Written and Read by M. Jones
Dr. Leon Heberte quietly contemplated the unopened package before him on his desk with a deeply controlled sense of elation. He knew that the soft brown paper box held his newest calligraphic pen, ordered from a special supplier from the south of France, the very shape and weight and dutiful craftsmanship an example of quality that couldn’t be found on North American shores. He already had a sampling of ink, the thickness and hue checked using the older pen, which had now been worn into discoloured overuse, a process that had taken a few years.
Leon was not a man who discarded his carefully chosen tools, and it was with a sense of sadness that he realized this particular pen, with all of its past seven-year history scribbling notes on patients and elucidating careful correspondence, had reached the end of its life. His career’s history lay in the bent metal tip, the passion he had put into his work flowing with ease from the pen to paper. He contemplated its past usefulness the way a Japanese tea master meditated over the shape and beauty of his cup.
He opened the leather-bound notebook he had secured for his newest possible patient, a professional photographer by the name of Greg Wells. The notes he had made thus far were not in his usual careful script, but in a hasty scribbling of pencil on loose lined papers delicately folded and placed within a small envelope pasted onto the inside cover of the notebook. Should Wells actually become his patient, only then would he be committed to the permanence of ink upon bound pages.
Leon did hope this was to be the case, for he had never in his entire career that spanned across two continents met a person suffering so chronically and severely from peduncular hallucinosis. He quickly read over his notes, gleaned as they were between the rapid, annoying speech of his colleague, Dr. Otto Lerengetti, and his own observations of the patient in question. Dr. Lerengetti had diagnosed the patient with severe schizophrenia with psychotic components, a diagnosis Leon gravely disagreed with.
Wells was not insane. He understood his hallucinations were not real and though it was difficult to navigate through a particularly bad episode, he was not without the ability to ground himself in reality. Lerengetti’s insistence on large doses of anti-psychotic medications to control the hallucinations would prove not only ineffective but detrimental.
Leon had been quite pleased to see Wells curse at the prescription handed to him, the paper shredded in his hands and thrown with confetti fury onto the grey floors of the psych ward as he stormed out of their care. They hadn’t yet formally met, but Leon already considered the rather scruffy looking Wells an ally against Lerengetti’s rushed, incompetent cures.
Perhaps he was being unfair in his inward description of the man, for he had seen Wells at his worst, his mind reeling from the shock of seeing the mutilated corpse of that poor, murdered young woman. He had looked as though he hadn’t slept in weeks, huge circles blackly surrounding large, expressive and equally dark eyes that constantly darted toward the invisible images created by his mind. He was a fairly small man, slender but muscular, no doubt physically stronger than he first appeared thanks to a wiry energy that permeated every tensed muscle in his body.
Dr. Lerengetti had not offered him an audience, which Leon rightly took as a passive-aggressive slight against his analysis. “A man subjected daily to the nightmarish interactive images of his mind is a man out of control of his faculties. Really, Dr. Herberte, just look at him. He’s incoherent, he’s unkempt, and clearly delusional. Classic psychotic schizophrenia. I am prescribing him heavy doses of loxapine for the acute symptoms and following it with a steady regime of haloperidal.”
The memory of Dr. Lerengetti’s dismissal grated on Leon. He looked over his hastily scrawled notes, the pencil lines purposefully light and written in French to ensure Dr. Lerengetti could not read over his shoulder.
“No history of delusion. Patient coped well outside of this incident. Professional photographer, investigative, world traveler. Understands hallucination is not real. Cause: brain injury many years ago, details unknown. Dr. Lerengetti, il est une personne tres arrogante et folles. Il ne comprend riens les problemes du cette malade. I would recommend rest and freedom from exposure to such traumatic imagery for the time being. Dr. Lerengetti believes patient Greg Wells is a creative and is therefore suffering the malady of the artistic mind, a diagnosis that is more indicative of Dr. Lerengetti’s personal bias and ignorance than valid insight.”
Harsh, perhaps, but Lerengetti had a long history of overmedicating his patients and using outdated methodologies for treatment, a fact that irked Leon’s more, admittedly, progressive style.
So, it was with relief that he saw Wells toss out all medical advice and storm out of the psych ward the minute his observation was over. But there was a lingering curiosity about the man still present in Leon’s mind, and though he already had a steady clientele of challenging patients, he felt pressed to contact Staff Inspector June Highsmith and request a meeting. She had been the one to sign him in, and from the genuine shocked concern he had witnessed as she did so, he was sure he would have an ally in her.
There was a light knock on his office door and he knew it was Highsmith. He carefully folded the papers back into the envelope within the notebook and placed it into the second drawer to the lower left in his large, ornately carved oak desk. The small gold clock on the surface of his desk read 7:30.
There was another knock on the door. But it was not 7:36.
“Dr. Herberte?” He could hear her curse and try the door, and she stepped into his office, clearly surprised he had not answered her. “I just got here, sorry if I’m late.”
“You are actually too early,” Leon said, his voice more clipped than he wanted it to be. “I am seeing you at 7:36.”
She frowned and checked her watch. “It’s 7:32 right now.”
“Then we will wait four minutes.”
“You’re going to make me stand here for four minutes?” She closed the office door behind her, her piercing look scanning the room with equal parts anger and confusion. “I’m here now, what’s the difference?”
“I’m afraid I have to be very strict about the punctuality of my appointments.”
“So you’re penalizing people if they are early? Just a tad OCD, don’t you think?”
“While I appreciate your analysis, Mrs. Highsmith, I do have my reasons for ensuring the timing of my patient appointments are very strict. There is sometimes a lack of effort on the part of those who are ill to get well, you must understand, and they will become tardy and miss important sessions. Some require extremely rigid parameters in order to obtain the best treatment and I have discovered time is a valuable grounding marker for many of my more severe cases.”
“It was just four minutes.”
Leon stared at her. She huffed and tapped her foot. When the clock showed 7:36, he gestured to the chair in front of his desk. ” Please, have a seat.”
He ignored the dagger-lined look she gave him and took out a sheet of blank lined paper, his freshly sharpened pencil poised above it. Inspector Highsmith was a formidable woman, despite her elfin features which were heightened by the short pixie crop of her grey hair. A commanding presence was evident in everything she did, even how she sat in the usually comfortable leather chair opposite his desk, her body poised in mute suspicion on its edge. He noted how she put every detail of his office into a quick sweep, ascending in order of importance, as though she was assessing a crime scene.
An old habit, Leon thought.
“I appreciate this meeting, Dr. Herberte. I can’t promise anything is going to come of it, but at least I can say I did right by a friend.”
“You consider Greg Wells a friend?”
“Why wouldn’t I? We worked very closely these last few weeks. He was instrumental in solving this case.” She scratched at her knuckles and he noted they were bleeding. It was an oddly out of place comfort measure in direct contrast to her alpha persona. “I brought a civilian into the mess, knowing his condition. I should have known better.”
“I have read the articles in regards to the shooting of the main suspect. I can’t help but notice that Wells has been given less than a passing footnote in the official story. Given that he no doubt works very closely with many investigative journalists, some within this region, it is a testament to his popularity that they don’t want to smear his reputation.”
“It’s not just his reputation I’m worried about,” Highsmith snapped. “My team works damn hard to keep people safe. We all watch each other’s backs, it’s not an easy job, and we’re always getting in the shit about one thing or another.” She started scratching at her knuckles, only to notice she was doing it again and forced her hand to stay in her lap. “The truth is any one of us could have been Greg at that scene. I know he has problems but it didn’t interfere with catching a killer.” A nail dug into a scabby knuckle, her shoulders twitching. “Or it wouldn’t have. That shooting had nothing to do with Greg. He was still in the ravine arguing with the dead body when that went down.”
“Had he given you any sign that his hallucinations were becoming more vivid?”
“No. If anything he worked harder than all of us. Look, when the guy came to me last month after that first dead girl, and handed me photos he’d taken of the scene after the fact, and started telling me how we missed the bubblegum wrappers in the weeds and the way they bent, suggesting a person had been standing there, even if we didn’t get a footprint… He told me to keep an eye on the ravines and we didn’t listen, and then the next girl shows up, face down in the muck, bubblegum wrappers around a patch of flat grass… At first we thought he was a suspect, but he was cleared pretty damn quick—he was busy in North Korea that week, earning a fucking Pulitzer. He’s not some back alley crazy looking for the mothership. Greg has actual experience, he’s smart and capable.
“That second girl, that was when I knew he had a gift for it.” Highsmith sighed and flopped her back into the leather chair. “After that second one I had him come on board as a ‘consultant’ and let him take all the pictures he wanted. He knows very basic forensic methods, so he was useful and at least those shots could stand up in court.”
“He took additional photographs, ones that weren’t admissible?”
“The thing about Greg is that he can’t trust what he sees. When he takes a picture, it’s like reality gets cemented for him. He told me the world around him tells him lies but his pictures never can.” Highsmith stared down at her injured knuckles, puzzling over them as though she didn’t know how they got that way. “I let him take his more creative impressions of the crime scene home with him, ones we’d never use for evidence. A pretty big fucking grey area when it comes to the law. But these girls were dying and I wasn’t going to let it keep happening if we could stop a monster with nothing more than a Nikon digital camera and Photoshop.”
Leon paused, his pencil hovering over the various notes he had made with careful hesitation. “He is an important asset to you. I have to wonder, and forgive me, Inspector Highsmith, if I seem presumptive—but is your concern for your friend or for the tool you feel you have lost?”
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want my favourite weapon back.”
Leon tapped the tip of his pencil on the paper, leaving tiny impressions within it. “He was seriously traumatized at the scene, enough to give him a psychotic break for which he had to be hospitalized.”
“He’s been in worse situations.” Highsmith, crossed her arms, instantly defensive. “He’s been in war-torn countries watching people get their heads blown off on a daily basis. He had to take pictures of that. Don’t tell me a dead pole dancer is what’s entirely to blame.”
“War is a function of mass decision. Murder is personal. It is decidedly more intimate.”
Highsmith was more at ease, and it was with a surprising sadness that Leon realized she wasn’t as hard a person as she tried to project. She rubbed her hands over her arms, a protective gesture, her brow furrowed in worry. She cared about Greg Wells in the way she did for the rest of her team, like a doting mother with wayward children doing all she could to keep them on the right path.
She looked at her watch. “It’s getting late and I have to get going. I have to get home and make sure my son is fed.” She gave Leon an apologetic smile. “He’s in university, and yes he can fend for himself, but if it was up to him it would be Ramen noodles and ketchup every night.”
“What is his major?”
“Economics. Maybe he can tell me how that all works someday.” She held out her hand and Leon shook it, pleased by how smooth and dry it was. “I really hope you can help Greg.”
“Since he has been functioning very well until now I am not entirely sure he will need it,” Leon truthfully answered. “But I will do what I can. Perhaps a few days from now—Tuesday I am not overly booked. Shall I make it for the same time?”
“Tuesday, 7:36 on the goddamned dot, I’ll let him know.”
Leon rose from his seat to see her out. She gave him a curt nod and a small ‘thank you’ before slipping out of his office, her steps echoing across the vast hallway outside of his door.
He felt a sense of accomplishment, though the patient’s arrival was still dependent upon his own decision. Still, he was sure Highsmith would be impossible to say no to, and with a confidence he didn’t usually enjoy, Leon inked Greg Wells’ appointment into his desk calendar with careful strokes of his pen. He ensured the ink dried before he closed the appointment book and, with the day ready to be finished, he took one last look around his office for any last minute papers or messages that needed his attention. His telephone flashed red, showing that there had been three messages within the last hour.
A stab of ice wrenched against his gut and it took a great effort to erase all three messages, unheard, his hand shaking as he worked the buttons for his voicemail. The thought of hearing his sister Sabine’s voice again filled him with conflicting feelings of fear and worry. She wanted something. She was in trouble. The usual endless cycle of return from which no need was satisfied, no slight forgiven.
Her voice, cold and rotten, was full of the corpse of what used to be his care for her. “Do this for me or I will destroy you.”
He grabbed his long winter coat, and draped it carefully over one arm. His movements were quick and deliberate, a forced grace that on anyone else would appear awkward. He tried not to think of the dead girl Greg Wells had found, or the morbid state of her body. He tried, and failed, not to wish it had been his sister who had been found there instead.
© 2016 Copyright M. Jones
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