Chapter 8: Talking trash

Go to previous chapter – Chapter 7: A Menace No More

I was surprised at the reaction to ‘the shootout.’ Donald Wayne was bigger news than the media mogul. Morrie Greenberg, international businessman, had been usurped by a hoodlum with a high school education. Everyone was talking about the People’s Wolf. In restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations and on public transit the standard joke, in a hundred variations, was about ‘keeping better company.’  I had inadvertently coined a phrase that, with Osterwich’s help, had connected with people.

I felt a shift in public opinion. People were getting onside with the Wolf. Nobody official, of course, just ordinary people who needed a champion talking among themselves. They weren’t exactly condoning the killings, but the conversations carried an undertone of sympathy with the cause. There was a general feeling that the bottom-liners had gotten away with too much for too long and that the supposed innocents, Greenberg and Cunningham, must have been into something. The receptionist had it right.

It delighted me that everyone grabbed onto the concept that there had been a shootout. I hadn’t taken any fire but was happy to have people believe that I had. That schlep Thorsby was right. Killing a well-known hard case had elevated the Wolf’s standing.

The rest of January passed uneventfully. I began work on the Nextco story and had almost all the information together in a couple of weeks. I stalled Oliver with plausible excuses about having a couple more interviews to do and showed up at the office every day. I didn’t want to work at home. Alone.

I alternated between feelings of pride and dread. Pride that I had carried out a dangerous mission and dread at the knowledge I would have to do it again. By mid-February, with media coverage slowed to a rehashing of what was already known, I was slipping back into the darkness. Sitting on the couch staring across the street at the neighbour’s house. Isolating. Towards the end of February, I told Kate I’d be working at home to finish the Nextco story. She didn’t buy it.

“If you don’t make that appointment with Doctor Adams I will,” she said one Saturday morning.

I was shuffling about the house in a T-shirt and pajama pants, unshaven, and feeling low. Nothing mattered. Donald Wayne hadn’t changed anything. The world continued as it always had. The bottom-liners went about their business of fucking over society with increased security precautions. The righteous continued in their victim mode. What would it take to wake people up?

“I’ll make an appointment Monday.”

I phoned Gail Whitesong. Maxwell Smart wasn’t a difficult man to see.

“Mr. Delaney, it’s good to hear your voice again. I wondered what you were up to. I can give you the last time on Thursday. Dr. Adams can see you at four o’clock.”

She sounded sincere but I knew better. I was just another despondent client looking for a quick fix. One of hundreds in the files.

“I’ve missed you too, Gail. Why don’t we forget about Adams and I’ll come and see you?”

She ignored my little flirtation.

“Thursday at four, then.”

“See you Thursday.”

Kate’s prodding aside, I was looking forward to seeing the little swindler. I couldn’t tell you why.

Thursday dawned bright; a soft breeze carried the scent of spring under a rare blue winter sky. In a few weeks the cherry trees would blossom.  I’d arranged an easy morning at the office and took the afternoon off. I picked up some take-out for lunch and drove to Kits Beach. I parked in the spot where I’d made the decision about Donald Wayne. How long ago was that? A matter of weeks. How many? I didn’t know. But I did know that the high of killing was wearing off faster.

I drove around Point Grey after lunch, my thoughts swirling around like clothes in a dryer. I parked the car on the cliff at the top of Wreck Beach and walked down the long wooden stairway to the ocean. In summer the place simmered with sex. Homos humping in the bushes. Naked women flaunting their best assets.  Well-hung guys advertising their wares. The restaurant and nightclub crowd. Fucking bunch of degenerates. I didn’t care who did what to who down there.

Even on a beautiful day the beach was deserted. Too cold to get naked, I guess. I sat on a log and stared at the waves coming in. One after another. Forever. I knew with certainty in that moment nothing had meaning. It hit me hard, because to recognize it was to admit the Wolf’s mission had no meaning. And that there was nothing but blackness ahead for me.

I parked on a side street near Adams’ office so I could pass by my favourite dumpster. I’d had the running shoes I wore on the Donald Wayne job in the car. I tied the shoelaces together and dangled them carelessly as I walked, as if I didn’t have a worry in the world. What was real? I didn’t care anymore.

When I got to the overflowing dumpster,  I flipped the shoes on the bagged garbage. One caught the edge and fell back, dangling forlornly.  By the time I reached the stairway landing inside the building and looked out the dirty window at the alley, a street person was already trying them on. It brightened my mood slightly.

Adams outer office was exactly as I’d last seen it. Gail Whitesong sat at her desk, her wine-colored coif perfectly in place, huge red-framed glasses covering half her face.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Delaney.”

She had an attractive way of looking up at you over top of the monster glasses. I could see why she had to be wary of men. But I was feeling too bleak for small talk or repartee, so I simply nodded pleasantly and walked over to the window. The guy at the dumpster was gone now, along with the shoes. The sunny day had faded to late afternoon. My brain had faded to black.

“Roger, come in please.”

The horn-haired little fraud was standing in the doorway to his office wearing a light-colored polyester shirt and dark pants, a bad brown tie and senior’s shoes. Seeing him in the flesh burst my illusion. I didn’t want to be there anymore. I would’ve left right then but the thought of Kate stopped me. I walked past him without saying anything and settled into the easy chair in a snarky mood.

The inner office didn’t feel comfortable. The plant growing up and over the patio door reminded me of the Little Shop of Horrors. I hated that movie. I kicked out the leg rest and sunk right back as he got his chair and set it in front of me.

“So, what’s new?”

“What’s new with you, Roger.”

“I asked you first.”

I said it with a nasty edge, but he took no notice.

“Well, I just got back from a Mensa conference in Lake Tahoe. Quite a lot of fun. There are some real characters, believe me.”

“I took the Mensa intelligence test and failed. They said I was close enough to try again in a year. I never did.”

It was true. I don’t know why I took the test. Probably because I wanted to justify feeling smarter than everybody else. Maybe I was lonely and thought I might connect with like-minded people. They sent me a conciliatory letter advising me of my failure to make the grade. It happened a long time ago and I hadn’t thought of Mensa since.

“It’s not really a test of intelligence. Brilliance manifests itself in a variety of ways. Many members are total disasters in the simplest areas of their lives. They dress oddly, perhaps, or have no luck with women.”

“Really.”

He ignored the irony. Or didn’t get it.

“Mensa members are a bunch of oddballs, so I wouldn’t feel too excluded.”

“I don’t.”

“You’re very abrupt today. Is something troubling you?”

“No more than usual.”

“So, you’re feeling down? Depressed? Experiencing a lot of turbulence?”

“All of the above.”

“What does it feel like to be depressed? I don’t mean just sadness or hopelessness; I mean what does it feel like in the thinking part of your brain? Put it into words for me.”

“It still feels like reality.”

“Please clarify.”

“Seeing life for what it is. Rotten to its core with corruption, greed, the unspeakable violence of the human species. It’s knowing with certainty nothing has meaning and everything just is. That there is nothing in the future but more of the same.”

“You might be surprised to know I agree with some of what you say. Emily and I talk about the state of the world sometimes, after the kids go to bed. She doesn’t have a high opinion of human nature. I stay upbeat by understanding why things are the way they are from a scientific point of view. When you think about it the world is exactly as it should be. Humans are far and away the most aggressive predators on the planet. We have succeeded in subjugating all living things to suit our needs. Why would the depredation stop with other species?”

He paused for a moment. Did the pause have meaning? Had I imagined it? He began to talk again. Like a kindly professor.

“It’s natural that humans prey on other humans. And if you believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution, it follows that the most aggressive humans thrive while the weaker people in the gene pool fall to the wayside.”

“Like the creatures of the Downtown Eastside?”

It was my first comment. I’d been content listening, watching his face as he spoke. Then a hair horn fell forward onto his forehead. When his unsuccessful efforts to brush it into place with his hand became too annoying, I closed my eyes and put my head back. He continued as if he hadn’t heard.

“Take the psychopathic personality, for instance. It makes perfect sense to me that psychopaths rise to the top in almost every field that involves personal gain. If a psychopath starts out in business with the goal of achieving power and wealth, he is much more likely to reach that goal than an individual constrained by morals and integrity. That doesn’t mean most successful people kill to get to where they are. It means they cut corners, screw people over and generally disregard rules and niceties they are convinced don’t apply to them.

“Therefore, a high percentage of our leaders in business, politics, education, organized religion, you name the field, are psychopaths. As I said, if you believe in Darwin, psychopaths and their spawn must rise to the top of the evolutionary hill. Natural selection won’t be denied. Somehow, when I think of it like that, it’s not so depressing. It’s simple science.”

“Thanks for cheering me up.”

“We are all out for ourselves and those closest to us. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.  It has always been so. The core foundation of the animal kingdom. Everything we do is for personal satisfaction. If good comes out of it, that’s a positive. Even the do-gooders are only in it for themselves. They help others because it makes them feel good. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t do it. There is no right and wrong, only survival, and what it takes to ensure it. As someone with a clear view of reality you’re already a step ahead. Like you said, the universe doesn’t judge, it just is. Once you connect with that, not just on an intellectual level but in the guts of your being, you can begin to move forward.”

“I haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about.”

He bent forward slightly and let go a cross between a laugh and a giggle.

“Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh.”

The movement knocked the other hair horn down. It seemed so ridiculous I didn’t respond. We locked eyes and sat that way for several minutes, not speaking. Another stare-off. Who would crack? I shifted slightly in my chair and he mimicked the move. I shifted the other way and so did he. I touched my nose and he touched his. I grabbed my crotch and he flashed me the peace sign.

Neither of us had smiled nor spoken since the end of his giggle. How had it come to this? The People’s Wolf sitting in a drab office above a strip mall, in the shadow of a man-eating plant, playing monkey-at-the-zoo with a badly dressed little con artist who might be insane. I had to laugh. And when I did Adams burst out. We laughed like a couple of kids. I flashed him the peace sign and he grabbed his crotch and it set us off again.

“Oh, you’re… a… real… card, Roger.”

He could barely get the words out. I was laughing so hard I had to turn in my chair and gasp for breath. I wanted to reply but couldn’t. I finally let go in a high-pitched fast burst, running the words together.

“You’re-not-so-bad-yourself.”

He leaned toward me and shook his hair horns. I attempted a matador cape motion and said: “Ole.”

We sat there joking back and forth like children. Small children with bad jokes. At one point he put his thumb on his nose and waggled his fingers at me and I waggled back. We finally arrived at that uncomfortable moment when the laughter becomes a bit forced.

Adams stood up and brushed his hair into place with his fingers. He took the chair back to its place against the wall as I composed myself.

“Look at it this way, Roger. If nothing has meaning, then there’s no reason to be anything but happy.”

He said it softly, with real affection, the way a father might reassure his son. I stood up and he turned towards me and did his preying mantis bow. A short session, but strangely satisfying. This time I bowed back.

Gail Whitesong sat inscrutably at her desk. She must have heard the laughter but she wasn’t letting on. I flirted with her, gently, and made another appointment for two weeks. I left the office feeling good.

I had no idea what had just happened. How the little horned-swoggler had got inside my head and released the pressure. I had never laughed that hard for that long. Ever. Even when I was a kid. It felt so good I didn’t want it to stop. Adams had gotten to me again.

On the drive home I tried to figure out how he did it. It surprised and annoyed me that he was a Mensa member. What I told him was true. I had taken the test in my mid-twenties and failed. It pissed me off severely when I read the letter informing me I’d fallen short of brilliance. Bunch of clueless fucking nerds.

Some things Adams said made sense, though. Over time, the psychopaths had to take over at all levels of society. Greenberg and Cunningham were psychos. I had no doubt of that. Donald Wayne’s record spoke for itself. The drug dealer and the pimp were punks but being stupid psychopaths didn’t make them any less guilty. Five executions, five fewer psychos preying on the world.

His take on life having no meaning hit home. It meshed with my Wreck Beach revelation, but in an uplifting way. If nothing mattered why worry. It was freeing, really, when you thought about it. What could be more liberating than knowing with certainty that everything happens randomly, that there is no karma, no reward in the afterlife for good behavior, no punishment, no judgement. By the time I got home I was feeling downright jaunty. Kate noticed right away.

“You look like you had a good day.”

She was standing at the stove making a stir fry, wearing a plain red apron, wooden spoon in hand, face flushed from the heat rising from the wok.

“You just look good, honey. And something smells wonderful.”

I walked over and she dipped the wooden spoon in the stir fry to give me a taste. The flavors came alive in my mouth. I felt a little high, almost giddy.

“My two favourite things in life: good food and my beautiful wife.”

“Wow, your appointment with Dr. Adams must have gone well. You were seeing him today weren’t you.”

“Yeah, I saw the little horned-swoggler. We had a good laugh. I think he might be crazier than I am. He’s a member of Mensa, you know.”

“Mensa?”

“It’s a club for brainiacs. You have to have an I.Q. of 160 or some such to get in. A lot of them are oddballs like Adams.”

I used his word, and my tone conveyed newfound respect. It came out that way, from somewhere just below conscious thought.

“Really. Well he came highly recommended but I’m sure he’s no smarter than you are, Roger. You could be a Mensa member if you wanted.”

I didn’t mention failing the test. What difference did it make in the overall scheme. Why bring it up. Kate wore blinders when it came to me. She believed in her heart that I was the smartest, best looking man in our circle. She meant it when she said Oliver was lucky to have me.

I marveled at how different her reality was from mine. Until the light shone on me, I was one of life’s losers. Another Delaney plugging his way through life in mediocrity. I saw her as she was: pleasantly plain, not overly intellectual with simple aspirations and rock-solid morals. I had dated better-looking, more interesting women. Most of them had attitude or were phony or damaged in some way or other.

During my Good Time Charlie years I’d gone out with a stage actress of some renown in Canadian theater circles. She was beautiful and passionate, smart as a whip. I thought I was falling for her until I stayed over at her apartment on our third or fourth date. She had hats hanging on her bedroom walls for decoration, old theater bills in the entrance, a coffee table book about the art of acting prominently displayed. The whole place was one big, phony cliché. I never called her again.

Kate had no pretense. I’d never caught her in a lie, never saw her trying to be something she wasn’t. She was the antithesis of a bottom-liner. Seeing me entombed in the blackness, powerless to help myself, didn’t diminish me in her eyes. She’s the only person I let in. At times, she was my only light.

Adams’ words, delivered in that fatherly, professorial tone, stayed with me. I had no reason to be anything but happy. The entire country was talking about the People’s Wolf. People were bombarding online Wolf forums with their bullshit. A bunch of idiots sitting around in their underwear trying to show everybody how smart they were. I hated online chat sites. Dumb asses living in cyber space where they could pretend to be more than they were in their miserable lives. Little people who talked big but went along like sheep. I’d heard that the Wolf was getting a lot of support, but I never logged into any of the sites. I figured one of them must be a cop trick.

I won’t deny that I loved the attention. I even took public transit a couple of times just to hear people talk. The shootout thing had taken on its own life. Every news story I’d heard or read said only three or four shots were fired but people clung to the fiction that the Wolf had coolly shot it out with gangsters and walked away. Even Thorsby had it wrong. Doing Donald Wayne had created great expectations among the little people.

Towards the beginning of the second week anxiety began to seep through the cracks, turning the brightness to grey.  The Donald Wayne thing happened so fast it took away all the joy of the hunt. I’d planned on staying busy with him well into the new year. I knew I had to find someone else, someone suitable who would keep the Wolf momentum going. Nobody had come to mind by my next visit with Adams.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Delaney. You’re looking smart today.”

Gail Whitesong gazed up at me over her giant red glasses, a hint of coquettish in her smile. Or was there? Who did she see when she looked at me? I had no idea.

“Ms. Gail, fetching as always.”

“You’re a flatterer, that’s for sure. Mother warned me about your type. She said, ‘Gail, men do not give compliments to women without an ulterior motive. It’s not in their nature.”

“But what motive could I possibly have, Ms. Gail. I’m simply showing my natural appreciation for beauty.”

I said it earnestly, as if I was Clark Gable in Gone With The Wind.

“Mother told me what men want. And she knew men, believe you me. Of course, I don’t think that of you, Mr. Delaney. You’re much too refined to be that sort. I love that jacket you’re wearing.”

“Thank you.”

I was wearing a skinny cut, flat-grey wool sports coat from Harry Rosen. I got it on the sale rack for $450. I don’t know how or why our banter had turned flirtatious. The whole Adams thing was bizarre–Ms. Gail, the windows overlooking the dumpster, the man-eating plant, and most especially, Adams and his mental drivel. The guy actually had me grabbing my crotch and thumbing my nose at him. And he got well paid for it. How had it come to be? I didn’t care because it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore.

Adams had added a navy-blue sweater vest to his polyester look. It hung loose, as if it were a size too big. His wife had the taste of a gnat.

“Nice look, doc. Very intellectual.”

“Thanks Roger but I don’t like sweater vests. It seems to me a sweater is worn for warmth and if you leave off the sleeves what’s the point. But Emily had it laid out this morning. She says a sweater vest warms up my look. She spends a lot of time and energy dressing me.”

“It shows.”

Neither of us acknowledged our laughing time together and Adams started things off without a stare-off.

“What would you like to talk about today? What’s foremost in your thoughts.”

“Nothing pops out. Does that mean my foremost thoughts are about nothing?”

“Thinking about nothing is an oxymoron. A scientific impossibility. I’ve got something we can discuss. What about this People’s Wolf fellow? Do you have any thoughts on him? He seems to be on everybody’s mind these days.”

He stared directly into me as he said it. I can’t explain it any other way. It stunned me for a second.

“Where does he fit from a scientific standpoint?” I asked, feigning casual interest.

I badly wanted to know what he thought.

I admit it.

“Well, it goes without saying he is a predator of the highest order. His letters indicate above normal intelligence and a facility with the written word.”

Did he really place emphasis on the last part? Was paranoia my new reality? I sat in silence with my turbulent thoughts.

“If he believes what he’s writing he’s a romantic, but then it takes a realist to kill people for a cause. He sees himself as being above the people he champions and is carrying an unbearably heavy load of anger. Killing people lets the anger go. It gives him relief; the way laughter relieves tension.”

Another subtle signal? He had me glued to the easy chair.

“It sounds like you’ve been giving the Wolf a lot of thought.”

I said it without animosity.

“Hasn’t everybody. You can’t turn on the radio or TV without hearing about it. I got a call from the police the other day asking if I would join a panel they’re forming to put together a profile of the suspect. They probably heard about me through the work I was doing with psychopaths at UBC.”

I’d always prided myself as someone who couldn’t put on the false front needed for small talk. A bad actor. A lousy liar. Sitting there in the easy chair, feeling unnerved at this revelation, I put on an Oscar worthy performance.

“Wow. This Wolf guy has turned into a cottage industry. Everybody’s cashing in.”

“Oh, we get a stipend but nobody’s getting rich. We do it out of scientific interest and hopefully it works out for the better good.”

A curious choice of words? Or not.

“So where does the Wolf stand on the psychopath scale from an expert’s point of view?”

“He is almost certainly a psychopath. He’s already killed five people and damaged many more lives, the latest of which are the young woman who witnessed the execution of her boyfriend and an innocent teenager who saw his dad gunned down, likely the last thing he will ever see. The Wolf shows no remorse in his letters and I very much doubt he has a conscience or is capable of empathy.”

Talking about the Wolf with Adams was more satisfying than trading jibes with Thorsby. And infinitely more dangerous. Once the paranoia settled, I knew there was no possible way he could suspect me. There had to be 100,000 people in the city who had ‘a facility with words.’ Still, I resolved to be super cautious. A slip-up could prove fatal. For someone. I didn’t want it to be me.

“I’m not sure it’s that cut-and-dried,” I said. “You made the point last session that preying on others comes naturally to humans. Maybe the system has screwed him over and this is his way of fighting back. Maybe he believes that preying on the bottom-liners, as he refers to his victims, strikes a blow for the little guy. Maybe he believes in his cause so much he’s willing to sacrifice himself.”

“Oh, he believes in the cause alright. No doubt about that. You’re right, he carries out these killings at great personal risk. To continue now, with security cameras everywhere, and hundreds of police on his trail, is borderline suicidal. And this latest shootout with gangsters appears to be an escalation in the level of violence and danger. But sacrifice himself. I doubt he thinks about it that way.”

I smiled at the shootout reference. The little horned-swoggler couldn’t get his facts straight, either. He wanted to devour the myth of the Wolf as much as anyone. So I fed him.

“The experts say the coolness he showed under fire is something that can’t be learned, except on a field of mortal combat.” An Osterwich angle. “One former military guy put the odds of an untrained shooter hitting three moving targets at night with a handgun at 10,000 to one. And that’s without the targets shooting back.  The disgruntled veteran theory makes sense. Whoever he is, he’s a hell of a shot.”

Adams took a moment to absorb this. I waited for the Mensa man to do the math. And indeterminate number of shots fired from one gun does not a shootout make. He didn’t make the connection.

“What do you make of the reference to Herman Hesse. That’s a quote that would work nicely on my office door. ‘Not for everyone. For mad men only.’ I suppose it might offend some patients.”

He laughed softly. Not the maniac giggle of last session.

“I don’t know much about Hesse. Wasn’t he a German philosopher? I’ve never read anything by him.”

“He was German-Swiss actually. A poet, novelist and painter who won a Nobel Prize for Literature in the 40s. I’ve read his major novels, Steppenwolfe and Sidhartha. The quote comes from Steppenwolfe. Actually, it’s the words on an electric sign: “Magic Theater. Entrance Not For Everybody. For Madmen Only.”

“You’re really up on Herman Hesse. You don’t own a handgun do you?”

He didn’t acknowledge the joke.

“Yes I do. I have a Glock nine millimeter. I got it after I started working with violent psychopaths. When I heard what they were capable of doing from their own mouths, I went through the process and got myself a Firearms Acquisition Permit. Emily has had her FAQ since her early twenties. And a thirty-eight revolver. She’s somewhat to the right in her view of the world. A pragmatist. We go to the range now and fire at targets. They are shaped like humans, which is interesting from a psychologist’s viewpoint. It’s a lot of fun, better than bowling, but I must agree with your expert. Shooting at live armed targets is a whole other thing. I doubt I could get the safety off in the middle of a firefight, let alone point and shoot it accurately.”

I had to hand it to the guy. He was full of surprises. The sweater vest aside, he didn’t look as goofy as usual. Things had got so deep so fast I hadn’t noticed that his black bouffant was slicked down into a two-inch thick mat, with no hint of horns showing. Maybe my matador joke hit the mark. Maybe he just wanted to look more businesslike for his new role in the Wolf investigation. I still didn’t know for sure if it was real hair. Maybe he just changed wigs.

“It certainly is an enigmatic quote,” I said, digesting the gun news. “What do you make of it.”

“It tells me that we are dealing with someone who is conflicted,” he said.  “Steppenwolfe is not an easy read. Perhaps the Wolf thinks of himself as Hesse’s protagonist, Harry Haller, a man in search of himself. My guess is that he is a controlled individual. Someone who rarely shows rage.”

“I’d think you’d have to know yourself well before taking a gun to the streets and executing people in the name of common good. If you didn’t before, you certainly would afterwards.”

“I suppose you would. But if I have learned one thing in fourteen years of practice, it is never attempt  to figure out what another person is thinking at any given moment. It is as difficult as trying to grab a handful of smoke.”

“Here’s my theory. The Wolf is not a he, as you suppose, but instead a group of people who have extensive contacts throughout different stratas of society. They might have met at university, or in a punk band or in the military. Males and females, like the Squamish Five. Maybe they’re all disgruntled veterans. Different group members carry out different functions. Research. Surveillance. Killing.”

“That’s a fascinating theory, Roger. One of the more interesting I’ve heard. How did you arrive at it?”

“Think about it. Killing people takes a lot of planning. Who can work the execution of five people, including two bigwigs and a notorious gangster, into their schedule? One person with a job wouldn’t have time to do everything. A guy with the money to sit around planning executions isn’t going to do it without some motive. A nutcase couldn’t pull it off without someone seeing something. This is not Son of Sam picking off random victims. He pulled a couple of these killings off in broad daylight and the cops don’t even have an accurate description. They can’t even say if he’s black, white or yellow.”

Adams listened attentively, hanging on every word.

“The letter is the clincher. In the last one published the Wolf refers to himself as ‘our.’ Why would he do that? To throw off the cops? That would seem too clumsy for a person with the intelligence he’s credited with. No, the most obvious answer is a simple slip-up. Human error. I’m not sure if I mentioned it but many years back, I worked at a small newspaper. Everybody in the editorial department did everything—writing, editing, proofing. Three sets of eyes could read the same story carefully, looking for errors, and still overlook mistakes in grammar, punctuation and spelling. It happens all the time. The people responsible for the killings are so used to thinking of themselves as a group nobody picked up on it.”

“You’ve almost got me convinced. Would you mind if I bring up the group theory with the panel?  Of course, I wouldn’t reveal your name or involve you in any way. Everything said in this room is in the strictest confidence. As a former journalist you understand the importance of confidentiality.”

“No problem. But I doubt your learned panel will be as open-minded as you. They’re on the lookout for an ex-soldier.”

When he ended the session with the preying mantis bow, I returned it again. It didn’t seem hokey anymore.

The fear hit me a few blocks from home. It came like a lightning bolt through the roof of the car, striking me on the top of the head and running through me, deep into my guts. I pulled the car over on a side street, a couple blocks from home. To think and recover.

A small kid was playing in the front yard across the street with the family dog, jumping and rolling around on the grass in the porch light. I watched him, idly, as I thought things through.

There had to be something hinky happening. What were the chances in a metropolitan area of about two million people that a killer would be a client of a psychologist involved in the investigation? If it was a movie plot it would be over the top. Yet here I was, sitting in my car on a dark street, wondering how such a coincidence was possible.

I had developed a grudging respect for Adams. He wasn’t as goofy as he looked. I went back over the session. Had I imagined him emphasizing the part about the killer having a facility with words? And the look he gave me when he brought up the Wolf? I didn’t think it was all in my head, but what paranoid person does? Logically, I knew there was no possible way he could connect me to the Wolf. I was just another depressed middle age patient. The only thing in the world that connected me to the killings was the gun. If I dumped it, I could walk away.  Free.

I had enjoyed talking about the Wolf with him but when he mentioned bringing it up with the task force profiling panel, alarm bells sounded. The cops would be suspicious of anyone who inserted himself into the investigation. I did not intend to do that, even behind the scenes. Just talking about the killings was dangerous. Still, I knew the opportunity to discuss the investigation with someone officially involved would be irresistible.

“Henry, get in here right now.”

The ferocity of the words snapped me out my reverie.

“I said now. Right now, you little bastard.”

A weaselly man stood on the lighted porch. He was wearing a black T-shirt with the word DEFIANCE on the front in huge white letters. His skinny arms were covered in jailhouse tattoos. He kicked at the kid as he went by. Then he turned to me. He didn’t look as big as yelling at the kid made him feel.

“Fuck off, pervert. I’ll cut your balls off if I catch you around here again. Go look for little boys somewhere else.”

Adams was right about one thing. I never showed rage. Even a month or two ago I would have started my car and driven off, convinced I’d done the smarter thing at the cost of a little piece of manhood. I couldn’t do that now. It wouldn’t be right.

As soon as I opened the car door, the guy came off the porch. I pegged him as a bully when he stopped at the edge of the yard. I pulled my trench coat from the back of the car and stood in the street calmly putting it on. Then I walked slowly across the street toward him, with one hand inside the coat, like some gangster from the 40s. I had become a good actor.

“Oh, you want some, eh? Fuckin’ pervert.”

He talked tough. Pimp talk.  But he didn’t make a move towards me. He stood there in the imaginary safety of his yard as I approached. I didn’t plan to fight. If he took a swing at me, I’d walk away and come back another time and put him down. I just wanted to scare him a little. Make him feel like the kid felt. Teach him some empathy. I closed the distance between us with authority and stopped a few feet short of his yard.

“I told you to fuck off….”

I cut him off mid-sentence. I didn’t want to hear it.

“A goof like you shouldn’t be telling people what to do. You’re not smart enough.”

I used the jailhouse slang; an insult no real tough guy could let pass. I said it evenly, without all the aggression I felt inside.

“You’ve only got one decision to make now, goof. Decide whether you want to live or not. That shouldn’t be too hard, even for a dimwit like yourself. Turn around and go inside the house and I’ll let your ignorance slide.”

I could see the fear. This wasn’t going according to his script.

“You a cop or something?”

“I’m something. Something bad for goofs who yell at people in the street. Stick to the kids. They might buy your tough guy act. Have you made a decision?”

He glanced back at the house, to see if anyone was watching. The kid had paused in the doorway.

“It’s okay, Henry, go inside.” All the anger was gone from his voice. “Listen, man, I thought you were a skinner. I don’t want no trouble. I’m on probation.”

“I don’t need reasons. Make the right decision and you won’t get trouble. Turn around and walk into the house. Do it.”

He stood there for a moment looking stupid. I could see the wheels turning. He’d already made his decision and was searching for a way out without losing too much face. He didn’t find one.

“Whatever, man. I don’t need this shit,” he said, moving towards the house. “Why should I give a fuck about what you do? Do what you fucking like, who gives a fuck.”

He mumbled like that all the way to the door, then slammed it shut. Fucking jar head. I went back to the car and sat there for a few minutes staring at the house. Just to make him nervous. I saw him look out the bedroom window then try to duck back. After a few minutes I drove off.

I hadn’t been in a fight since grade school. Punching or kicking someone seemed so crude, the avenue of last resort. Who wanted to rip a new shirt or get some idiot’s blood all over their clothes? Avoiding confrontations had never been a problem. On the rare occasion a situation came up, I used my brain instead of my fists.

The confrontation brought me back to reality. By the time I got home, I had reassured myself that Adams couldn’t possibly be on to me. The last residue of fear disappeared when I opened the door and smelled Kate’s cooking.

My mood remained buoyant throughout March despite the unexpected call.

“Mr. Delaney, it’s Gail Whitesong from Doctor Adams’s office.

“Yes, Ms. Gail, I recognize your voice.”

“Dr. Adams asked me to call and arrange a later appointment. He’s been quite involved with this police investigation and has cut his office time to two days a week. He wondered if you’d mind seeing him mid-April, say Thursday the 16th at 11 a.m.”

“I can do without the good doctor until then, Ms. Gail, but it means I won’t be seeing you for more than a month. That will be a real hardship.”

She didn’t answer and I thought the line had gone dead.

“Ms. Gail.”

“Yes, I’m here.”

“I thought we’d been cut off, for a minute.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing you on the 16th, Mr. Delaney.”

I don’t know why I flirted with her. It wasn’t a sexual thing. I had no interest in Ms. Gail in that way.  Even in the full hormones of youth I’d never had a strong sex drive. I was more interested in mental coupling. The sex came with it. Duty as much as pleasure. I was always able to do my duty, except once or twice during my coke phase in the Good Time Charlie years.

Kate had never found me wanting in that regard. She was the only woman I had a sexual relationship with that lasted more than a few weeks. With the others, familiarity had bred contempt on both sides early on. It frustrated women when I wouldn’t argue with them about trivial matters. Among cruder things, I’d been called aloof, a chauvinist, insensitive, self-absorbed, conceited, a preening idiot and an asshole. They had me down pretty good. But Kate didn’t see me that way. I can’t put our thing into words except to say I loved her as much as I was capable.

 

One thought on “Chapter 8: Talking trash

  1. Pingback: Chapter 9: Evil Eye Goes Global | The Meandering Maloneys

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s