Spilled them out in a place once covered in apricot, plum, cherry, and almond orchards, now covered with condominiums and sprawling corporate campuses. More than half of all Silicon Valley start-ups have a founder who was born outside the United States and more than half of the people who work for them in science and engineering were born in another country. A large percentage of whom are standing in front of me munching kale chips.
I shoulder my way to the back of the big room where the lighting is softer. My eyes adjust again. People are walking around, talking in whispers, heads together, eyes gauging each other's reactions. I move to the nearest image. Three children with pouting, sultry faces, cling together in a wilting triangle. They are naked.
I move to another. A single child, perhaps a pre-pubescent girl with an amorphous sexuality, lies face down on a bed of wet leaves. Some are randomly stuck to her body. She could be dead; she could be sleeping. Next to her is a waist-up portrait of a stick thin boy. He looks directly at the camera, his eyes blazing with the angry intensity of a powerful secret self. He appears furious with the photographer.
She has interrupted a private moment. Exposed his puny little body to the world. The photos are gorgeous, evocative, drawing me in and repelling me at the same moment.
"What do you think?" Franks whispers.
"I don't know what to think."
"Do you like them?"
"I honestly don't know. They're erotic. Bordering on pornographic."
"Sensual," he says. "Not sexual. These are works of art, carefully composed. The lighting is fabulous. The images are crisp. Look at the photo of the boy. Look at how she blurs the background so your eye is drawn to his face. Masterful. Or this one." He takes my hand and walks me across the room to a photo of a young girl, perhaps three years old. She is sitting on a log in the middle of a stream, her knees pulled up to her chest, looking down at the water swirling in circles under her. "If this was a painting, it would be hanging in the Met."
"So is Venus rising out of that clam shell. And all those naked cherubs in the Italian masterpieces. And the Odalisque. I've gotten interested in art since I've been studying photography with JJ. Now I see the naked form everywhere. Imogen Cunningham, Georgia O'Keefe, they all photographed naked women."
"Women, not children."
"How are these images any different from what you see every day on television? Victoria Secret's ads, Sports Illustrated swimwear edition ..."
"Those are adults. They can give informed consent to being photographed."
"Do you think she forced these kids to pose?"
"I have no idea. Kids are pliable. Under the right circumstances they'll do anything. Whose children are they?"
Excerpted from The Fifth Reflection by Ellen Kirschman. Copyright © 2017 Ellen Kirschman. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
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