The love Bob and Jesse felt for each other only enhanced their communication onstage and soon the Rockaholics were jamming with a new level of passion, as the two of them played off each other.
In love himself, Dave managed to slip a short piece into the Scenes section of the
with the title “Rockaholics Really Rock!” The piece was pure Dave, overgenerous in its assessment of the band’s talents, though dead-on regarding Jesse. “The purest soul and blues singer this town has seen in twenty years!” Jesse was embarrassed and thrilled by the write-up and kissed Dave on the head, as the four of them ate Lou Anne’s waffles after staying out all night. “Nobody is going to believe I’m
good, honey!” she said modestly. But she was dead wrong. Dave’s over-the-top review brought in the fans, and soon the Rockaholics were playing at the Lodge two nights a week and people had to be turned away at the door. Onstage, the excitement of the crowd coursed through them and Bob and Jesse communicated in a near-subliminal way. Jesse had started to move around the stage now, rocking to the music, and sometimes they moved toward each other as if they were stalking each other. Bob would come toward her, desire on his face, as he blasted his way through “Hold On,” and Jesse would back off, fear in her lovely face. Then Bob would lunge at her, and she’d sidestep him just in time to avoid a collision. It was sexy and a little comical, and something they didn’t have to plan. It just happened one night and they incorporated it into the act. It worked, drove the audience wild. The onstage chemistry between them was now so hot that when Bob came near Jesse, riffing out, she’d touch his shoulder and then blow off her finger. The crowd loved that, as well. They were the toast of downtown, interviewed on the radio and on a local morning television show. There was even talk of a record label getting together with them to do an independent CD.
“It’s too great,” Bob said, as they headed out with Lou Anne and Dave to yet another party. “How old are we, twenty?”
“That’s too old,” Lou Anne said. “I’m eighteen, baby.”
“Yeah, darlin’. Eighteen is just about right,” Jesse said, hugging Lou Anne as if she were her best high school girlfriend. Which is how they felt. The two of them had gone through so many of the same things, bad men and low-paying jobs and tough childhoods, that they were like twin sisters.
“I just love Lou Anne,” Jesse said. “I can tell her anything.”
“She’s the greatest,” Bob agreed. “The best.”
What was a little odd, Bob thought, was how Lou Anne and Jesse’s relationship seemed to mirror that of Bob and Dave. Lou Anne positively worshiped Jesse. She baked blueberry pies because Jesse said she liked them. She gave Jesse back rubs in the little room off the stage where the band got ready for their performances. When Jesse came offstage, sweat pouring off her, Lou Anne stood by with a towel and rubbed her down.
Some nights Bob thought it was a little much, but then immediately chided himself for questioning it. Jesse was a star, so why shouldn’t Lou Anne, as her best friend, worship her, as well?
The four of them were great pals and Bob told himself to cool it with all the lame questions. Enjoy. Accept. Be grateful for what’s been given.
Not only was Jesse a fantastic lover but also a great listener. She wanted to know all about his work and his wild past. After a two-hour lovemaking session, Bob lay in bed, his hand on her left breast, and said: “Come on, Jess, you don’t want to hear about that ancient history, do you?” But Jesse had laughed and
She wanted to know everything, how he’d gotten into psychology and what it was all about. So Bob started telling her the story of his life, how he’d fallen into it when he was attending Hopkins in the seventies and how he and a group of his radical friends had studied Jung, and his theory of the collective unconscious. At that point he had to stop the story to explain to her just what that was. “Remember,” she said, “I’m jest this ignorant old country girl.” Bob kissed her on the head and assured her that wasn’t true at all. Naked, he held in his stomach as he reached up to the bookshelf and pulled down his musty old paperback copy of
Memories, Dreams, Reflections,
and just touching that book gave him a shock. He remembered Meredith and Rudy and himself all sitting there talking about archetypes and how the mandala was the symbol of wholeness in a divided world, and how they had felt they were on to something so deep, so wonderful, the secrets of the unconscious mind, and in their youthful arrogance so much more than that, the secrets of the
even. He hopped back into bed and began to explain Jung to her, how he had started with Freud but then developed the collective unconscious theory, in which all mankind dreams and shares the same myths, even though they are expressed symbolically in different ways. She caught on right away, and was thrilled not only by what Bob was teaching her but by the fact that she could understand it.
“That’s the thing,” she said. “I never knew I was smart enough to go to school. I was told I was a dummy by my daddy so often that I just stayed away from books and ideas.”
“That’s a terrible thing that was done to you, Jess,” Bob said. “In our country the poor are made to feel that they are stupid, so they’ll stay right in their place.”
She shook her head and tears came to her eyes.
“Oh Bobby,” she said. “And to think now I have my own personal guru.”
Bob shook his head, but she was all over him, kissing him with her lovely lips and asking him to tell her more. And so he did. He told her about how he and his friends wanted to use their therapy to wake up the world, because they all believed society was moving into a new kind of consciousness, and it was beyond anything the old straight political leaders could see or understand. They thought they could show people the way to a new spiritual growth, beyond material possessions. A world governed by a grace and harmony. And most of all kindness, compassion.
After going on for a while, Bob stopped and felt slightly embarrassed. Surely she must have heard enough by now. But she only snuggled up closer to him and said, “Bobby, I could listen to you talk for the next hundred years. Do you know what it’s like to grow up in a place like Beckley where talk is considered unmanly, where the only strength is the strength of your arms and back? Where if you’re a woman you would never even think to go to college?” She suddenly broke into tears at the thought of it and Bob patted them away, then heard himself telling more of his old stories, the ones he’d sworn he’d never tell again, not because they were dull but because they hurt so badly to recall. Because to tell her about those days of bright hope when he and Rudy and Meredith and the others lived together in a big-shingled house on St. Paul Street was to remind himself how far they had all fallen short of their youthful ideals. It was almost impossible to believe that the battered, compromised group of lumpy, middle-aged people were once the hot and sexy young stars of the Hopkins psychology program, the young radicals who started a revolutionary People’s Free Clinic, where they offered an alternative to the kinds of square psychotherapy that were going on at Phipps Clinic at Hopkins Hospital. How they didn’t believe in just sitting in a chair and listening to people’s problems, how they thought that was a cop-out, an artificial environment that put a huge wall between the therapist and his patient. How they realized that much of so-called mental illness was due to the very thing Jesse was talking about … working in dead-end jobs, feeling there was no hope, being trashed by bosses who had no interest in your self-esteem, and in fact had just the opposite interest—they wanted to keep a woman like Jesse down so they could control her. And how once they, the young rads, knew these things, they couldn’t remain simple shrinks anymore, just doling out little Freudian insights. No, they had to become revolutionaries who wanted to change not only psychology but the capitalist world, which created a certain kind of “mental illness” to begin with.
When he was done, she looked at him wide-eyed and said, “You’re my hero, baby.”
Bob didn’t know what to say. It was such a pure expression of her love for him that he blushed.
“Well, he said. “That was long ago.”
Whatever her educational shortcomings, the usage of the past tense wasn’t lost on Jesse.
“And what about now?” she said. “You still have patients and work in the community, don’t you?”
“Oh, of course,” Bob said. “I just meant that the historical moment … the big surge was back then. Now things are different.”
“But still good, right?”
“Fine,” Bob said. “Things are just fine.”
His irritation was aroused again. She was fishing, just like before. She wanted to know exactly
good. How long would it be before she asked to see his financial statements? Tomorrow? Two weeks from today?
And what lie could he tell her then? Nothing. He’d be through. This lovely woman, naked in his bed, would walk out and not only would her loss kill him, he’d be … God, he’d never thought of this before … he’d be a laughingstock to all his pals at the Lodge.
He could just hear them: “Poor old Bob. First he loses his clinic, then his wife to that schmuck Rudy, and now Jesse Reardon walks out on him. And
going to help other people learn how to live? What a joke.”
No, he couldn’t lose her. Not after losing everything else. He couldn’t go back to the old dead life. Not now. Not when fate had cast her into his hands. Surely, God, or whatever power ruled the universe, wouldn’t give him a woman like Jesse only to have her leave him.
It was, he thought, a test. A real test of his ingenuity and manhood. You wanted a woman to love and to love you back. Well, here she is. Great-looking, sexy, and talented, and she loves you.
Now how will you support her? How will you keep her around?
Kmile Bardan was back from his trip to England, which he described as a nightmare. He looked it, too. His spiky hair, always a wreck, now was like a tangle of worms and there were dark tea bags under his eyes.
“He was there,” he said, scratching his left wrist. “Colin Edwards was there and he kept coming after me. Oh man, it was terrible. He literally came up to me … and said right to my face that he was going to steal it. What the hell am I going to do?”
Bob didn’t know what to say. During the last few happy weeks Emile had been the last thing on his mind.
“Just because he said he would steal it doesn’t mean he’s actually going to,” he tried.
Emile flashed him a contemptuous look.
“Give me a break, doc,” he said. “Edwards will try to steal it. It makes me feel so damn helpless.”
The same way it makes me feel, Bob thought. But he had to make a try.
“But you’re not helpless,” he said. “When he says something like that to you, you can tell him you’ve hired guards and notified the police, and if anything happens to the mask, he’ll be the first person arrested!”
Emile laughed with disdain.
“Please,” he said. “You think I haven’t said that a thousand times? See, that’s what he wants me to do, engage him in talk, you know? Start yammering about how he’ll never get it, how I’ve got guards all over my office, my house, what kind of locks I’ve got on the safe, and he’ll never be able to break in. That kind of thing.”
Bob nodded his head, but something Bardan said struck him in the strangest way. Had Emile just accidentally told him where he kept the mask? Hadn’t he said that his office was in his house?
“You see, Doc,” Emile went on. “Colin is a monster. I have these dreams about him now.”
“Tell me about them,” Bob said.
Emile shifted uncomfortably in his seat and sighed heavily.
“Okay … I dream that I’m in bed just about to fall asleep. The door opens and Edwards is coming toward the bed. I mean, I can’t see him, but I know it’s him and he’s all wet, covered with mud and seaweed, and he’s coming right toward me … and in his hand is this knife. This huge steak knife and it’s all wet, too. And he gets near me, and I’m sure, absolutely sure, he’s going to plunge the knife into my back. But he doesn’t. He has this box, and instead he opens it and leaves it next to the bed. And then he’s gone.”
Emile Bardan started to cry. Bob pointed to the box of Kleenex on the table next to him. Emile plucked one out of the box and blew his nose.
“I look down at this box and I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid to open it, you know? But I can’t not open it. So I reach down and there’s this little clasp, and I pull it open and look inside, and there it is. It’s there, inside.”
“What is?” Bob said, gently.
“It’s a head. A human head, all wet and drenched with leaves and mud, and I pull it out by the hair and look at it and it’s him, my old friend, Larry Stapleton. His eyes are gone. They’ve been eaten by maggots and his nose is half eaten away and his lips are black, his teeth knocked out. It’s horrible.”
Emile shook and cried bitterly.
“I put the head back in the box and then I wake up.”
“Very powerful,” Bob said. “What does it suggest to you?”
Emile shook his head and wiped the tears from his cheek.
“Well, it’s not all that subtle, Doc,” he said. “Once you know the truth, you’ll see that. Larry Stapleton and I were very close friends. Larry was a Brit and was from a very wealthy family. Colin knew him, as well … it’s a very small world … and he wanted Larry to invest in his business. In fact, he took Larry to his country house for the weekend to talk him into it. I know all this from friends of Larry who were up there with them. They went hunting, drank champagne, and had it on with some of the local girls … and then Colin got down to business and asked Larry to invest in his company. Larry declined and then he dropped the big bomb. He told Colin he intended to back me in my business instead. Colin went crazy. They had a terrible row. Then they made up … at least Larry thought they had … and they went out on the river for a row. No one knows what happened exactly, but somehow the boat capsized and my friend Larry Stapleton drowned that afternoon. Killed by Colin Edwards, I’d stake my life on it.”