Palm Springs, California.
The girl on the couch gave a gasp and a whispered ‘Oh!’ that expressed a plethora of emotion: wonderment, excitement, but mostly disbelief.
Her gasp triggered in Drummond a rush of adrenalin that coursed through his body, accelerating his heartbeat. Not for the first time, the similarity of his role to that of a voyeur disturbed him.
Drummond leaned closer to the girl. He needed to maintain the momentum of these long-buried emotions now welling to the surface. He had to drive them on and out, to bring her to that long- and hard-fought release that might change her life forever.
His voice whispered hoarsely, compellingly, “Go on. Tell me what you see.”
Her pretty features were contorted into a mask of ugly repulsion as she rolled her head from side to side, desperate to escape the nightmare. Though her eyes were tight-closed, she was not asleep; yet the vision of her hypnotic trance was no less real or frightening than if she had been.
“Oh, God,” she gasped, “I don’t believe this.”
“What? Tell me what’s happening.”
“It’s . . . it’s like a movie. Like I’m watching a movie.”
Her slender body, clad in white T-shirt and blue jeans, tensed, went rigid. Her fingers became claws. Her hands rose, as though preparing to defend herself. She rolled her head again and whispered, appalled, “It can’t be me. It can’t be happening to me. But it is.”
“What? Tell me what you see.”
She gave a shudder. Her hands fell upon her ample breasts. She pulled at the thin material of her T-shirt, as though in detestation of her clothing, or of some iniquitous thing that soiled it.
Her voice broke. “I’m . . . in the orchard. The orchard...”
“I remember the orchard,” prompted Drummond. “The orchard behind your house – when you were seven. Go on. What’s happening there?”
Again, the evasive roll of her head, dismissive, denying, desperate, yet no longer able to escape a memory so long repressed. “I’m playing – by myself. And there’s a man – in the trees.”
“Do you know him?”
A nod, almost child-like. “He’s Ben . . . works on the next farm.”
“What is he doing?”
“Watching me. Now he’s – coming towards me through the trees.” A sob broke from her. A tear squeezed from the corner of her eye. “Oh, God, now I remember!” It was an exclamation that embodied both relief and horror.
“He’s opening his pants. I try to run away but he grabs me . . . throws me on the ground. Now he’s over me – straddling me, up on his knees. And he’s – oh, Jesus…” Again the head shake, more vigorous, desperate this time, impelled by loathing, her face screwed tight with abhorrence. “He’s come all over me. I remember now – all over my face and my new sweater. It’s in my hair – everywhere. I hate it . . . hate it.”
“Does he do anything else to you?”
A negative headshake. “Just grins. He has rotten teeth. He just kneels up there grinning.”
“And then what?”
“He – gets off me, goes away.”
“And what do you do?”
“I’m – trying to clean myself. There’s a rain barrel behind the house. I’m trying to wash off the stuff when...”
“When what? What happens then?”
“My mom – comes out of the kitchen door. She sees what I’m doing and yells at me, says I’ve spoiled my new sweater. She spanked me and sent me to bed.”
Her switch from present tense to past tense was an indication to Drummond that her story was done.
“Dianna, you know now, don’t you, that what happened to you so long ago was that man’s crime, not yours?” She gave a barely perceptible nod. “Unfortunately, in such circumstances, children assume guilt because they feel grown-ups can do no wrong, so what happened must be their own fault. All right, I want you to return to the present now – and I’m going to count you up from one to five. When I reach the count of five, you’ll be wide awake, feeling calm, confident, really fine. One, two, three . . . eyes beginning to open . . . four . . . all systems returning to normal . . . five . . . wide awake . . . now.”
She rolled her head and looked at him, seated beside and slightly behind her, gave a disbelieving shake of her head and sat up, lowered her face into her hands and wiped away her tears.
“How,” she muttered through her fingers, “can you possibly forget something as awful as that?”
“A child can forget it simply because it is so awful. But it isn’t really forgotten. It’s repressed, denied by the conscious mind, but stored away in the subconscious. It lies buried there, unbalancing the psyche.”
“And producing my phobia,” she said in a tone of disbelief.
“And producing your phobia,” nodded Drummond.
He smiled. “I know ‘But why don’t I have – correction, didn’t I have a phobia about semen or sex or apples or rain water? Why was my phobia about horses?’ – which, incidentally, is known as ‘Hippophobia’ in the trade. Well, there are literally hundreds of phobias, Dianna, ranging through the alphabet from ‘Air’ to ‘Young girls’ – but they’re really all the same thing – an outward, symbolic expression of an internal anxiety. Curious thing is, the mind usually hits you where it hurts the most. The opera singer will likely develop ‘Halophobia’, and lose his voice. As an actress, you might have suffered the same thing. As it is, you’ve passed up two good roles because you were required to ride. But that’s all over with now. Now you’ve exorcised your particular demon. Horses will hold no terrors for you from now on.”
She was nodding, awed. “Hey, that’s right. Before, all I had to do was think of getting on one and my heart would start banging. Now,” she gave a shrug and a smile, “you really did it.”
“No, you really did it. I helped.” Drummond checked his watch and stood.
“Do I need to see you again?” she asked, getting up.
“Alas, no,” he smiled, teasing. “The Dianna Hart file is closed. I shall miss you. Your beauty hath lighted up these poor consulting rooms.”
She stepped to him, placed a hand on his arm and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Thank you, Paul, sincerely. You’ve been so patient, so sweet all these weeks. I feel as though a huge, black weight has been lifted from my soul.”
He patted her hand. “Go make some marvellous movies.”
He accompanied her to the outer door of the office suite, then walked with her along a corridor onto an open veranda that overlooked a car park at the rear of the two-storey building.
“Thank you again,” she said, and went down a staircase to the ground floor.
Drummond watched her emerge from beneath the veranda and cross the car park with an unconsciously sensual, leggy stride, blonde hair bouncing; a gorgeous, vibrant woman hungrily devouring life, and this reminder of his own brutal loss dealt him a blow to the heart and tightened the muscles at the back of his throat. Two years. Would he ever stop missing Viv’?
Leaning on the iron rail, squinting into the dying sun as it dropped behind the San Jacinto Mountains, he followed the actress as she headed for a stunning yellow Rolls convertible, waving cheerily to its occupant, her husband, a handsome young actor whose most recent picture had projected him into world-wide fame and considerable fortune.
Drummond smiled as, with histrionic dash, the young man leapt up from the driver’s seat and struck a swashbuckling pose, one hand on his heart, welcoming his beloved and pledging his undying love. Picking up her cue, Dianne Hart responded, climbed into the car and fell into his arms. Now Drummond laughed and waved as they turned to him, indicating that the performance was for him.
They waved again as the car swirled flamboyantly around the near-empty lot and disappeared from view onto El Paseo.
Drummond remained motionless for a while, savouring the fading warmth of the early-October sun, but thinking of Vivian, of their own young and mad-cap love.
Grief was a trauma that he frequently treated. Why couldn’t he treat his own?
Closing his eyes, he mentally repeated for the – millionth? – time the admonition: ‘Gone is gone . . . life must go on’ and felt absolutely no better for it. Time alone, if anything, would heal. Perhaps in two or three hundred years…
With a sigh he pushed himself away from the rail and headed down the corridor towards his rooms. The building was a modern block, tastefully done in Spanish style, its ground floor divided into four segments by cooling breezeways, its upper floor by corridors. Each segment contained three suites of offices. Drummond’s close neighbours were a lawyer and an internist. Elsewhere in the building were realtors, other lawyers, an interior decorator and a beauty parlour. Drummond had been there eighteen months and liked it. Its quietness, even though it fronted onto the busy, prestigious shopping boulevard of El Paseo, suited the needs of hypnosis. His own suite of rooms occupied the rear, quieter side of the building.
Pushing through glass doors at the end of the corridor he entered a small waiting area, partitioned to provide privacy for clients who were waiting or leaving. Drummond had never employed a receptionist, or any other office staff. Experience had taught him that in the world of neuroses his clients, perhaps especially his rich and famous clients, valued confidentiality very highly. The prospect of their darkest secrets being revealed to some loose-lipped receptionist or secretary did not appeal to them at all. And so he had structured a staffless operation, well supported by computer and electronic technology, which worked well for everyone.
There was also another reason for his preference for this one-man structure. Three days out of seven – Monday through Wednesday – he returned to his still-existent practice in Los Angeles, and being staffless obviated human complication, afforded him the freedom he needed to switch, as circumstances dictated, between the Valley and the city.
Of late, he had questioned his motive for continuing the LA practice. At first, after Viv’s murder and his escape to Palm Desert, there had been the legitimate necessity of seeing his existing LA clients through to the conclusion of their therapy. But that no longer pertained. Also, he could offer that in Los Angeles he was ministering to the needs of the less affluent, often pro bono, and that was true. But it wasn’t the whole truth.
Deep inside, he knew he was holding onto the practice because it had been his first, it had been his and Viv’s, and in holding onto it he was holding onto the past. One day, as with the house in Malibu, he would have to let it go.
Right now, the arrival of that day constituted a major portion of the nightmare he had lived with for two years, and seemed an impossibility. For now, he would drive that one hundred miles each Monday morning, and gladly.
Turning right from the waiting area, he passed along a short corridor, containing a bathroom, and entered his consulting room, a spacious, air-conditioned room with a view of the mountains. The San Jacinto range, which ran like a granite vertebra down the western edge of the Coachella Valley, looming close, but never threateningly so to the mini-city of Palm Desert, were purpling now, haloed with brilliance by the invisible setting sun, the sky above dashed with streaks of blinding gold and crimson and yellow that faded, at their fingertips, into the cobalt blue of approaching night.
It was a sight that always stirred Drummond, a wondrous yet treacherous time of the day, evoking memories of other, shared sunsets, of…
He shook the thought away.
The ‘incoming call’ light on his answering machine, rigged for silent operation, was flashing. Grateful for the distraction, he pressed the replay button. The apparatus clicked and clacked and then a familiar voice, in a pseudo-gay performance, was chiding him, “Oh, Doctor, is that really you? Can I really be speaking to the Doctor Paul Drummond, late of Los Angeles, now Thuper-Thhrink to the Thtars in Palm Thprings, Palm Desert and all points Thouth?”
Drummond laughed out loud. Dick Gage was a born actor, did a terrific impersonation of the ‘thufferin’ thuccotash’ cat in the Tweety Pie cartoons.
“Well, Doc,” Gage continued as Bogart, “if yuh could quit countin’ all that money for a minute an’ call an old chum . . . waal,” now Jimmy Stewart, “you just might, ah, ah, hell, I’ve just plumb forgot what I was gonna shay. But call anyway.” Chuckling, Drummond picked up the phone and dialled a number branded on his memory, the number of the West Los Angeles bureau of the Los Angeles Police Department. It was Dick Gage who had headed the investigation into Vivian’s murder, and Dick Gage who had been a supportive friend ever since.
“Lieutenant Gage, please . . . Paul Drummond.”
Jimmy Cagney came on. “Well, you doity rat, ’bout time, too.”
“Swear to God, Dick, that’s the best Sonny Bono I’ve ever heard.”
“That was Edward G., you prick.” Gage’s normal voice was a rich Harrison Ford growl, quiet but authoritative. Gage didn’t usually have to ask twice to get things done. In appearance, however, he more closely resembled Peter Falk, and dressed about as snappily as Columbo. “How’s it hangin’, Drum?”
“It’s been so long since I looked.”
“Yeh, well,” said Gage, and left it at that.
He and Drummond had had long discussions about grief – Gage having suffered more than his share – and he shared Drummond’s view that time was really the only effective healer. Recently, Gage had tried in a subtle way to re-awaken Drummond’s libido with invitations to make up a foursome – Gage and his attractive wife, Anne, plus an available girl – but he hadn’t pushed it. If nothing else, Dick Gage was an accomplished psychologist.
“You planning on slumming next week?” Gage asked, meaning was Drummond planning on coming into Los Angeles as usual.
“Sure. Monday morning. Why?”
“Got something might interest you. Fella named Keegan, innocent bystander, got caught up in that Mar Vista Savings and Loans heist last week – literally bumped into the two punks as they were leaving the place.”
“I heard about it. They killed a guard?”
“The bastards put twenty-four bullets in him. We want them real bad.”
“Aren’t the FBI in on it?”
“Not yet. The punks shot up the street in the getaway, wounded a senior citizen. He died in hospital three days ago, so it’s our jurisdiction for now.”
“What about this Keegan?”
“Damnedest thing. They bundled him into their car, took off their masks – we got an eye-witness saw that much but can’t describe them, car was going too fast. But Keegan must have got a good look at them.”
“So they drove him around a bit then threw him out of the car, tried to run over him, for laughs. An eye-witness saw that, too.”
“They clipped him once, sent him through a store window, then must’ve heard a siren and blew.”
“Jesus. I always said you had a better class of punk in West LA.”
“You think so? You oughta see what they’ve got in Hollenbeck and Newton.”
“So – how is Keegan?”
Gage gave a sigh. “I dunno. Weird. Physically, he’s okay, some cuts but superficial. But his memory’s gone. Couldn’t even remember where he lived. He was carrying ID so we found his address – a dump off Pico in South Hollywood. But nobody around there knows him. We checked his place but found nothing – except he might be ex-army. We’re checking that out now.”
“What d’you want me to do, Dick?”
“Try hypnosis, old bean. We need a description of those pus-buckets, and Keegan’s our only possible source.”
Drummond said, “Let me check my LA service, see if anything’s come in. So far I’m clear Monday afternoon. Would that suit?”
“You name it, I’ll have Keegan here.”
“I’ll get back to you.”
Drummond rang off, dialled his answering service, something he did every evening before leaving his Palm Desert office. While he waited for them to respond, he ran an eye over his appointments book for the coming Monday through Wednesday, confirming what he had told Dick Gage: that Monday afternoon was free. He had two clients Monday morning, three on Tuesday and two on Wednesday. Staring at the pages, it suddenly came home to him how rundown his LA practice had become. Time was, with Viv, when they would each have had seven clients every day, and would be turning business away.
The reason for the decline was, of course, easy to understand. Many of his former clients had been referrals from MDs, doctors who knew of Viv’s death and his own removal to Palm Desert. They would now be referring their patients elsewhere. Also, he and Viv had advertised their joint practice quite extensively, and he no longer did. His few clients now came from the odd referral and word-of-mouth recommendation, occasionally from the LAPD or an insurance company, but not often.
Once again, that pestilential voice of reason demanded, “Let it go, Drummond. Let her go. Wrap it up.” And, as with the Malibu house, he knew he would.
His service came on the line, “Hi, Doctor Drummond,” and he recognised the voice of the girl on the early evening shift.
“Hello, Tina, how’re things in LA?”
“Smog-gee,” she groaned. “How I envy you out there in the Valley. It’s like a different planet – right?”
“Right. How’s business today?”
“Five calls, Doc. You got a pencil?”
“Go ahead, I’m recording this.”
She reeled off the names and phone numbers. Drummond thanked her and rang off, replayed the details, jotting them on a pad. He then dialled the number at his Malibu home and called up the recorded messages on the answering machine there with a coder, adding those to the pad.
A total of ten calls. Instinct and experience told him seven were junk calls – sales pitches, charity pitches, time-wasters and frustraters, major contributors to the psychopathology of American life. He phoned them and proved himself right.
The other three were genuine enquiries about hypnotherapy – two anxiety cases and a hundred-a-day smoker. Drummond fitted them into his schedule and called Lieutenant Gage.
“Okay, Dick, all clear for Monday afternoon. I’ll get my equipment over there and set up by – what? Three?”
“Three’ll be fine, Drum. Thanks a bundle. We’ll have a brew or two after the show.”
“Done. Love to Anne.”
Drummond terminated the connection – and with it his working week. As always, he fought the wash of emptiness that accompanied the realisation. In his childhood there’d been a song, a track on a family LP. Sinatra, if he remembered correctly – ‘Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week’. Lately, it had been running obsessively through his mind. Though in his case it was Friday.
Since his arrival in the valley there’d been an abundance of invitations. There were eighty golf courses and a thousand tennis courts in this desert playground, and it was virtually impossible to meet anyone who did not play one or both games, who did not press him to share their enthusiasm.
But, risking offending their good hearts, he always refused, made excuses (he had a hundred of them), lied. It wasn’t the game he was rejecting; it was the ever-attendant complications. For a thirty-four-year-old, presentable, professional widower, the valley was a sexy, mischievous place that abhorred such waste. And he was simply not ready to be salvaged.
It was not an easy game to play. Part of him yearned to recapture even a semblance of what he had had with Viv. To cruise Palm Canyon Drive on a Saturday night and see the Valley’s ‘beautiful people’ enjoying each other, living each other, tore at his heart. Twice, only, he had succumbed, each occasion a disaster. Drummond was simply not ready.
Mechanically, he filed the computer disks and audio tapes from the day’s sessions, locked the steel cabinet, checked around the office, and prepared to depart. The cleaning would be done the following day by a professional, bonded company.
As he locked the external glass door, his internist neighbour emerged into the corridor, locking his own door. Kieran Connor was a contemporary, a five-foot-four energised butter-ball with an aggravated, self- confessed Casanova complex. Once, over a friendly beer, Drummond had voiced his suspicion of Connor’s motives in allowing himself unlimited professional access to the naked female body, and Connor had laughed. “Trouble is, I can never get rich enough to be age-selective.”
Connor now greeted him. “Hey, Paul! Another week, another ten thousand dollars. My, how they fly.”
“The weeks or the dollars?”
“Both, my man, both.”
He accompanied Drummond along the corridor and down the rear stairs to the parking lot, a head shorter, almost running to keep up with Drummond’s long, easy stride.
“You fixed for the week-end?” he panted.
“What’re you offering?” Drummond asked, just to hear it.
Connor rolled his eyes. “Catalina. This babe got a hundred million dollars . . . and a yacht the size of the Lusitania . . . crewed by fifty nymphets in see-through bikinis . . . and it never leaves port. How’s that grab yuh?”
Drummond grinned. “Right where it does the most good, but no thanks, I’m fixed. Have fun, Kieron.”
Drummond walked away to his car, a vintage sage-green Daimler Sovereign, climbed in and started the engine. For a moment, as he sat there, the thought passed through his mind that maybe an outrageous week-end in Catalina with a covey of nubile airheads was exactly what he needed; an experience so awful and degrading it would shock his psychic system like a massive abreaction.
But as he drove the mile of winding road to his home in the San Jacinto foothills, another thought was in his mind. The bank robbery victim.
The man and his circumstances went on tugging at his mind all weekend. Yet Drummond did not question the persistence of these thoughts.
During his study of the psychosciences, he had lingered on the matter of prescience, precognition, the foreknowledge of future events claimed by so many people, and had formed his own theories about its reality. What struck him most was not that so many people experienced foreknowledge, but that they paid so little heed to the information at the time. There appeared to be a gap between receipt of the information and its acknowledgement by the conscious mind, so that, for instance, precognition of a family death became meaningful only after the real news had been received. People did not sufficiently trust their intuition.
With hindsight, Drummond would later recall his own failing to acknowledge and appreciate the full force of his week-end obsession with Keegan – and to forearm himself against the ocean of troubles that their association would bring.