Read Mind Games Online

Authors: William Deverell

Tags: #General Fiction

Mind Games (9 page)

Sloan, watching, must have realized his error. He is one of those doctors who lard their scripts with jargon: any inappropriate ornate phrase will do. But I avoided embarrassing him, and after a quiet tête-à-tête with the prosecutor, the charge was withdrawn and the accused released to the street. Sloan could not look at me.

I’ve gone on at length about this episode because it’s an example of the kind of shoddy forensic practice that
should
draw the attention of a medical inquisition. Dr. Sloan didn’t innocently mislay the file of a person of reputation. He talked to a penniless vagrant for about ten minutes, found him unresponsive, certified him insane, and practically sentenced him
to life in the Coquitlam River gulag. (A full critique of slipshod forensic work is, by the way, to be found in Chapter Five of
Shrinking Expectations.)

The scene is also useful in sketching a typical picture of your patient on the job. I work both sides of the street, selling my services to the Crown for the occasional felony, more often going to bat for some outcast on legal aid. In this Une of work I make less than the average chicken farmer in Jackson Cove – bills for taxis, restaurants, and severance to departing secretaries add up – so I supplement with a private clientele.

But bravo! I succeeded in hiring a secretary that afternoon. For some reason I’ve attracted a series of fingernail-polishing misfits, three of whom quit on me, two were let gently go.

I hired James Lombardi, a former patient, a manic-depressive (a term I prefer to the politically correct Bipolar I Disorder), who saw my classified in the
Sun
. James had just been fired as private secretary to a local tycoon after an unauthorized spending spree (I assume he was off his lithium). He is a business-school graduate, a fifty-one-year-old workaholic, dapper and balding. He is dying to work with me. “I worship at your altar.”

I’m the saviour who originally diagnosed his condition, who grabbed him by the lapels when the news sank him lower, who told him a mood disorder was a sign of artistic temperament: look at Van Gogh, Tchaikovsky, Shelley. Now he draws with a rough talent and composes saccharine poetry. Otherwise, he lives a normal life: a West End apartment, a gay francophone partner who is teaching him French, breakfast at the Bagel Bar every Sunday morning.

His disorder is mild, but a careful monitoring of his intake of lithium carbonate might keep him marginally manic as he whirls through the tasks of bringing order from chaos (just joking). I gave him a tour of the office, and he managed not to grimace too much, though he said my billings were a shambles and the computer, a relic, would have to go.

The first test of his lasting powers came on Tuesday, his first day of work, as he was opening my mail. I’d already told James about Grundy Grundison, warning him to beware of letter bombs, but the note, I
know where you live
, still jarred him.

“Oh, my. This is
very
Vincent Price.”

I picked up the envelope by the corner. It was postmarked Vancouver, had been mailed Friday. Again: no return address, mine written in the kind of block capital letters a young child might print, as was the note. I was undecided whether to confront Bob Grundison or to play a more slippery game. He was to make his first regular visit to my office on Thursday.

“Surely I’m not about to meet this ogre?”

I told him Dotty Chung would be here too, hidden.

As I phoned her, James went back to his tasks, humming the theme from
Jaws
. My initial rush of fear was now tempered by the chilling reassurance that my suspicion, with its slight, worrisome air of paranoia, had grounds: someone
was
stalking me.

Dotty and I met for lunch at the Granville Island Market and took our sandwiches to the pier. This former industrial area, a bridged wedge of land in the heart of the city, has been custom-gentrified: corrugated metal is the motif of many of the smart shops and cafés. It was a fine day, a few clouds clinging to the mountains, tourists in abundance, the little tub of a passenger ferry disembarking a convoy of Nikon-toting Japanese, but I was morose, lacked appetite. Dotty listened silently as I threw fish-burger crumbs to the gulls, then said, “First thing we’re going to do, buddy, is move you.”

A note about Dotty Chung. She’s a bristle-haired compact tank, in her late thirties, single, blunt, and streetwise, the best cop the city ever lost. I met her after she finally graduated to detective – sex crimes, then homicide – but after a dozen years on the force, she found herself still unable to adapt to its air of patriarchy, and resigned. She runs her private investigation business not far from where we were lunching, in the Pier 32
office complex, and lives a stone’s throw away in Sea Village, in a two-storey houseboat.

And now she’s my good neighbour. Her proposal was startling in its simplicity. I’d move the
Altered Ego
to Granville Island, tie up at her houseboat. She’d be my first line of defence.

She waved away my protests. “I need the company. My casa is your casa. I’m hooked up to city water.” I’m not sure if she was intimating my deodorant had worn off, but the thought of a real shower was tempting. We were a stroll away from Fishermen’s Wharf, so we walked over and soon were aboard the
Ego
, motoring back to Granville Island.

Dotty sat with me at the stern, studying the note. “You sure he doesn’t mean your house in Kitsilano?”

“In the course of his prowls, he must have discovered that I’m no longer there. Note the sense of triumph, of discovery. ‘
I
know where you live.’” Sally will have to be alerted. But how do I reach her?

Dotty had pulled together some information on Lyall DeWitt. College swim team, soccer, karate club. He is the only male among four siblings, his mother a homemaker, stern but not uncaring, his father a plant foreman, a former steamfitter, up from the ranks. Lyall graduated from the Vancouver police academy after his B.A., but instead of joining the force accepted a job with Grundison Inc., where he was put in charge of its Calgary security office. The only blemish on his record: an assault charge for bashing an intruder against a concrete pillar at the Grundison Tower, for which he was given a discharge.

I may have no alternative but to waylay Sally at the airport – it would be unwise for her to stay alone at home. I’ve thought of moving back there until her return, but I couldn’t abide the ghosts and memories. Could she be persuaded to move into the
Ego
with me, forgive, start afresh?

We pulled into Sea Village, a gated community of houseboats, where we moored behind Dotty’s twenty-horse runabout. I just had time to use her upstairs shower, a luxury after
the dribbling hose in the
Altered Ego’s
head, before retrieving Vesuvio and returning to the office for my afternoon clients.

Until I walked in, I’d forgotten that one of them was Vivian Lalonde. She was wearing a revealing short, fluted skirt, a halter top. More conservatively dressed, she’d still be stunning, but she has a need to advertise herself, to set her snares for the men she feels compelled to play with and discard. I hadn’t seen her for a few weeks – she’d cancelled once, perhaps feeling awkward at having kissed her broken-hearted therapist, but I preferred to ascribe that to empathy or pity And then her father had rewarded her, for the latest failed marriage, with a Mediterranean cruise.

She seemed in well-enough spirits, chatting to James as he set up my new computer and colour copier.

“And here he is now,” he said. “In a little less of a frazzle, we hope.”

The threatening note was still on my mind as I led Vivian into the consulting room, so I was ill-prepared for what happened. The session began routinely enough.

“How’s the summer shaping up?”

“I’m taking a course at Emily Carr.”

“Good. How was the cruise?”

“I was surrounded by old fogies. I spent a lot of time thinking.”

“About what?”

“You, Timothy.”

“In what sense?” A tickle of concern here.

“I’m not sure … about what you’re going through, I suppose. You were so sad that morning.”

“Thank you, but I’m fine.”

“Really? You seem on edge. Are you and your wife still …?”

“Apart, yes.” I found myself being peremptory, businesslike. “All right, Vivian, we have an hour, make yourself comfortable.”

She sat on the overstuffed armchair that some patients prefer
to my couch – they can stretch their legs out on the equally overstuffed footstool. She was looking brightly at me, sitting up, chest thrust out, legs crossed. “Forgive me for thinking about you.”

Her tone was teasing, but I didn’t bite. “Still at your parents’?”

“I rented a bachelorette in the West End, thirty-sixth floor. Incredible view, all ocean and mountains. I like to study on the balcony. You should come up and see a sunset, it’s dizzying.”

I shivered. “How did your parents feel about this move?”

“Oh, I fought with Dad, he wanted me to stay. I told him I have a life, and I’m going to live it.”

“You seem in better spirits.”

“Yes, I think I’ve really got hold of myself. It’s like … I know where I’m going, I feel I have … a target in life?” She kicked off a shoe and stretched a leg across the footstool, then tucked in her top, bringing her breasts into sharper relief.

“What sort of target?”

“Goals. Not just about my career – life goals. I’m going to get somewhere. I had another bad marriage, so okay, forget it. Life is what you make of it, some things you have to put behind you. You’ve taught me that. I’m young, healthy, independent, not bad to look at, and I’m not dumb. I actually have this sense that … if there’s something out there I want, I can get it.”

I heard an echo from an earlier session: she’d recalled, as a child, her lavishly generous father telling her she could have anything she wanted. Certain suggestions become imprinted.

“I’m too comfortable to get up. Would you mind?” A seductive pout as she pointed to the water cooler.

She couldn’t take her eyes off you
, Sally had said. True, but Vivian was a relentlessly flirtatious young woman. Sadly, one too often sees this trait after a history of sexual abuse by the male parent. I say no more, Allis – I shouldn’t have said that. But a transference seemed now to be occurring – not the positive
transference of psychiatrist as surrogate daddy but as prey. She was displaying, signalling: I am free, I’m available. Was I her target in life?

I fetched her the water, wondering how to divert her from a mistaken course. “Vivian, I want you to tell me what’s going on in your head right now.”

She drew her leg from the footstool, curled it under her. “About what, Timothy?”

“What do you think you’re really saying to me?”

A shrug. “What are you reading?”

I didn’t hand her the glass but placed it on the table beside her. I caught a scent of her: clean, lightly perfumed. I confess I felt unbidden stirrings. Instead of reaching for the glass, she grasped my hand. I resisted the urge to jerk it free.

“You’re nervous about something, Timothy, and I think I know what it is. Don’t think your own messages haven’t been received. You’re not so hard to read yourself. Do you remember when you put me under?”

The euphemism, I presumed, was in reference to my having hypnotized her during our third session. That is a tool I use only on rare occasions, when there seems no other way to remove a block. She had seemed unusually keen on trying it, but instead of recognizing, for instance, a reciprocated childhood passion for Daddy, she produced blander, though not insignificant, memories – her favourite pre-adolescent game was pretending to be a princess.

“I was under your control. You could have done anything you wanted, and I’d wake up and wouldn’t remember it. Anything you wanted.”

I tried gently to pull away, but she came with me, like a hitched caboose, rising from her chair, tightening her grip on my hand.

“I could sense you wanting to touch me, I was waiting for that. But you were too shy. For a while afterwards, I wasn’t sure what was happening between us … until you let your hair
down. Remember? You poured your heart out to me, you shared so intimately. And there was such a deep connection.”

Suddenly she pulled my hand to her breast; for a moment, I couldn’t move – my hand felt impaled there, a burning erotic wound. I finally staggered back, but again Vivian moved with me, and in a scene from a French burlesque, we fell in tandem over the footstool onto my Oriental rug.

Alerted by the thump of falling bodies, James entered, then hesitated, as if unsure if he’d stumbled into an unusual form of bodywork therapy. I pried Vivian’s fingers loose from my hand and bolted to safety.

“Oh,
excusé moi.”

“It’s all right, James, a little accident.”

He managed to blank his face of all curiosity – an exceptional feat, I thought – and stepped out and closed the door.

“Vivian, I’m going to have to recommend another psychiatrist.” She remained seated on the floor, looking wounded.

As I was explaining to her that she shouldn’t feel embarrassed, that this was hardly a historical first in therapy, she looked woeful and begged forgiveness. She’d misread me, she’d comport herself more appropriately, she felt secure with me, I’d helped her so much already.

I heard an inner whispering: end this doctor-patient relationship. Beware, Nataraja had warned: she doesn’t have all her buttons done up. But wasn’t that the point of my working with her? I earn my livelihood from the unbuttoned, and, given the precarious state of that livelihood, doesn’t she have the right to the therapist of her choice?

I told Vivian to forget any romantic expectations: she was in therapy, I was merely her guide. She was free to come back in a week’s time to tell me if she accepts those terms.

She was limp and resigned as I ushered her out, and I worried that she might become deeply depressed – she is subject to severe mood swings. But she politely took my hand, murmured more apologies, and slipped out.

This seemed a textbook case of the sort of attachment that can be inflicted upon those in the business of dispensing empathy – patients will often misread therapeutic closeness. I’d shown myself to her in a moment of vulnerability, and a defenceless man presents an adorably pitiful picture: the heart goes out, and as a by-product, the woman feels empowered.

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