I hope to share the link to the published novella by next post (and if everything goes well it might be free already by then) but in the meantime, here is chapter 5.
Mary enjoyed the leisurely week where she completely changed the usual rhythm of her life. She threw herself enthusiastically into the task of exploring the city, visiting exhibitions, looking for the perfect clothes shop and bookshop, and walking for miles. By Thursday afternoon she was exhausted and decided to stay at Phil’s apartment and finish reading The Darkest Night. Phil arrived shortly after eight p.m. and found her cooking pasta.
“Hi, Mary. It smells lovely.”
She smiled and looked at him. “Well, you know my culinary skills are limited. I’ve never been truly domesticated. If anything, a househusband could come in handy.”
Phil smiled and pressed her arm. “I’ll go and get out of this suit. Did you have a good day?” he asked her as he walked out.
“I came back early. I was tired and wanted to finish reading the novel,” she replied, talking loud enough for her voice to carry to Phil’s room.
He came back a couple of minutes later. “Which novel?”
“The Darkest Night.”
“Fenton’s book? Isn’t it supposed to be a true story, or rather, based on a true story?”
“Yes. It’s supposed to be based on a true story. But there’s something that doesn’t ring true to me.”
“What? Is it a lack of psychological truth? Perhaps it’s due to the changes he made to disguise the identity of the main character.”
“Could be. But if I understood him correctly, he said that he had changed the details to hide his real identity, but the story was still his story. And to me, it doesn’t work. I’ve heard many things, and I’ve read psychiatric reports, and believe me, most of them would never get confused with a Pulitzer Prize winner, but they still ring true. This doesn’t. And there’s something about him…Fenton, I mean. He says he manned a telephone helpline offering advice and counselling. If that’s the case he’d be more understanding and have some empathy, one would hope. He’s too cold… But ignore me. It’s probably a defence mechanism. His behaviour, I mean.”
Phil shrugged. “Oh, you know what my opinion about the man is. I’m happy it’s Lance and not me handling the case, even if that might bring him a lot of attention.”
Mary turned off the hob. “This is ready. Will you set the table?”
“Sure. I’ll get some wine. Yes, and water for you. I know you don’t drink.”
While they were eating, Mary asked, “Shall I check and see if I can find tickets for a play tomorrow?”
“Oh, I nearly forgot. Mr Wright—Percy—has invited us to his house in the Hamptons this weekend. It seems his wife is having some kind of reception, and he’s decided we should be there too. I told Ryan we’d pick him up on the way. Wright has decided that tomorrow we’ll only work in the morning to make sure we get there at a reasonable time. I understand dinner will be a pretty ‘intimate’ affair. That probably means no more than twenty five people.”
Mary looked at Phil, cocking her head. “Are you serious?”
“Oh yes, of course. Wait until you meet Mrs Wright. You’ve probably seen her in posh magazines. I’m not surprised he wants big cases. She’s very high maintenance.”
“What do you mean ‘Wait until you meet Mrs Wright’? And you also said ‘we’ would pick Ryan up? Am I invited too?”
Phil laughed. “Oh yes. Percy insisted I make sure you come. He wanted to show you his hospitality. And I think he’s determined to secure your services for future cases. He must have decided it gives him some advantage over the rest. You must come. Don’t abandon Ryan and me. It will be interesting. Plenty of material for your stories.”
“You’re right on that. But I must be back to work on Monday. I phoned them today.”
“No problem. We’ll leave after breakfast on Sunday. So, have you decided psychiatry is your future, then?”
Mary sighed. “I’m not sure. But at the moment it feels unfinished. I must see it through. Complete the training. Then I’ll decide.”
The ride to Mr Wright’s house, in Phil’s Jeep the next day, was very comfortable.
“I never knew you liked this type of car, Phil. I’ve always known you with more sporty models,” Mary said.
“It seems to be the fashion, at the moment—at least among the elite,” Ryan replied. “And one of our clients has a dealership and always offers a very good discount to the firm’s staff.”
The house was impressive. A valet came to collect the keys from Phil to park the car. Mary tried to hide her shock. “It’s a mansion. I didn’t expect it to be this huge and posh. I’m sure quite a few European royalty members live much more modestly,” she said.
“Well, this is America. Modesty has never been in fashion here,” Ryan whispered in her ear.
Mrs Wright was younger than Mary had expected, although when Phil introduced her and they shook hands, Mary realised that perhaps nature had had some help.
“My husband told me you had been very helpful with the writer’s case. What a terrible thing, the death of that man, isn’t it? Oh, Wilma, darling—”
Before Mary had a chance to reply or say anything, Mrs Wright had already moved on and was chatting to a woman wearing an elegant black dress.
“Pierre Balmain, methinks,” Ryan said.
Mary looked at him surprised. He smiled. “All this shopping and looking at magazines with my sister has evidently had an effect on me.”
The evening was extravagant. The ‘intimate’ dinner ended up being a formal affair with nearly fifty people in attendance. Thankfully, Mary sat next to Ryan. The woman sitting to her left was a newlywed and seemed only interested in her husband. Mary chatted to Ryan and he entertained her with gossip about the people he recognised.
On Saturday, the ladies had a visit to the Spa organised, and that seemed to take up the whole day, between sauna, exercise classes, yoga, massage, hairdressing, lunch, make-up… Mary quickly became bored and, in the afternoon, she decided to escape and take a bus that left her a couple of miles from the house. She fancied a walk and the afternoon was beautiful. The place was extravagant and properties there were exorbitantly priced, but it wasn’t difficult to see why they’d choose to live there. Or to have a second home there. As she was approaching the house, she heard somebody running behind her. She turned to find Lance, sweating buckets. He was wearing shorts and a very light running top, but judging by his state he must have been running for a long time. He slowed down slightly to say hello.
“I’ll see you later. I don’t dare to stop. I’m not sure I’d manage to get going again.”
He carried on running. If anything, he seemed to speed up after leaving her. Mary had only seen him from a distance the previous evening, as he had been sitting at the other end of the table, on Percy’s right. She remembered Phil had made a sarcastic remark. “He’s seated at the right hand of our version of God, of course.” Mary had told him off for being jealous but had not paid Lance any attention after that, and she hadn’t bumped into him later either.
That evening was much more formal and grand. Mary felt terribly underdressed. She looked at her long black dress and her flat black ballerinas and sighed. She’d never managed high heels, and she hadn’t expected anything like that when she had packed her suitcase to spend a few days with Phil. She grabbed a black mantilla embroidered with flowers and wrapped it around her shoulders. Straightening up, she pushed out of the room, feeling like a gladiator jumping into the arena. The lions awaited her.
She met Phil and Ryan, who seemed to have been waiting for her at the top of the stairs. There were a lot of people in the reception area and wave after wave of rich and elegant people seemed to be streaming through the front door.
“Couldn’t we just escape through the back door? I’m sure nobody would notice we weren’t here,” Mary said.
Ryan smiled. “I think it’s too late, although I’m sympathetic to your idea. Don’t worry. You’re right, nobody will notice us, and we’ll be forgotten in a few seconds. There are too many important people here.”
They were briefly greeted by Mrs Wright and then directed towards a larger room, where people were distributed in small groups, being offered drinks and fed canapes. Percy waved at them from one of the groups, which consisted of men of a certain age, very smartly dressed and looking self-important.
“You don’t want to get on the wrong side of any of those guys,” Ryan warned Mary. She nodded.
A string quartet played by one of the doors to the terrace and after listening to them for a while, Mrs Wright announced that it was time for dinner. She guided her guests to a different room to the one they had dined in the previous night. This one was much larger and she called it the ‘banqueting hall’. Ryan and Phil found their name places very soon after they entered the room. Ryan waved goodbye to Mary with a sad expression. Her place was well past the centre of the table.
She didn’t know the man to her left, a Mr Winston who, after introducing himself, wasted no time before returning to his conversation with a stunning blonde woman sitting next to him. The man opposite her told her he was called Peter Matthews and was an old friend of the family. He seemed mostly interested in his food. The woman sitting next to him, Stella Roberts, lost interest when she discovered that Mary wasn’t married and had no kids. Mary turned to the door and saw Lance come in. He sat on her right. That wasn’t his assigned place, as Mary had noticed that the name written there, Mr Blake, was unfamiliar to her.
“Won’t you get into trouble?” she whispered.
“Oh, nobody will dare to make a fuss. And I know Mr Blake. He definitely won’t say anything.”
He was right. A middle-aged man arrived and walked to the only space left, near the top of the table, not far from the hosts. He looked at the name-card, lifted an eyebrow, looked at Lance, who replied with a smile and a nod, and then shrugged and sat down.
“You were right,” Mary whispered.
Lance only nodded. The meal started and Mrs Roberts seemed to find Lance much more interesting than Mary, trying to engage him in several topics of conversation. He was polite but didn’t expand upon or appreciate her efforts, whilst he chatted amiably with Mary. As they were finishing the main course, the woman tried again. “So, I hear you are working with Percy in the case against that famous writer…Fenton? What a terrible thing, to be harassed just because you’ve become famous. It must be dreadful.”
Mary couldn’t help herself. “Dying is quite terrible too.”
“Greed always gets punished,” Mrs Roberts stated.
“What do you mean?” Mary asked. She had no idea what Mrs Roberts meant.
“Well, surely that man was trying to blackmail the author, insisting that he’d stolen his story to make him pay for it. All these people are so used to getting paid off to avoid a scandal… Good for Fenton for not putting up with it!”
Mary noticed Lance was visibly shaking and remembered his reaction when Percy had told them Miles Green had died. The lawyer’s face was pale but his neck was red and a vein pulsated on his brow.
“How dare you presume to know what happened? What makes you think you have a right to talk ill of the dead? Your arrogance knows no bounds. Shut up before I forget you’re supposed to be a lady,” he blurted out.
Mrs Roberts looked at him, her eyes open wide and her mouth agape too. Lance folded his napkin, mumbled an apology and stood up, leaving the napkin on the chair as he walked out of the room.
“What was that about? I’d heard such nice things about him from Percy,” Mrs Roberts said. Mary knew the question was not addressed at her and avoided her gaze. After the dessert, they were all invited to the terrace to see the firework display. Mary saw Phil and Ryan walking towards her, but felt curious and rushed to get out of the hall before anybody caught up with her. She walked around the building and finally found Lance sitting on a stone bench, at the back of the house, alone. The floor in that area was covered in tiny stones and the noise of her steps made Lance lift his head.
“Sorry. I didn’t want to disturb you but I wondered if you were OK.”
He smiled, with a sad expression in his big blue eyes. He moved to one end of the bench, making room for her.
They sat in silence for a while. Finally, Mary said, “I know this is none of my business, and feel free to tell me to get lost if you want, but…I noticed your reaction to the news of Miles Green’s death the other day, at the firm.”
He slowly lifted his gaze and fixed it on hers.
“I don’t work for Mr Wright, and I have nothing to do with the case, as Fenton refused the assessment. I just couldn’t help but notice and wonder. You seemed more worried about the alleged victim than about your defendant. I’m not going to tell you to trust me because I’m a doctor. I’m just a curious bystander, forever intrigued by human nature.”
He visibly let go, as if crumpling in front of Mary’s eyes. “It’s all…a mess, really. And it’s my mess. You see, Mr Wright has this fantasy in his head about me being a sleek type, a fantastic lawyer and a rough diamond. Well, rough is right. I come from a little town in Minnesota. Don’t ask. Only people within a thirty mile radius even know where it is. My parents worked hard all their lives to give my sister and me a good education. My sister is now a primary school teacher, very happy. And I… I studied hard, and I watched every movie, every TV series, and read every novel with lawyers on it. Successful lawyers. Even before I knew the law, I knew how to play the part. I was only interested in flashy cases, in tagging along with the big names when they were working, and in doing things that would give me the reputation I needed to make it to the top. But I had to do pro-bono work too. I tried my hardest to shift it to the other lawyers and to trainees, but I couldn’t avoid it completely.
“And then, a couple of years ago, I had to represent Miles Green. He’d tried to bring a case against his abusers. He was the first one who dared to speak, although he wasn’t the only victim. Once he had the guts to talk, plenty of others followed suit. He was a very shy and insecure man, despite having been in the army, but he felt better for pursuing it. And then, as the hearing approached, I had a chance to assist in a case that was sure to get media attention and left Green’s case to a very junior colleague who had to take it to court. Not only that, but I accidentally misplaced some of the evidence. If I had been there it wouldn’t have mattered, as I would have realised and sorted it, but my colleague didn’t know, and I hadn’t even briefed him properly.
“The judge threw out the case, due to lack of evidence, and Green’s abusers went free. I never owned up to my mistake, and as a result my junior colleague didn’t finish his placement and quit law. And Green…I’m sure that if his abusers had gone to prison and the pressure and harassment had stopped, he wouldn’t have gone after Fenton, and he would still be alive. The news of his death the other day brought it all back. And then Wright makes me defend that man…”
“You can’t blame yourself for Green’s death. You didn’t kill him.”
“But I’m defending his killer! And it was my fault that his abusers went free!”
“Blaming yourself is not going to help him or his family. Perhaps there might be something practical you can do to help…”
His eyes opened wide and his lips curved slightly. “You’re right. And I know just the thing.”
The noise of the fireworks intensified and he stood up, offering her his hand and pulling her up. He took her arm and directed her towards the terrace at the back of the big hall where everybody was watching the fireworks. Phil and Ryan joined them.
Phil had to speak quite loudly to make himself heard with all the noise around them. “Where were you hiding?”
“I just needed a walk and a bit of fresh-air, and I met Lance at the back of the house.”
“Look at that!” Ryan pointed at a big purple cascade of light illuminating the whole sky, and that was the end of the conversation.
The next morning, while they were having breakfast—a much more informal affair: people ate whenever they got ready and went downstairs, rather than having a set time, and only the overnight guests attended—Ryan said, “I bumped into Lance this morning. I woke up early and decided to go for a walk, and as I was coming back, Lance was putting his suitcase in the trunk of his car. I asked him what he was doing, leaving so early, and he told me he had to go, that there was something very important he had to do. Ah, and he said to say goodbye to you guys.”
“The big case must have gone to his head,” Phil said.
“I think you might be mistaken,” Mary said.
Phil looked at her and tutted. “I’m disappointed in you, Mary. I would never have thought you’d fall for his performance.”
Mary smiled. “He might surprise you yet.”
In case you need to catch up with the previous chapters, you can do it here:
If you’re intrigued and you haven’t caught up with the three others stories I’ve published featuring Mary and Phil, I just wanted to remind you that Escaping Psychiatry is available for only $0.99. Rather than give you the description, you can have a look a read and preview it directly from here:
And a few links:
Thanks so much for reading and you know… Like, share, comment and of course CLICK!