GHOSTS OF FRIENDSHIP - JENEAN MCBREARTY
Jennifer called three times before ten o’clock. Lynn was in the shower the first time, so she only lied twice about not hearing the phone when Jennifer, in desperation, came by the house. When her silver Mazda rolled up the drive-way and stopped, Lynn had sighed in exasperation and steeled herself for another onslaught of Jennifer’s questions. Why was Rojilio treating her so disrespectfully? Why didn’t he just tell her not to come see him at his office? Why couldn’t he communicate his feelings? Did he even have feelings? They were endless questions that only had one answer. Rojilio acted the way he did because he was married man and Jennifer knew that going in.
“You’re going to get hurt,” Lynn told her. “Hispanic men don’t talk about their feelings, especially to middle-aged American women in Mexican med-schools. You think you’re the only woman who’s thrown herself at him?”
Jennifer ignored the warning the way women do when they fall in love with love and can’t see anything else, when they ride the roller coaster up and down, apex to nadir, three or four times a week. Then on weekends, when Rojilio was with his wife and three sons, Jennifer was crying on any available shoulder, pleading for answers. “What should I do?” she demanded to know, and Lynn’s response was always the same.
“Stay away from him. He’s no good. He wants the ego stroke of knowing there’s a woman who wants him.”
“Then he never should have come on to me. If he didn’t want to follow through why start?”
“You’re right. He’s wrong. Move on.”
But Jennifer couldn’t leave it alone. She was determined to “push the envelope”. Whatever that meant. Lynn told her not to issue ultimatums. Ultimatums close off escape routes, and men must have a way out to feel in control. Corner them, and anxiety turns them vicious. Jennifer said she understood, then took Rojilio a plate of lasagna she made because he liked Italian food. She was Italian. Accepting food from her meant he liked her. She could find meaning in cow dung.
Lynn opened her office door. One look at Jennifer’s swollen eyes told her she’s been weeping for hours. “I have to talk to you, Lynn," Jennifer said sailing past her into the living room.
“I have a client coming at eleven thirty,” Lynn said.
“I need you to tell me what to do. He says we need to keep this “professional”. Can you believe that?”
“So, back off and take him at his word,” Lynn said.
“He wasn’t acting professional when he grabbed my arm and kissed me on the cheek for Mother’s Day.”
“That was May, this is October. Things change.” Lynn was trying to sound like a supportive clinical psychologist. Humane but authoritative.
“Does this look professional?” Jennifer pulled back her brown hair and showed Lynn the knuckle-sized hickey on her neck. “Well?”
Lynn inspected the purple mark, trying to gauge if it was recent. “Uhh….Did he give you that today?”
“Day before. I brought you a picture of him.” Lynn rolled her eyes. Jennifer opened her brown leather hand bag – the one that went with everything she owned – and shoved an 3X5 black and white into her hand. “I got it off the internet.”
Lynn stared at the chubby-faced Hispanic face glowering towards the camera. He looked like the doctors she saw daily at the Birchwood Institute for Psychological Research: arrogant, white-coated, well groomed, not a black hair out of place. If it weren’t for the stethoscope dangling from his neck, he could have passed for a dentist or a pharmacist, or a vet. “He’s ordinary,” she said.
“He just looks ordinary. He’s not. He’s… he’s…”
“A son-of-a-bitch,” Lynn offered.
“No. He’s crazy,” Jennifer said.
“A crazy son-of-a-bitch. So’s my alcoholic ex-husband. You see how that turned out.”
Jennifer took back the picture and held it lovingly in her hands, close to her breast. “I went to see Sister Clara."
“The psychic-on-Market-Street Sister Clara?” Jennifer nodded yes. “So why come here when you can get expert advice for twenty dollars?”
Jennifer made out a check to Dr. Lynn Kretzer, scribbled her name at the bottom of #3325, ripped it from the pad, and handed it to Lynn. “Name your price, friend.”
“Don’t be silly.” Lynn went to her desk, pretending to recheck Mr. Eleven Thirty’s appointment time and hoping to change the subject.
“I was desperate, Lynn,”
“You’re always desperate about something.”
“Yeah, but...," Jennifer started to say and then swallowed her words. Lynn said “yeah-but’ was a game she didn’t like to play. “Sister Clara said I should find out what a passive-aggressive is.”
The familiar term intrigued Lynn. Although the psychological community no longer used it, she was surprised Sister Clara offered it when she heard Jennifer’s catalogue of woes. “Sister Clara's right. Why didn’t she explain it to you?”
“My twenty dollars was up and she had regulars waiting.”
“I know how that goes.”
“You’re the only psychologist I know.”
Lynn sat down in her “shrink’s chair” and gestured for Jennifer to take the client’s chair. The large-framed woman snuggled into the soft black faux-leather. “A passive-aggressive doesn’t want to admit or deal with his own anger. He contrives to make it seem that the other person's at fault, thus relieving himself of personal and public responsibility for his actions. Actively aggressive people beat the crap out of you. A passive aggressive person makes you beat the crap out of yourself as he innocently watches and remains morally superior.”
Jennifer stiffened. “No one can make you do what you don’t want to do.”
“That’s my point. But someone can encourage you to do what you do want to do, and never commit to anything. Look at it this way. If Rojilio’s wife finds out about your visits to her husband, he can truthfully say, Honey, I told her we’re just professional colleagues, but she keeps coming to my office on the thinnest pretext. She’s stalking me. Is he lying to his wife? No. He’s just not telling her that when you come to see him, he’s friendly and kisses you good-bye. She says, Honey, did you ever tell her you love her? And he says—again truthfully—no, dear. You get it? He gets to have his cake, eat it, share it and still have some left over.”
Jennifer listened intently, but Lynn had seen her listening before. She always appeared to be a sane and sensible person when she was away from the hospital where Rojilio worked. Ten minutes later she was suicidal. Again.
“Ok. I guess I’ll just have to get used to being alone again,” Jennifer said. She packed up purse and headed for the door. Lynn walked with her as a friend of someone who’s a pain in the ass. How long before she realized she left Rojilio’s picture behind was another issue. She looked at it once more before she stuck it away in Jennifer’s file. Men are expert game players. They should be, they’ve been playing for a long time and they have the professional coaches.
Mr. Eleven–thirty arrived at noon, apologizing three times for being late before he made it down the hallway to Lynn’s home office. “I really did have a flat. See, here’s the auto club receipt. I guess most guys know how to change a tire, but I never have. Do you think it’s because I’m gay?”
Lynn smiled and said no despite her suspicions. Her cousin, Mark, had never changed a tire either, and she often suspected him of being gay. “Don’t worry about it, Mr. Eleven … ah Wilson. I think we’re almost done. You’ve seemed to have conquered your fear of working. You’ve been on the job six months now.”
Mark Wilson wore Hawaiian print shirts, khaki cotton slacks, and sandals with white socks. He was a computer repairman and got a job at Best Buy. Because he worked in the back, he didn’t have to wear a blue polo shirt. Lynn believed that’s what tipped the scale in favor of his recovery.
“There’s nothing left to do but settle accounts, then,” Mark said. He took out his checkbook and Lynn thought of Jennifer. “How much do I owe you for today?”
Sister Clara popped into Lynn’s head. “Twenty dollars,” she said.
When Mark left, a thoroughly satisfied customer who promised he'd send tons of business her way, Lynn poured herself a glass of cranberry juice and said a silent prayer of thanks. No clients for the rest of the day, and she didn’t have to be back at the Institute till ten tomorrow. Life was good, except for the occasional Mark or Jennifer she had to deal with. Most of her clients had real problems. Mark and Jennifer just hadn’t grown up. Time would cure them. Funny how alike people are without even knowing each other. She stamped “closed” on Mark’s file and was about to put it in her “to file” box along with Jennifer’s when a hazy memory, like a whiff of honeysuckle from her garden in the first days of summer, wrapped its arms around her.
She lifted the cover of Jennifer’s file and saw the picture of Rojilio Carena glaring at her. She did recognize him. But from where? That’s going to bug me, she thought, holding the picture upright in front of her. She booted up her computer and typed ROJILIO CARENA into Google. Nothing. Jennifer said she’d gotten the picture off the internet, but it was obviously a lie. Lynn laughed at her suspicions of skullduggery. Jennifer had taken the photo and didn’t want her to know the obsession with Roljilio included taking photos of him—perhaps with her cell phone camera? That would explain how and why Jennifer had the picture, but didn’t explain away her own nagging feeling she’d seen him somewhere before. She called Jennifer and left a message: Call me. This is Lynn.
Jennifer didn’t call, and by the week-end Lynn was worried. If things were better, Jennifer would certainly call for a shot of friend-approval. If things were worse, she’d be in need of a fix-me fix. She called Jennifer’s mother, promising herself she’d play the unanswered message off as a machine malfunction. Her call met a reflection of her own concern.
“It’s not like Jenny not to call. She knows I’m worried about her going to school in Mexico. Ensenada might not be Nuuevo Laredo, but it’s still dangerous for a single woman to live down there. And those hospital people….I don’t trust them. Jenny offered to help get them a used nuclear cardiology testing machine, and you know what they said? No. Can you believe that?”
“Yes, Mrs. Appleton, Jennifer told me a bout that. Do you have any contacts in Ensenada who could check on her?”
“No. That’s the problem. You think I should call the Federales or the Border Patrol?”
“Both,” Lynn answered. Mrs. Appleton would be calling back. Jennifer was dead. Maybe her body would be found, but the why and who of her murder were like Jennifer’s unanswerable questions. “Have the police call me. Maybe I can help,” she told Mrs. Appleton when, two hours later, the clam, dry-voiced women confirmed what Lynn already knew.
Jennifer had been found in Calexico, a border town abutting Mexicali, in the Imperial Valley. An autopsy report said she'd died of an overdose of black tar heroin. Probably injected against her will, her mother insisted, because Jennifer hated drugs; her ex-husband had been an in-and-out of rehab addict.
“I met Jennifer at an Ala-non meeting,” Lynn explained to Detective Steve Ryan. “We hit if off immediately.”
“Is that the reason you went into psychology—interest in addiction?” Ryan wore an official's costume: navy blue suit and tie, and a soft mint-green shirt. He acted official too, never talking his eyes off Lynn except to jot down notes, treating her like a suspect. He must have been in the military because he sat up straight in the chair Jennifer had nestled in.
“Actually I always liked figuring out people. Jennifer liked it too, but she wasn’t good at it. Obviously.” Psychology—the fourteenth step. The last refuge of those touched by the insanity of other peoples' behavior and obsessed with trying to rewrite history.
Ryan flipped the page of his notebook. “You think she knew her killer?”
Lynn handed Ryan Jennifer’s unofficial file. He opened it and inspected Rojilio’s picture. “Who’s this?” Ryan said.
“Rojilio Carena, a cardiologist at the Centro Medico de Ensenada. She’d dreamed of being a doctor all her life.”
“So her mother said. How come she didn’t go to med school in the states?”
“It's too expensive, and she's too old. Americans find lots of things cheaper down South.”
“She involved with this guy romantically?”
“She wanted to be. He’s married.”
“Meaning he didn’t want to be,” Ryan said, as if to himself.
“Didn't want to be married or involved?”
Lynn winced. While she and Hank were still married, she’d had an affair. She did want to be married, but sex with an alcoholic was so rare, she didn’t want to be married too. Maybe Rojilio felt the same way. Relationships were rarely simple. “You’d have to ask him. I don’t think they ever screwed. She never talked about him that way."
“What way is that?"
“You know, sharing intimate details." Ryan was still wearing that I-don’t-understand look. “Size. Shape. Taste—she would have told me if they’d screwed in detail.” That was half the fun of having a therapist. Reliving one’s life and telling it to somebody who hadn’t seen the movie.
“So he kept her on the string. Hmmm. Could she have been a mule?”
That possibility never occurred to Lynn. Jenny could've had a reason to feel betrayed beyond the usual pain of unrequited love, and drug running definitely created a motive for murder. “I don’t think so, but you never really know about people.”
“I’ll need a copy of Rojilio’s photo.”
Lynn obliged. Ryan left her wondering if maybe she wasn’t as good at figuring out people as she thought. He’d promised to keep her informed about the investigation, but if drugs were the reason for Jenny’s murder, Ryan wouldn’t tell her diddly squat. He did, however, attend Jenny’s funeral. Probably wanting to see if Rojilio showed. “Can the Federales help at all?” Lynn asked as they walked to the graveside for final prayers.
“Sure. The question is will they help. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. What did she say about him,” Ryan said.
“Mostly, no always, about how he mistreated her. Hot and cold—you know the type. Kept her jumping up and down, made dates then broke them. No explanation. Hid behind his marriage, his religion, anything to excuse his behavior. Said he loves his wife, then talks about sex. Flirts.”
“And she put up with it.”
“Women do stupid things when they’re in love.”
“So do men,” Ryan said,” Believe me.”
“Talking from experience, Detective?”
They stood together as Rev. Witten read the thirty-second psalm, and they said the Lord’s prayer together. They expressed their condolences to Mrs. Appleton. They went to dinner. When Lynn got home, she wrapped herself in her royal blue snuggie, sipped hot cocoa, and wished she could call Jennifer to tell her she was in love with Detective Ryan. Jennifer would be speechless. She’d wonder if Lynn had lost her reason and she’d be right to wonder. Lynn felt fourteen again, the way Jennifer must have felt when she was around Rojilio. Why had Ryan stood so close to her at the funeral? Why had he asked her out to dinner? Was he starting something with her, or did he just want information? All those unanswered questions. They were enough to keep Lynn staring at a dark ceiling most of the night.
Ryan called her every day. They had lunch at Barini’s Italian Ristorante and lattes at Starbucks. He brought the wine and she cooked dinner, and they talked for hours about how police work depended on psychological information. She felt they made a good team. He told her to call him Steve. It wasn’t going to be difficult to solve Jennifer’s murder with both of them working on the case. “Rojilio certainly fits the profile of a frustrated middle-aged man. If he’s runnin’ heroin across the border to supplement his income, he’d have good reason to want Jennifer out of his life. Nothing complicates things like a stalker,” he said to her as they sat in front of the fire place, enjoying a nightcap after their moonlight dinner on the Bahia Belle.
What he didn’t say was that Mrs. Steve Ryan was waiting for him to come home for a parent-teacher conference at Bethune Elementary school. Lynn found that out when she called his office and the secretary said “It's your wife,” when she handed Steve the phone. He apologized for missing the meeting with Becky's teacher before he realized who he was talking to.
Lynn hung up after saying she understood why he hadn’t shown. When Steve went home, he'd tell his wife he was glad she understood, and hand her a dozen roses. Mrs. Steve Ryan would understand too.
Lynn could forget him. Years of living with a jerk had taught her they never change. You just have to walk away. But when Steve called, she made a date to see him to “clear the air”. The Jennifer excuse.
“I knew it was you on the phone, Lynnie,” he told her. “The lie was for the secretary. You think I want her to know I’m seeing another woman? You think I want her to know I’m working with a civilian to solve the Appleton murder?”
“Why didn’t you tell me you were married?”
“Because when I’m with you, I’m not married. I’m not thirty-six years old either. I’m six-teen and playing varsity football and ready for sex when I say your name. Like I said, men do crazy things when they’re in love.”
She cooked breakfast for him. Scrambled eggs and black coffee never tasted like caviar and champagne before, and she had an unfamiliar ache between her legs. Honeymooners ache, they call it. That's why women don’t care if their boyfriends turn up married.
Steve loved her. He said so. Didn’t he? The doubts returned by noon, lurking in the shadows with Jennifer, dark miasmas guarding the door to reality. This is different, she told herself, but it was Jennifer’s voice she heard saying, no it's no different, you sap. So what if we enjoy each other. It’s not like I think we’re getting married. I know he’s never leaving his wife for me. Lynn couldn’t believe she was saying Jennifer’s lines in a melodrama that was supposedly hers. Maybe it was time she “saw some one”. She called her Ala-non sponsor.
“He knew you were vulnerable, Cheryl said. "Your friend had just been murdered, for God’s sake. He knew you needed comfort and support, and you're not the type to call his wife. The worst you’ll do is yell at him and hang up the phone a few times before you call it quits. Eventually your self-regard will win out and everything will be okay for both of you. You’re not gonn’a off yourself or anything.”
Cheryl's words rattled around her head like wayward ball bearings. Suicide was a possibility she’d dismissed in Jennifer’s case. People have killed themselves over broken hearts. No man was worth it, but maybe Jennifer thought Rojilio was. Lynn went to see Marylin, Jennifer’s sponsor. “Did Jennifer ever talk to you about a guy named Rojilio?” She let the forty-something woman who looked terrific in sweat pants and an eighties headband study Rojilio's picture.
“Yes,” Marylin said. “But she stopped talking to me about him when I told her she was addicted to him, the bastard. I’m afraid I wasn’t much help to the police.”
“You know its bad when the victim starts protecting the perpetrator,” Lynn said, and was tempted to tell Marylin she was lucky she didn’t have anything to tell Ryan about Jennifer. He might have wanted her to help in the investigation too.
“It’s up to you, Jenny,” she told the ghost who followed her around like a three-year old. “If we’re gonn’a make any sense out of this, you gott’a talk to me.”
She pulled Jenny’s file, and read her notes. They were lengthy at first, then shorter as Jenny’s confession became repetitive and her demands for explanations became annoying. She hadn't stopped listening. She’d just begun to realize that Jenny wasn’t really talking to her anymore. She was talking to herself with Lynn in the room. She had to vomit out the pain, and Lynn’s job wasn’t to force feed her advice, but to hold her head the way she did in the ladies room on prom night. Maybe that’s the reason Sister Clara sent Jennifer away. No smart business person sends a paying customer packing off to a competitor unless the customer's being a pain in the ass.
But maybe Sister Clara wasn’t a typical business person. Some of these psychics, Lynn learned in grad school, were actually astute students of human nature. Under different circumstances, they might have become licensed counselors, or priests. “This is Lynn Kretzer,” she told Sister Clara. “A friend of mine recommended I see you.”
Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. runs from downtown San Diego all the way through Barrio Logan, passing through the black neighborhood of South East San Diego. Lynn hadn’t been there since she did an internship as a school counselor at Gomper’s Magnate Middle School. She remembered Sister Clara’s place— a white house surrounded by a white wrought iron fence laced with ivy and blue Morning Glories—and looked for the sign in the front yard. Bold black letters proclaimed Palm Reading and Psychic Services, M-F, 9-9. By appointment only. The phone number was there too, the digits severing the life-line of a crudely drawn hand.
Lynn rang the door-bell and waited, noticing the birdbath, and thinking how unmysterious the place looked. The house could have belonged to a retired church lady. The black woman who answered the door was dressed in a saffron chemise with a purple sari draped around her shoulders and waist. The gold hoops dangling from her ears gleamed like real gold. If they were as real as the diamonds she wore on her fingers, the ethereal world paid better than the research institute.
“Come in—the both of you,” Sister Clara said.
Lynn looked over her shoulder to see if another customer had joined her on the porch. “I’m alone,” she said as she stepped inside the house. The pungent aroma of sandalwood and myrrh filled her nostrils, and the retro beaded doorways took Lynn back to the hippie movies her parents had watched when she was a kid.
“You say that, but you know better. Your friend is with you. I see her at your side. She’s dead.”
“Can you see her face? Who is she?” It was a fair test.
“She's one of my own children." It was a cryptic answer psychics are famous for. Sister Clara took her to the kitchen table that stood next to a wall covered with pictures: Jesus—black and white, Moses, a green plaque with Arabic writing, Buddha, Kali, and several versions of Mary—Lourdes, Guadalupe, Fatima. All the biggies were there.
“You keep good company," Lynn said, as she sat down.
“Oh my, yes. I'm never alone. All them spirits—good and bad. Yep, those bad ones gives me a terrible time. Now what you want of Sister Clara?"
Lynn hauled out Rojilio's picture. “You ever see this man before?"
“A man come here a few days ago asking the same question. Always people want answers to the same questions."
“Detective Steve Ryan." Lynn said. "Tall. Green eyes. Black hair —thinning."
“He show me the picture of the man and your dead friend. I say, yes, I see the man but not the picture. I see him with your friend. He's a bad spirit, that one. He follow her around. Always stabbing her in the heart." Sister Clara was gently stabbing at the table with her fist.
“Did he kill her?"
“No. The other one. The one that has the little girl." Sister Clara said. “You don't know about the little girl. She don't tell you about that sweet little girl. Half white. Half brown."
“Will you tell me?"
“Your friend had the sickness. She don't want to know the future. She want to control it. Make God do what she wants. Give her everything she wants and when she get it, she don't want it no more. Keep God on his toes. Never say thank-you." Sister Clara knew about narcissism and hadn't paid thousands of dollars to learn about it—a financial blessing if not a spiritual one. “She say all men bad. Treat her bad. But I tell her it's not so." Sister Clara pointed to a picture of St. Joseph. “To get a good man, you have to be a good woman first."
Lynn scanned the room for Sister Clara's self-help library. People who spoke in guru clichés usually displayed where they came from. “Where is the little girl now?" Mrs. Appleton never mentioned the child.
“In the Valley with her Auntie," Sister Clara said.
“Did you tell Detective Ryan about her? What's her name?"
Sister Clara closed her eyes, and rocked sideways, slowly, like a metronome. “Poor little flower. Mama call her Jasmine, but that not her name."
“But, did you tell Ryan about her?"
The wrinkled eyes flew open and Sister Clara stopped rocking. “You stay away from Ryan. He no good. I tell you. Get the child. Her Auntie's a nurse. Go to school with Jennifer."
Lynn paid her twenty in cash, and drove home dreaming of the look of admiration she'd get from Ryan. She'd obtained information without a badge or a pistol or subterfuge. She was valuable to the case. To him. They were a great team.
But before she could tell him about Jenny's Jasmine, Ryan let out a loud "Goddamnit! You realize you might have compromised the entire investigation?"
“No. I did what any friend would do under the circumstances," Lynn said, fighting back tears.
“How's that? Nosing around. Asking questions of possible suspects..."
“Suspect? Sister Clara? You gotta be kidding."
He grabbed his jacket off the back of one of Lynn's dining room chairs. “I think we ought to cool it till I'm done with the case, Lynnie. You're getting too involved and this could turn ugly."
“As in someone might find out about us?"
“Think what you want." Lynn watched him walk to the door, car keys in hand, and leave as politely as he'd entered her office. She wanted to say something to him, something that would hurt but not anger, something to make him stay but make him stay because he wanted to, something to make him explain what he meant by his words: think what you want. She wanted to think that he cared about her, that “ugly" meant dangerous, and that he didn't want her to get hurt because he loved her.
“If he meant he loved you, he would have said so, Lynn," Cheryl said after her half-hour explanation of Ryan's hasty exit. “As it is, he's made the situation conveniently ambiguous. You may see him again, or not. It's his way, no double hits."
“What the hell does that mean? Doesn't anyone speak plain English anymore?"
Cheryl laughed softly to herself. “Did you never play tetherball?"
“The ball hitched to a pole with a rope? No."
“Before the game, one of the players calls out the rules of engagement. My way means that guy gets to choose which way round the pole he'll smack the ball. It's an advantage, especially to left-handed hitters. And no double hits means no stopping the ball and then hitting it. No taking time to set up the hit."
“Oh." Lynn had preferred volleyball where players were supposed to set up hits. The better the set-up, the better the assist.
“Ryan's let you know he makes the rules, Lynn."
“But it's information he needs..."
“And if you call him, you'll be signing on to his rules."
“But this is about the case, not us."
“It's been about nothing else but 'us' from the day you decided to screw him—for him anyway. He's a guy.” Cheryl held up her hand as if to stop the buts. She turned off her tape recorder and handed the tape to Lynn.
“Take this home and listen to it. Psychologist, heal thyself.”
Was it really her talking to Cheryl, or was it Jennifer? Or Mister Eleven-thirty. Or the people who spoke at the women's closed Al-anon meeting. "It is what it is," she said to herself out loud. And then cried into her pillow the way she did when her ex passed out in the living room after telling her she was a nothing bitch no one else would touch. She was still a nothing. Steve didn't need her to tell him about Jenny's kid, or her ex-husband, or the Auntie in the Valley. He'd find out where Jenny went to school, and who with, and if the ex killed Jenny. Nobody's life is secret anymore, least of all for people like Jenny who told everyone her business. Even strangers.
Lynn's cell phone played Steve's ring tone: Peter Gun. The screen stayed lit, meaning he was leaving a message; a blinking red light beckoned her to listen. It'd been 48 hours. Enough time for her to miss him, but not enough time for her to get the Steve-drug out of her system. Perhaps there'd been a break in the case. Perhaps he regretted treating her so shabbily. Perhaps he'd been back to Sister Clara's and knew she had information. If she didn't call him back, he'd be at her doorstep. The Lynn-drug wasn't out of his system either. The tears dried. The sobs ceased. It's not like she didn't know the game. Only this time it would be her way, no double hits.
Resolve dissolves. That's the magic of passion. Somewhere between the joneses and the end of physical addiction, in that gray time when sanity hangs in the balance, God willing, no Steve would appear and she'd be ready to replace him with—ABS. Anything BUT Steve. Running, aerobics, dishing out macaroni and cheese at the homeless shelter.
But Steve was a professional too. He knew he had to make contact soon or Lynn would be running to the homeless shelter, spoon in hand, after her aerobics class. She heard his familiar tap-tap tap-tap-tap at her door, took a deep breath and opened the door a sliver. "I don't have time now, Detective, I'm seeing a patient in five minutes."
He gave her a full-body once over with greedy eyes, and pushed in the door. “Bull-shit."
Lynn pulled out her cell phone and hit 911. Then off, then 911 again. “Who're you callin'?" Steve demanded.
“My appointment," she lied, and gave him a smile. When the operator answered, she said, “This is Dr. Kretzer I have an emergency here. A patient of mine is in crisis."
“Can you give us more information?" the operator said.
“No, that's not possible."
“We're sending help."
Steve was in the kitchen, rummaging through the refrigerator. “Got anything cold?"
“No alcohol, but there's juice."
He came to her as she stood in the doorway and wrapped his arms around her. Had he worn the Gray Flannel aftershave she’d given him just for her? “I got some juice for you, Babe." he said smothering her neck with warm lips. She tried to unwind from him but he held her tighter. “Where you goin'? You know you want some of this." He forced her hand to his crotch.
She felt herself jolt from adrenaline. Wasn't this the way it always started? Somehow the other guy sensed you wanted to be polite and safe, and all those good manners did was make the other guy want to show you what a geeky fool you were. In an instant, this wasn't a man and a woman playing love games, it was a victim and a perpetrator in the opening round of a fight that never ended well. Thoughts of Jenny's corpse lying on a autopsy table in a cold green room flashed before her.
“Don't do this, Steve. You've got a family and a career to think about."
“Well, a career anyway. The family thing is history," he said. He'd moved his arm around her neck. If she turned away from him, he'd have her in a choke hold.
“Tell me what happened," she whispered.
“You called my wife."
Now she knew the source of his anger. “Not me, Steve. I wouldn't do that. You know that." But I would, she heard Jenny's voice say, and I did.
“I know you bitches talk too much. I'm not here to talk." She heard him unzip his pants, felt his shoulder holster press into her back.
“Then let's not waste time in the kitchen when there's a big bed in the next room..." The second he let her go, Lynn heard a voice: Run! Run! And run she did to the hall and yanked the fire alarm, grabbed the hose, and turned, ready to fight. Steve was at her heels, his face red with rage. But when the first neighbor pulled open his door, he backed up. “Hurry, Mr. Crenshaw, get your wife! Call the fire department!" Lynn screamed.
“What the hell's goin' on here?" Crenshaw said, and put himself between Lynn and the demon. Steve stood against the wall, glaring at them as Lynn panted and clung to the plump woman who'd come into the hall behind her husband. “Take her inside, Mother," Crenshaw said, but before the women took a step, two uniformed policemen hurried towards them. “There ain't no fire, I saw this son-of-a-bitch zippin' up his fly," Crenshaw said, “and she's got a bruised neck...look at her...this son-of-a-bitch was tryin' to rape her...I swear he was.."
Lynn couldn't move. Could barely speak. “He was trying to kill me," she sobbed. “He was. He was."
Ryan declined a plea bargain and got three to five years for assault and battery. Cheryl and Marylin were with her throughout the trial. “Serves him right," Cheryl said after the sentencing. “That's what arrogance gets you."
Marylin avoided her pleading eyes. “You came close to gettin' burned—it's what playin' with fire gets you, Lynn Kretzer.”
But Sister Clara got it right. “Jenny show you what happened to her. He take her love, her body, her life. She say get her girl. You owe her.”
When she saw Steve sitting in the defendant's chair, she never looked away. She didn't shake or cry or mumble. Jenny was by her side like Sister Clara said she'd be. And in time, she and Jenny would untangle their lives and their deaths, just like Sister Clara said they would. “She your ghost friend now. Good to have friends on the other side.”
But Lynn was a professional with professional distance trained into her. She understood why Steve acted the way he did. He'd lost his family. He was as much a victim as she was. The prison psychs would help him see that. He needed help and she needed to forgive him—for closure. She'd arranged for Mrs. Appleton to meet little Jasmine. She’d brought a family together. She'd helped heal the wounds of loss. It can be done. If only Steve could see that. Understand that. Know that. She could help him accept that. Dear Steve, her first letter began...