As I promised last week, here is chapter 2 of the prequel to Escaping Psychiatry. Escaping Psychiatry Beginnings.
“Mary! Here you are!”
Phil hugged her and slapped her on the back. He looked well. Dressed casually, well, what passed for casually in Phil’s books, perfectly ironed chinos, Italian black leather shoes, a polo shirt, and impeccably cut and combed hair, and with a huge smile on his face. He definitely had something planned.
“You look like the personification of a WASP on his day off,” Mary said.
He chuckled. “Now, now. I’m wearing full length trousers. No tweed or golfing attire. And in my heart of hearts I’m a small town boy.”
“If you say so.”
He grabbed Mary’s arm by the elbow and picking up the suitcase she had deposited on the floor, guided her inside. “Come in, come in, have a look. You can drop your things in your room, here, and then we’ll have breakfast.”
“I had a drink on the train.”
“But I haven’t!”
Mary had a quick look at the apartment while Phil set the table. Tall ceilings, huge windows and an air of quiet elegance. A bit old-fashioned, but not pretentious.
“What do you think?”
“It’s a nice building and a quiet street, especially for Manhattan.”
“The rent is high, but I prefer it to one of those slick new apartments with no personality or charm.”
They munched on the toast, quietly. Finally Mary asked, “But how do you find the firm? I know you had misgivings. You thought it would be good for your career, but didn’t necessarily like their ethics.”
“I still don’t, although I keep quiet about it. Don’t ask, don’t tell, kind of situation. But they do have some of the best lawyers and I’ve learned a lot already. And there’s plenty more to come, I’m sure.”
“Are you thinking about effecting change from the inside?” Mary asked.
Phil didn’t look up from his plate, and kept playing with the marmalade and the butter, making patterns with his knife. “I don’t have a master plan as yet. So far I haven’t seen them do anything too questionable, although yes, they have a preference for taking cases that attract plenty of attention and are likely to be on the newspapers and TV. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with free publicity.”
Mary put her right hand on his, and managed to make him stop playing with his food and look up.
“Don’t tell me you’re thinking of defecting to the dark side?”
He laughed, although his laughter sounded flat and not genuine. “Let’s not get melodramatic. I think the Force is still with me. They are committed to taking up a percentage of pro-bono cases, and I’ve volunteered. Sometimes one has to compromise. Even the devil can be a good ally if the cause is worth it.”
“Be careful. I fear for your soul.”
As he opened his mouth to reply, his mobile phone rang. Mary didn’t have one and didn’t want one. The thought of somebody being able to get hold of her anywhere and in any circumstances made her quite nervous. She hated being on-call, because you could never be completely at peace and you could be summoned at any time, and she felt that having one of those contraptions would be the equivalent of being forever on call. But Phil loved his gadgets, like most men she knew. And she also suspected it was a status thing. Although, thinking about it, it was probably one of his firm’s requirements.
“Yes. Of course I’m interested in being there when we talk to the client.” Phil put his hand on what must have been the microphone and made a gesture with his head, towards the phone. “It’s about that case I was telling you about. The writer,” he whispered.
Mary nodded. So far, she only knew the case involved a writer in some fashion or other but nothing else. He was doing a good job of building up the suspense.
“Yes. Sure. I’ll be there, Mr Wright. Oh, my friend… yes, the psychiatrist.” Silence. “Yes, of course I’ll ask her. I don’t think it’ll be a problem, if you’re sure the client will be OK with it.” He listened again and then laughed. “See you in half an hour. And thanks!”
“Was that your boss?”
“Yes. Percy Wright. Of the Wrights of Virginia. He doesn’t do much in the firm anymore, only picks up some case he’s interested in, occasionally, but he leaves all the groundwork to other lawyers and he just pokes his nose wherever he fancies. For some reason he’s quite intrigued by this case.”
“I guess he said I could go. But what did he say that made you laugh?”
“Oh, when I mentioned that I thought you’d be happy to come, of course if the client was OK with it, he said the client would be OK with whatever we told him. That he knew we were his best chance and he’d have to earn it. And he’d be grateful.”
“Sorry for assuming you’d want to come…”
“Of course. I wouldn’t miss it. Now, I’m not sure if I’m more interested in the case or in your boss and the firm.”
“Well, Mr Wright always says that there might be some intrinsic quality attached to good and evil, but the justice system is a completely arbitrary set of rules and which side we are in is at best an accident and at worst just pure bad luck. So perhaps there isn’t much difference.”
Mary wondered if her friend believed what he’d just said or it was a philosophical position. The Phil she knew had always been very convinced of what was wrong and what was right. Jokes apart, she was slightly worried.
They left the apartment and hailed a taxi.
The offices of the firm where Phil worked (Wright and Partners, Attorneys at Law) overlooked Central Park. They occupied a whole storey in a slick commercial building, all glass and shiny surfaces. It was slightly cloudy but Mary imagined that on a sunny day it must have glistened and glowed like a diamond.
While they were in the lobby, waiting for the elevator, Mary said, “How peculiar! I would have thought that somebody like your boss would have an office in an old building, full of the weight of history and following tradition. But no. It couldn’t be a more modern and neutral place if he’d designed it intentionally.”
“I think that he wants to make sure everything is impersonal and can be replaced. Apart from himself, of course. And the same goes for the firm’s name.”
“Don’t the partners query the fact that their names are not on top of the door, so to speak?” Mary asked Phil.
He turned to look at her with a lopsided smile. “Like Mr Wright said about the client, they are OK with whatever he says. And they’re grateful. In my opinion it all boils down to his insistence on not leaving the slightest option open for anybody else to make a claim. The partners might come and go, but there’s only one Mr Wright.”
They reached the top floor of the building and stepped out. As soon as they crossed the massive glass doors, a young thin man who had been pacing up and down, rushed towards them. “Oh, you’re here, Phil. Mr Wright didn’t want to make the client wait too long. You know he likes to strike when the iron is hot, as he says.”
“We came as soon as we could. Traffic was quite heavy. This is my friend, Mary Miller. She’s a psychiatrist. We met at college. This is Ryan Spencer. One of the lawyers here. And aspiring partner.”
Ryan wore black thick-rimmed glasses that made him look child-like, and a beautifully cut suit that looked loose on him. Not as if it was the wrong size, but as if he’d lost weight. He didn’t look sickly, though, only anxious.
“Some days I’d be quite happy if I was just left to do my work in peace, but that’s very unlikely. Pleasure to meet you.”
He extended his arm and bowed slightly as he shook her hand. “And now, let’s go in. Mr Wright said that he didn’t want to formally introduce you, Mary, can I call you Mary?, at least not for the time being. He just wants the client, Mr Fenton, to think that you’re part of the team. No details.”
She nodded. She wasn’t expecting any long term involvement and that would make life easier. No need to overcomplicate matters. Also, people’s reactions on being told that she was a psychiatrist had always been a mystery to her. Some people would take the opportunity to try and get an impromptu consultation, right there and then. Others would retreat, as if they feared that she’d discover their most intimate thoughts and secrets only by looking at them. But Mary had no superpowers, and although at times she might have her suspicions and be able to come up with an educated guess as to what people were thinking, especially people she knew, unless the person talked to her, it was an almost impossible task. There were also the people who treated it as if it were a joke, or a funny anecdote, and asked her if she was going to ‘analyse’ them. Surely if someone asked her that, there would be little need for analysis. And she’d never been an expert in psychoanalysis. Or keen on the idea.
The three entered what looked like a meeting room, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. There was a middle aged woman, dressed in a blue suit, sitting with a laptop in front of her, in the farthest corner from the door. There was a very attractive young girl, blonde, with honey-coloured eyes and wearing a polka dot dress, sitting close to the door. She had a small notebook and a pen and seemed poised to not miss a single word. Next to her was a man, older than Phil and Ryan, probably early forties, impeccably dressed in a navy blue suit, whose greying hair was a bit longer than the standard of the business seemed to impose. Perhaps he had a streak of rebellion in him. Sitting at the centre of the oval-shaped table, was Mr Wright. Although Mary had never met him, once she saw the man sitting there, she had no doubt.
Mr Percy Wright’s appearance was rather peculiar. He was dressed as if he was in the country house he surely had, in tweed, wearing a jacket with brown elbow patches, and his face, with a protruding jaw and a broken nose, seemed more appropriate for a price fighter than for a top layer. On closer look, his green eyes were inquisitive and exuded authority, and his hands were perfectly manicured. Mary wasn’t sure if the man was a genuine puzzle or he had put a lot of thought into wrong-footing his opponents and collaborators alike. Phil’s boss turned towards the door when they entered and nodded curtly. Phil, his hand behind his back, gestured for her to follow him.
When they sat, on the same side as Mr Wright, she was finally able to see ‘the client’. He looked younger than she had imagined, mid-thirties, and was the only one dressed casually, in jeans and a black T-shirt, that she wondered if it was his uniform perhaps, like some very successful people were said to do (always wear similar clothes to be more productive and avoid getting bogged down making inconsequential choices). His eyes were small, so much so that Mary couldn’t see them well enough to decide what colour they were. Nothing too striking. He was slim, but his hands looked skeletal, and she hoped they would not be expected to shake hands with him. The thought that she might feel the bones made her cringe.
“Are we all here, then?” asked Mr Wright. They all nodded. He stared around the table, to make sure he had everybody’s attention, and nodded at his secretary. “Good. We can start, then. For those of you who haven’t met him yet, this is Oliver Fenton, the famous author. Steve, give us the main details of the case.”
Steve, the older man of undefinable age, started talking. “Mr Fenton is accused of aggravated assault, although it could become attempted murder —it depends on the DA and how things evolve—, on the person of a Miles Green. Mr Fenton describes what amounts to serious harassment on the part of Mr Green, who had been pestering his agent, and later him personally, sending letters, making phone calls, and in general making a nuisance of himself, for months. On the day of the incident, Friday the 23rd of April, as Mr Fenton was on his way out of his apartment building in 5th Avenue, Mr Green appeared from behind the reception desk, and attacked Mr Fenton, threatening him and trying to choke him. Mr Fenton managed to overcome his attacker and restrain him onto the floor. As he resisted and tried to attack him again, Mr Fenton hit him on the head with a heavy brass lamp. Very shortly after, it seems, a couple who also lived there arrived, stopped Mr Fenton and called an ambulance and the police. Mr Green was already unconscious then. He hasn’t recovered since and remains in hospital in intensive care.”
That had been around six weeks ago.
“What did you mean when you said that the couple ‘stopped’ Mr Fenton?” Phil asked.
“He was still hitting him with the lamp when the neighbours walked in.”
“Do we have any pictures of the victim?” Phil asked, again.
Steve looked at Mr Wright, who nodded, and Steve passed a folder to Phil. He looked at the contents for a few seconds and then passed it to Mary. She thought she shouldn’t look at them, but realised it would seem weird to the client, and quickly looked over the pictures. She doubted she’d ever be able to recognise Mr Green based on those pictures. His face was so swollen and bruised that it was difficult to make out the slits of the eyes. The bridge of his nose was flattened out, and it looked as if both cheekbones were fractured. The next picture showed a ragged hole in the back of the head, a few inches from the nape of the neck. The impact had been so hard that the skull had caved in.
She passed the file to Ryan, who shook his head, indicating that he’d already seen the contents, and stood up, taking the file back to Steve.
“Any word from Mr Green’s doctors?” Mr Wright asked.
Steve cleared his throat and said, “They have no idea if he’ll make it. They had hoped that with steroids the swelling of the brain would go down and things might improve, but so far that’s not the case. His family have asked that they do some further tests. They seem determined to pull the plug if they can find no evidence of brainwaves.”
As Mary was about to say something, Phil grabbed her arm tightly and she kept quiet. He asked, “What family are we talking about?”
“He was, is, I mean, married and they have twins, a boy and a girl, 18 months old. They were separated, and had not lived together for six months prior to the incident.”
“He blames me for the separation. The victim, I mean.” Oliver Fenton had spoken. Although the volume was low, there was steel in his voice and his words resonated around the room. No remorse, no sadness.
They were all looking at the client. Rather than being intimidated by having all eyes on him, Mary thought he seemed to puff up and grow taller, as if he enjoyed public attention.
“Yes, he kept following me everywhere, writing, phoning, turning up at events, insisting that I’d taken everything from him and I was a criminal.”
“How?” Phil asked. “Did you know him? Did you have an affair with his wife? Was that the reason for the separation?”
Mr Fenton shook his head. Mary noticed how his neck was reddening. “I’ve never met the woman. Or him before all this. He was mad. Who knows why somebody as crazy as him does anything?”
“Even when people are ‘mad’, they usually do things for a reason, although perhaps it’s a reason that only fits in with their delusional view of the world. Do you have any idea about what he thought you had done to destroy his life?” Mary asked ignoring Phil’s kick under the table.
“He insists that I’ve written about him in my book. He told everybody that he was the person my main character, David Collins, was based on, and he kept insisting that due to that people were pestering him. It seems that the guy who had abused him had turned up, convinced that he had sold the story, and had threatened his family, and Green had been the victim of all kinds of humiliations.”
“Was it true?” Phil asked, looking at me intently, before turning to the client.
“No, of course not! Yes, I’ve based the book on the story of a person I know, but I’d never met that Miles Green guy before. And I’ve changed the details. Nobody would be able to recognise the individual by just reading my novel. I made sure of that.”
Mr Wright cleared his throat, noisily. It seemed his time to talk had come. He leaned forward and looked at the client intently. Mr Fenton’s face grew paler, but he returned the look.
“So, Mr Fenton… You’re telling us that Mr Green was making a nuisance of himself and following you everywhere, accusing you of all kinds of things and threatening you. Didn’t you think of going to the police?”
“Of course I did! You can ask my agent, Mike Spinner. I called them and we even went to the station to make a statement. They agreed to give him a warning but said that unless he actually tried to do something violent, there wasn’t much they could do. They suggested that perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to reveal who the real person behind the character in the novel was. That way he’d leave me alone and move on to something else. Can you imagine?! Reveal my sources!” Two red marks had appeared on his cheeks and seemed to be spreading and his eyes were bulging with anger. Mary saw now that they were grey.
“Well, you’re not a journalist…” Ryan said.
Mr Fenton jumped from his chair, but Mr Wright raised his hand and waved at him, getting him to sit down again.
“Don’t get excited, Mr Fenton. I guess what Mr Spencer, our young friend here, meant, was that you’re not sworn to secrecy and it’s not a professional obligation. Although I understand your wish to protect your sources. But, I wonder if you could enlighten us and give us some background, as I suspect not everybody here will have read your story, no matter how popular. We tend to have our heads buried in other types of books and papers, so you’ll have to forgive us for our ignorance. If you could be so good as to tell us, what your novel is about, when it came out, etc. We don’t need too many details, but just enough to help us understand the circumstances of the affair.”
Mr Fenton kept looking sideways at Ryan while he talked. “My novel, The Darkest Night, is the story of David Collins, a man who is brought up in a Catholic family, subjected to sexual abuse by one of the priests at the religious school where he studies, and later by a male neighbour, who is also a friend of his father. When he tells his family, they do not believe him, and he ends up on the streets when he is only fifteen. His life is very difficult. He lives on the streets for a while, and survives as best he can until he is literally pushed into an Army recruitment office and decides it must be fate and enlists. And life changes completely for him. He fights for this country and becomes an upstanding citizen.”
“I see. And you say it’s based on a true story,” Mr Wright added, opening the file and seemingly checking something.
“Yes.” The writer’s eyes were fixed on the file.
“At this moment in time we’re not going to ask you to give us the name of that person, although let me make it perfectly clear that it might become necessary that we know, later on, and that here we are obliged, by professional code, to keep the secret, so you don’t need to be worried about that. But in the meantime, if you could tell us how you came across the story, unless the protagonist is based on somebody you’ve always known.”
“No, no. Nothing like that. It’s quite simple, really. I volunteered, years back, and manned a telephone helpline for people thinking of committing suicide, or with mental health problems in general. A young guy phoned me and told me his story. This was a few days before he enlisted and he had hit rock bottom. We chatted for quite a while and he agreed to phone me again in a few days. When he phoned me again, he had enlisted and was ready to go into training. He kept in touch when he could and even phoned me when he got posted to Iraq. When he came back, we arranged to meet and by then I had decided his story should be told, although in novel form. When I suggested it, he agreed, on the understanding that he would read it and I’d make changes to protect his privacy and hide his identity. And that’s what we did.” He only raised his eyes to look at Mr Wright when he finished talking. To Mary’s ears it sounded rehearsed, but then he’d probably been asked the same question quite a few times.
Mr Wright looked around, as if inviting further questions. Phil didn’t hesitate, “Are you still in touch?”
“With the original David, you mean? Once the novel came out and it started to attract so much attention we decided it would be best not to be in contact, to prevent anybody from making the connection between him and the book.”
“I’m surprised he didn’t come forward when he heard you were in trouble,” Ryan said.
Judging by the look Mr Fenton shot at him, Ryan would not be on his Christmas-card list.
“He’s not that easy to reach.”
Mary was surprised that nobody asked him why. Either the information was already known, or they’d all assumed that somebody else would ask the question and now the moment had passed. Ryan was on the edge of his seat, but even he must have thought he’d attracted enough hostility from the client for one day and gave up.
“If it’s OK, I have to meet my agent for lunch. We had organised a book signing tour, and with all this we’ll have to reschedule.”
“Yes, of course. Maggie, my PA, will arrange a few appointments, starting on Monday morning. We have plenty of information to work through. And you haven’t met Mr Mayfield, yet. Although he’s the youngest of my partners in the firm, he has plenty of experience in similar cases.”
Mary looked at Phil and he shook his head slightly, as if to indicate that they’d talk about it later.
The author stood up and nodded briefly. The woman who had been typing in the corner accompanied him out of the meeting room. Once the door closed behind them, Mr Wright cleared his throat. “Phil, will you introduce your friend to all of us, please?”
Phil blushed and stood up. Mary couldn’t help thinking about a headmaster telling off a young kid.
“This is Dr Mary Miller. She’s a psychiatrist. She also writes, although she has not published anything yet.”
Everybody nodded in her direction. Then Phil proceeded to introduce everybody. Steve Burman smiled pleasantly. The young girl, Tania, no surname used in the introduction, was there on a placement from college.
“My Dad works in accounts and thought it would make for an interesting project. And Mr Wright kindly agreed.”
“And Maggie, my PA, who’s gone out with Mr Fenton. So, first impressions?”
“It’s a good story,” Steve said.
“Do you really think so?” Ryan asked. “There are lots of holes in it.”
“Nearly as big as the one in the victim’s skull,” Phil added. “I don’t know how big or heavy that lamp was, but to make a hole that size, he must have hit him with something very heavy and many times. Once the attacker was unconscious, why carry on?”
“Perhaps we’ll have to look at his mental state and mental health. Maybe the harassment became a bit too much for him and he lost control,” Steve said.
“Could we convince you, dear Dr, to consult on the matter? You could do an assessment of Mr Fenton’s mental state and see if there’s anything else we need to do. I mean any tests, imaging, or any other expert we could call that might be of use when putting together his defence,” Mr Wright said, looking intently at Mary.
“He didn’t strike me as particularly disturbed, but the current circumstances aren’t the best to make a judgement. As long as I can fit it in during my visit, I’d be happy to be of assistance.”
Mr Wright smiled at Mary and then stood up, nodding at everybody and officially ending the meeting.
As I told you last week, to prepare for the launch, Escaping Psychiatry is available for only $0.99. Here I leave you a reminder and some links:
‘Escaping Psychiatry’ is a collection of three stories in the psychological thriller genre with the same protagonist, Mary, a psychiatrist and writer. She is trying to develop her literary career but circumstances and friends conspire to keep dragging her back to psychiatry.
In ‘Cannon Fodder’ Mary has to assess Cain, an African-American man accused of inciting a religious riot when he claimed that he could hear God and God was black. He might not be mad, but Mary is sure he’s hiding something.
‘Teamwork’ sees Mary hoodwinked into offering therapy to Justin, a policeman feeling guilty after his partner and ersatz father was killed on-duty. Before Mary can extricate herself from the case, things get personal.
In ‘Memory’ Mary goes missing after an incident with Phil, who is manic as he hasn’t been taking his medication. When she is found, she has been the victim of a horrific crime, but they soon discover she was luckier than they had realised.
The epilogue revisits Mary at the point of the trial of her abductor and sees what changes have taken place in her life. Will she finally manage to Escape Psychiatry?
Thanks so much for reading and you know… Like, share, comment and of course CLICK!