Go to previous installment– Chapter 2: Canadian Justice is Hard
The company I worked for employed about 40 office staff — management, sales, payroll, administration. The six technical writers, TWs in office speak, occupied a 10 by 20 ft. room near the reception area. Although we were seldom all there at once, we dealt with every department and a lot of office traffic flowed through that room. I knew most of our employees by name and a few new hires by face. We nodded, exchanged pleasantries and were generally civil toward one another in our office dealings.
Baffles provided an illusion of privacy for the six workstations in the Tech Writers Room, three on each side of a wide aisle, but nobody said anything in the office they weren’t comfortable with as public knowledge. Bob Thorsby and I occupied the two areas nearest the door. Our workstations were across from each other and we would often roll our chairs back and talk across the aisle. He was the only person at the office I connected with on a personal level.
Thorsby and I spent considerable work time speculating in the two weeks following the Cunningham killing. I wanted to talk about it in a way I hadn’t done after the other two. When the coverage faded, I needed to keep the feeling of it alive. Thorsby was in his late twenties then, a bit of a loser but with a sharp wit and a tongue to match. A politically incorrect, overweight guy with aspirations to be an ad writer. Can you imagine? There I am, the most celebrated killer in the city, discussing my crime with a guy who aspires to write advertising copy.
Thorsby was likeably arrogant. He believed absolutely in his own strong opinions and expressed them often. He enjoyed being challenged and would argue endlessly, without getting mad, to make his point. He was refreshingly without guile. We were facing one another across the aisle, each exercising the springs in our leaning swivel chairs. The cops had predictably clammed up and the media had milked all the angles, including coverage of Cunningham’s funeral that featured interviews with politicians and judges outside the church. They recorded his grieving wife and children and profiled his long career.
“It’s drugs,” Thorsby mused. “When an expensive criminal lawyer gets dusted there has to be a drug connection. Either he was using and did something stupid, or he was financing or facilitating a deal.”
“Maybe. But there are other reasons for killing lawyers. It could have been a disgruntled former client, or an acquitted client’s victim. It could have been his wife or the husband of his lover.”
“Sure. But it wasn’t any of those things.” Thorsby leaned back in his chair, his considerable gut flattened by the effort, until it appeared he might tip over. “It’s got something to do with the murder case for that drug gang. He got them off what should have been a sure conviction but in doing so found out more than was healthy. There may be loyalty among thieves, but it doesn’t hold true for murderous drug gangs. He could have been pressuring them to cut him in on a deal, using his knowledge of their operation as blackmail.”
“You’re reaching, Thorsby. Cunningham was too smart to get involved in anything illegal. He was financially set, and he wouldn’t have jeopardized his reputation for drug money. He made enough fucking the system. Maybe somebody just got tired of smooth-talking lawyers.”
“No. This was too well-planned to be the work of some psycho. That kind of killer just barges into the guy’s office and shoots him at his desk, takes out half his staff then sticks the gun in his own mouth. Bang. It’s over in a final blaze of glory. Crazed killers crave recognition for their handiwork.”
Hearing him in effect call me a crazed killer desperate for attention stung. Especially the part about sticking the gun in his mouth. I wanted to tell him it was about fairness and justice. That Cunningham had been convicted in a higher court and that his punishment had been meted out swiftly, cleanly. That the whole thing was pure and right. That his death closed the circle for the victims of all the scumbags he got off. But I didn’t say anything. I just leaned farther back in my chair and examined the ceiling tiles. Thorsby, sensing an advantage, summed up his position with finality.
“Nah. The guy who did Cunningham was a pro. He probably flew in and out for the job and is sitting as we speak in a Montreal bistro sipping cappuccino reading the stock pages, deciding where to put the cash. The killing will never be solved and in a month or two, with no leads and nothing to go on, even the cops will let it slide. The press has already lost interest. In a world full of killings, there are only so many stories you can write about one murder.”
Of course, I knew Thorsby was right. The killing would never be solved. Richard Cunningham, Q.C. would be reduced to a number in the year’s annual homicide tally. The execution had made a big splash. Disposing of high-priced lawyers garnered a lot more ink than dusting off your garden variety pimps and drug dealers. I followed all the media coverage but resisted the temptation to clip out articles or record broadcasts relating to the case. Thorsby was the only person I discussed it with at length. Kate had no interest in murder. Thinking about it upset her view of the world as a benign place in which people went about their daily affairs without menace toward one another. To her, violence was a horrible anomaly best ignored.
Only one reporter did the story justice. Greg Osterwich, a veteran crime reporter for the Vancouver Sun, had filed 14 stories on the case in the weeks immediately following the killing. He interviewed Cunningham’s legal colleagues, business associates, friends, former clients, the grieving widow. None could suggest any motive. Osterwich explored the possibility of a revenge killing, detailing controversial cases Cunningham had defended over the past ten years. But after a month, even Osterwich’s reports dried up.
The intense pleasure I experienced in the execution’s aftermath carried over into all aspects of my life. Kate and I reconnected; our lovemaking went from monthly to weekly. I phoned my brother Sam in Alberta. He was regaining his speech after the stroke but was still hard to understand and the phone call was awkward.
“How are you holding up?”
“I’m doing okay. I got more movement in my arm and leg and I can get round now with a cane.”
The words came out slow, as if each syllable required special effort.
“Must have been a shock waking up in a hospital bed. How’s Amie taking it?”
“It’s been hard on her but she’s okay. She took time off work when I got out of the hospital.”
“No more smoking, I guess.”
“The doctor wants me to give it up. I guess I’ll give it a try.”
The guy was disabled, and he still couldn’t commit himself to quitting smoking. Pathetic. We talked for about ten minutes and made all the right noise about getting together soon. Truth is, I had no desire to see my brother, healthy or disabled. He was just somebody I used to know.
I didn’t let it affect my mood, though. I enjoyed going into the office and rarely worked at home. For the first time since my first few years on the job, I joined the technical writers at their Thursday night after-work whinge-and-whine session at a hotel lounge down the street from the office.
The oldest TW was a gentlemanly guy named Ray. He was single in his fifties and gave off a feminine whiff. The other guys were all in their late twenties and thirties with plans to move on to their true calling. Writing advertising copy or Christmas card greetings. One guy was working on a manuscript for Harlequin Romance. Ray and I were resigned to our position in life. At least that’s what it looked like.
I bought a new bike and cycled to work once or twice a week. But the good times didn’t last. By summer, I was back sitting in the living room, looking through the bars as night closed in, suffering the effects of an intense emotional hangover. I had stopped going into work entirely. In mid-June, I had been assigned to write the annual report for an important client, Calvin Textiles, due in early fall to coincide with the company’s yearly shareholders meeting. It was a large project requiring more than a hundred pages of text that would be co-ordinated with graphics and tables. I convinced the tech writer supervisor this could best be accomplished in its entirety at home, away from distraction.
I assembled all the necessary information and did some perfunctory phone interviews with senior company executives but that’s as far as it got. When Kate left for work in the morning, I sat in my office staring at the wall. Hour after hour. By mid-July I was seriously behind and unable to do the most rudimentary organization of the material. Thorsby’s words—psycho and crazy killer—kept interrupting my train of thought.
I felt no remorse for any of the killings, except in the way a soldier who has killed in the line of duty might. I felt badly for Cunningham’s grown children, a boy and two girls, and for his wife, but not for what I’d had to do. Each of the executed had been responsible for his own fate. Each had put himself into the line of fire by choosing a course that was counterproductive to society. I remained convinced that in the bigger picture the world was better off without the three of them selling sex, drugs and snake oil.
By early August, I was experiencing an all-encompassing numbness that manifested itself in varying degrees of mental and physical paralysis. I had difficulty lifting my body out of my office chair to move about the house or go to the bathroom. Simple everyday tasks like making a sandwich or emptying the dishwasher became an ordeal. Thorsby phoned once or twice but I was so abrupt he took the hint and quit calling. The contrast between my up time immediately after the killing and my near catatonic state a few months later so alarmed Kate she asked me to make an appointment with a neurologist.
One afternoon in the first week of July she came home from work to find me lying under a quilt on the living room rug, where I had been since before lunch. I had no idea how much time had passed and was surprised to see her come in.
“Why are you home so early, dear. You’ve caught me sneaking an afternoon nap.” I didn’t feel like talking but felt I had to say something. In those dark days of summer Kate was the only human being I was communicating with and I didn’t want her to know how far I had slipped over the edge.
“Early? Roger, for heaven’s sake it’s after six. I stopped at the grocery store after work to get a few things for supper.”
I couldn’t answer. To do so would have required energy that I did not possess.
“What’s wrong, honey? I’ve never seen you this low before. Are you having trouble with the annual report?”
The tenderness in her touch when she reached down and brushed the hair back from my brow triggered an emotional release. I began to cry, quiet and restrained. Tears of shame and frustration at my weakness, at my inability to cope. She got down on the rug beside me and crawled under the quilt. She stroked my face and neck.
“Nothing is as bad as it seems, Roger. No matter what happens I’ll be beside you at night, holding you. We’re a team. ‘Til death do us part.”
We lay like that for about an hour, the groceries Kate had picked up forgotten on the floor beside us in plastic bags. I tried to absorb her strength through our clothing. Neither of us ate that night. We went to bed when it was still light and Kate, as always, was sleeping soundly after a few minutes. I got up and went to my office and locked the door. I unscrewed the closet flooring and took out the gun. I put it on my desk amid the annual report papers and stared at its smooth steel surface, focusing my concentration, willing it to give me back the life force that ebbed out with each passing day. I stayed that way for a long time, maybe an hour or more, then replaced the gun and returned to bed. I tossed and turned and eventually fell into a restless sleep. In the morning I felt marginally better.
“Roger, I want you to get some help. You need to see someone, a professional who can help you get back on track. Your mood swings are becoming more severe. For a while in the spring you were practically walking on the ceiling and now you’re having trouble getting off the floor. Even your speech pattern has slowed. Maybe it’s something physical, something medication can help.”
Kate was standing at the front door, ready to leave for work. I was in the hall, unshaven for several days and still in my bathrobe. It’s hard to argue with someone speaking such an obvious truth.
“Yeah, I’ll look into it.”
“No, I’ll look into it, Roger. Just concentrate on writing your report. I’ll ask around, discreetly, and see if anyone knows someone who’s good. A psychiatrist or a psychologist. And when I find someone, I’ll make an appointment and drive you there. I want the old Roger back. The loveable but cranky guy I married.”
“So do I. So do I.”
I knew the old Roger was gone forever. And with good riddance. The old Roger was a faker, a phoney acting out every scene the way he thought it should be played. A weakling and a coward pretending to be happy and normal while the black dogs gnawed away inside.
I can’t blame my mental state on a bad childhood. I grew up in a mildly dysfunctional family. Dad was distant but not abusive. Mom, who died of colon cancer when I was 12, suffered from intermittent depression. I remember coming home from school to find her in bed. Dad would say—”Mother isn’t feeling well today, boys.”—and fix us sandwiches or pancakes for dinner before burying himself in the paper and falling asleep on the couch. After mom died, he just gave up.
He delivered milk for a living back when they dropped bottles right at your door. On his days off he worked with other milkmen paving driveways. Milkmen get up early and he was always tired. He did his duty by us boys, though, putting food on the table of our subsidized low rental row house, buying our clothes and schoolbooks. Paying for sports. But he never came to any games. He never told me he loved me. He was too tired.
Sam, who’s five years older, would go out at night and I would go to my room and read. He left home and joined the army right after high school, a year after mom died, leaving me alone with dad. The house was always quiet then, except for the drone of the TV. I don’t remember feeling lonely or particularly unhappy. I played sports, was a decent student and got along well at school, even though I didn’t socialize much.
The depression was periodic in my late teens and throughout my twenties, seemingly coming out of nowhere and settling in for a few weeks or a month. I’d always managed to get through it, burying myself in work or a hobby. I learned how to play chess and joined a club in university but after a year or so my interest faded. I built model ships. I started riding a bike. People who knew me then would be surprised to hear that I was experiencing inner turmoil. I kept it well hidden.
The depression escalated in my thirties, the episodes became longer and the periods between shorter. I compensated by socializing more, forcing myself to join in when what I wanted to do was isolate. In the first few years after I started work at my present job I was known as somewhat of a social animal. I went out for drinks after work and attended all the office functions.
Drinking made me feel normal, but it always wore off. I could be charming and attentive when required but it was all an act. I engaged in conversation and put on a happy face but inside I was empty, disconnected from humanity.
Kate came into my life during a low period. I was attracted to her even disposition and rock-solid moral values. She knew who she was and she liked herself. I turned on the charm during that first lunch date and the effort in doing so lifted the depression I’d been cloaked in when I walked into the insurance office that day.
Kate said later that she sensed I wasn’t as happy as I pretended to be in the first weeks we dated but it didn’t matter because she knew I was decent, not a phony like other men she went out with who put on airs. We dated for four months before I proposed. Kate was only the second woman I’d gone out with for any length of time.
My father died suddenly when I was in university. He collapsed on the milk route. A heart attack. I didn’t cry or feel sad like normal people do. I just felt depressed that the old man’s life came to an end in a puddle of buttermilk. That’s what they told my brother and me. He stepped out of the truck with a tray of milk and had a massive heart attack. Two quarts of milk hit the curb and busted. He had nothing to leave us but a couple boxes of papers and junk, a few family photos.
I met a girl I liked at the university chess club during my graduating year. My first girlfriend. I’d thrown myself back into chess to help fight off the depression that took over when the old man checked out. Her name was Melanie and she was majoring in education. We played a lot of chess and made awkward love a couple of times in the two-room basement suite I was renting near campus. At the end of the school year she went to her parents’ home in the Kootenays and never came back. I think she got involved with an old boyfriend.
She wrote me a letter saying she wasn’t returning to school but that she’d look me up when she came to the city. She never did. It didn’t bother me. I remember feeling relieved that I wouldn’t have to pretend I liked her more than I did. She was just someone to play chess with; the sex was an afterthought, an obligation, something expected.
I went out with other women over the years, especially in my Good Time Charlie period immediately after starting with the company. The other tech writers kidded me because I’d bring a different date to every office function. I slept with some of those women but there was little passion and no emotion involved. One-night stands and weekend affairs that always seemed to conclude by mutual agreement.
One woman, Rachel, took a real liking to me. We spent a weekend together on the Sunshine Coast and I must have triggered some need in her to nurture because she phoned every couple of weeks for about six months before losing interest. I wasn’t rude to her or anything; I just kept putting her off. I didn’t want to let anyone in to see the weakness. The darkness.
I thought about my past life a lot during those bleak July days—about my parents, my distant older brother, Melanie and Rachel and the others. You have to think about something when you spend hour upon hour staring at the wall or laying on the rug with your eyes open.
I suppose in immersing myself in the past I avoided dealing with the present, with the annual report and Kate and the emotionally crippling numbness. Though I didn’t consciously think it at the time, I was searching my memory for a seminal event in my life, something I could point to and say, “This is why I kill people.” I wanted a reason, not an excuse. I didn’t want to be Thorsby’s crazed psycho killer. It didn’t fit with the image I had of myself. I was judge, jury and executioner. Someone with the balls to do what had to be done. Someone to make things right.
I didn’t feel like someone with balls, then, though. I felt weak. A sneak.
Coverage of the Cunningham killing had long since tailed off. If the police knew the shots had been fired by the same gun that killed the pimp and the drug dealer they weren’t saying. I knew they didn’t have any cartridges. I thought about the police a lot. I wondered who was working on the cases, and if they thought about me as they tried to figure out a motive. I didn’t fear the police then. I considered them kindred spirits. People who wanted the bad guys eliminated.
The idea came to me as I lay on the rug, in the heat of a mid-afternoon sunbeam angling through the venetian blinds in zebra stripes. The thing missing was accountability. Without someone taking responsibility the killings were wasted. Just more random violence in a world saturated with senseless brutality. The more I thought about it the better I felt.
Two days later, a Thursday, I kissed Kate on the cheek as she left for work. A peck. She squeezed my arm.
“Everything’s going to be alright, Roger. You go see the counsellor tomorrow and I’m sure he’s going to help. Laura said Paul’s had a complete turn-around since he started seeing him last fall. He recommended medication and Laura said there haven’t been any side effects.”
Laura Carter was Kate’s boss. Her husband Paul had sunk into a deep depression in the months after his fiftieth birthday. We went to the party and Paul had dutifully presented himself as a content middle-aged man, blowing out his candles in two breaths and declaring himself to be a half-century young. They lived in a luxury downtown condo with an expansive view of water, mountains and city lights. Both had been married before, Paul twice, and had grown children. They enjoyed living well.
Paul had been one of the city’s top realtors in the boom years of the late 80s and early 90s. He had wispy grey hair combed down over his forehead and the thin-veined, ruddy complexion of someone who has lived a dissolute life. He was slightly built, handsome in a lived-in way and he exuded confidence that made him seem more attractive than he was. I knew he was a weak phony the first time we met. His handshake was too firm, his eye contact too direct, too much like something out of a Dale Carnegie book.
Laura was Kate’s closest friend. They went out to the theater and movies, sharing women confidences in pre-show dinners. Kate had told me Paul’s sales had dropped off, that he was drinking more than Laura liked. That he had problems with his children and that his second wife was initiating legal proceedings to get title to an apartment they jointly owned in lieu of delinquent alimony payments. None of this was apparent at the party, though. Paul danced and drank and acted the good host, the birthday boy. I wondered if I was the only one who could see through the act.
The counselor’s name was Don Adams. He was a psychologist, but Kate didn’t like that term. She called him a doctor. When she told me his name I laughed, a cynical laugh but the first one for a while.
“Don Adams.? Isn’t he the guy who played Maxwell Smart? Get Smart. It fits.” I said it bitterly.
“He knows his stuff, Roger. If you don’t give him a chance, he won’t be able to help you.”
Kate replied with uncharacteristic irritability. She was alarmed by my deterioration and I knew the counselor wasn’t optional if I wanted our marriage to continue smoothly. I planned to keep the appointment, go through the motions and emerge a few months later a cured man. Another happy client for Maxwell Smart.
In truth, I was already feeling better. The idea that arrived via a zebra-striped sunbeam had germinated into a plan. As soon as Kate’s car disappeared down the block I went to the basement to the corner where the box containing all that was left of Dad’s life was stacked. Papers and picture albums. A jar of cufflinks and tie clips. A few foreign coins. A small manual typewriter I couldn’t recall him ever using
I took the typewriter up to my office and cleared a space on my desk. I put on a pair of the surgical gloves I kept locked in my desk and inserted a sheet of computer printer paper. I typed a few lines of gibberish to test the ribbon. The first words were faint, but the type darkened as the ribbon loosened up. I took it as a sign. I put in a clean sheet and began to type:
I enjoyed your coverage of the Cunningham killing, particularly your conjecture about the killing being carried out as revenge by a victim of one of his clients. You weren’t far off the mark.
He was killed because of his sleazy legal maneuverings, alright, but not by an enraged victim. I executed Cunningham on behalf of the people of this great country who were all victimized by his unrepentant subversion of the justice system.
While that killing garnered all the attention, the police and media have characteristically failed to zero in on the bigger picture. Cunningham’s removal was not a random act but part of a plan to neutralize that element of society that by its perversion, weakness and disregard for the greater good threaten our way of life.
Richard Cunningham, Q.C. was preceded into the hereafter by two others of his ilk, the pimp Tremaine Evers and the drug dealer Tran Doc Ho, both executed while plying their unsavory chosen professions.
If the police are on the ball, which cannot be taken as a given, they will have already identified the bullets in all three killings as having been fired by the same gun, a .357 magnum.
Moreover, while no other candidates have been targeted for execution at this point, all those who put self-interest above the rights of ordinary citizens to carry out their daily lives unimpeded by legal, criminal, political or bureaucratic encumbrance should consider themselves to be in the line of fire.
The People’s Wolf
I’d thought about making obvious spelling and grammar mistakes in the note for deception purposes but decided against it. I knew my communication would inevitably become public and I wanted to avoid Thorsby’s psycho killer label. It was important that the People’s Wolf was deemed to be rational, that the killings were seen to have a purpose so people would realize they could fight back, that they weren’t powerless.
Sending the letter was risky in that it would likely jump start the investigation and could be the impetus behind the formation of a task force. But the change in mood I experienced in composing it and planning for its delivery more than nullified any increased risk. I’d bought the paper the previous day at a large stationary store, being careful to pick the most common type and pay for it in cash. I wore surgical gloves while handling the paper and envelope, which I sealed with a wet sponge. I posted the letter in a downtown mailbox on my way to the appointment with Maxwell Smart.
Don Adams’ office was located on West Broadway near Vancouver General Hospital, a 10-minute drive from the site of the drug dealer’s execution in an area favored by doctors, dentists, x-ray clinics and medical labs. One-stop shopping for the sick of body and mind.
The office was on the second floor of a commercial mall on the southeast corner of Cambie St., above a Thai restaurant. I pulled in and parked in a spot reserved for restaurant patrons. The address Kate had given me was posted on a door sandwiched between the restaurant and a convenience store. My appointment was for 10 a.m. I was a few minutes early so I dallied in front of the restaurant feigning interest in the menu. I walked to the office door, hoping it would be locked. I pushed and it opened. There was no lobby, just a stairway, an elevator and a notice board indicating the upstairs occupants. A notary public, an accounting firm, a chiropractor and Don Adams, Suite 203.
I took the stairs to the first landing two at a time, then paused to catch my breath. The window on the landing looked out onto a lane. A faded and soiled single mattress protruded from the dumpster. The kind a child would sleep on. Or a widowed senior. Two street people sat on the pavement in its shadow smoking. The window was streaked with dust. I leaned heavily against the wall and fought an urge to return to the car and drive away. And keep driving. Anywhere but here. I had no intention of sharing my weakness with a stranger. Letting him into my private place.
I took the rest of the stairs slowly, one at a time, and paused for a moment at the top to orient myself. The hall was dim. Dreary. Adams was at the end on the left. He pried into peoples’ minds from behind an anonymous solid door distinguished only by the suite number.
The door opened into a surprisingly bright reception area. An odd-looking woman with wine-colored hair and oversize red-framed glasses looked up from the reception desk when I entered.
“You’re very prompt, Mr. Delaney. I’m Gail Whitesong, Mr. Adams’ girl Friday. Actually, I’m his Monday-Wednesday-Thursday girl. The office isn’t open Tuesday and Friday.”
She seemed pleasant, outgoing. White with some Asian stirred in. I put her in her mid-thirties, but you can never tell with that mix. She had large almond-shaped eyes, black, and her skin was a creamy blend of white and yellow. Her forehead was concealed behind reddish-purple bangs that hung to the top of the huge round glasses.
She parted her hair in the middle and it fell just above her shoulders, in a stylish semi-circle of deep red wine. I pegged the banter as her standard ice-breaker with new ‘clients.’ That’s what they call you. A client. As if you’re there for legal advice. A phony way to begin. I didn’t laugh.
She handed me a clipboard with a single sheet of paper attached asking a bunch of nosy questions. Did I smoke? Consume alcohol? How many drinks a week? Were my parents still alive? Was my relationship with them good or bad? How many siblings did I have? Did any family member suffer from depression or any other mental illness? Did I get headaches?
A load of crap. I answered all 25 questions in a minute or so—yes, no, not applicable. A lot of not applicables.
Gail Whitesong took the clipboard back.
“You’re quick as well as prompt. Or maybe you’re prompt because you’re quick. I’ll tell Don you’re here.”
The reception area had four or five chairs and a couple of magazine-strewn coffee tables with tissue boxes. I walked to the window and looked down on the alley. A different perspective on the dumpster. The mattress appeared less soiled from this angle. The street people had moved on. The windowpane was clean of dust and dirt. A brighter day.
“Mr. Delaney. I’m Don Adams. Come into my office and have a seat in the easy chair. We like everything easy here. Can we get you coffee or tea? A glass of water? A soda. Gail brings in cookies most days.”
She handed him the clipboard and he looked it over as he ushered me in. Adams looked to be in his late thirties. He had jet black hair swept back in a pompadour that covered his ears and flowed to his shirt collar in back. The front overhang defied gravity. It looked like a wig. Too dark. Too big to be real.
He was a small man with a deep voice, maybe five foot six, with a medium build, dressed conservatively in a white shirt and tie. The shirt was tucked into cheap blue dress pants that didn’t quite reach the tops of his black lace-up walking shoes. The kind seniors wear to Walmart. What could this pipsqueak tell me about life? I pegged him right off as a hypocrite. A guy who’d built his whole life with smoke and mirrors. Convincing weak people he can help them when he’s so fucked up he wears a jet black wig.
Adams played host. Polite. Solicitous. Sizing me up.
I was on his turf. At a disadvantage. He knew I had a problem. This first meeting was about taking stock. How much would either of us give up to get the result we wanted.
He had faded blue eyes, a smallish straight nose and a strong chin. A friendly face crinkled with laugh lines. He could be handsome with different hair. I knew I couldn’t get mental help from a little man wearing sensible shoes and a bad rug.
I took the easy chair and accepted a glass of water from Gail Whitesong. She set it on a side table beside a small plate of cookies and left the room, closing the door. Adams grabbed a straight-backed chair from against the wall and placed it directly in front of the easy chair. Maybe five feet away. Too close. He sat down, his back straight, shoulders squared, knees together, and looked at me. Neither of us spoke.
The silence went on for a full minute. A long time for two strangers to have a stare-off. The longer it went on the more hostile I felt. I thought of giving him a bad hair day by dumping the glass of water on his head. Instead, I reached over and took a sip. The motion broke the stare-off.
“So, Roger, what do you want to see me about today.”
He shifted in the chair, turning his legs slightly to the side while anchoring those black lace-up shoes. His tone was kindly, concerned. I wondered what he’d say if I told him I killed people. The thought of it brightened me.
“My wife thinks I need help. I guess you helped her friend’s husband and she thinks you can fix me too.”
“What do you think? Do you need fixing?”
He leaned closer, just for a second, before standing up.
“Well, you seem like a man with a handle on life. I have enough trouble helping people who want my help. In my experience people must be desperate to facilitate lasting change. You don’t appear desperate and by your answers on the questionnaire many possible areas of concern aren’t applicable to you. I can’t help you and it wouldn’t be right to take money and pretend otherwise.”
Adams kept his tone even, non-confrontational. One smart guy to another. An easy out for both of us. It threw me off.
“That’s it. I came all the way over here for that.”
“I don’t know why you came, Roger. But that is it. That’s all I have for you. I can only help people who admit they have a problem. It’s a team effort. I don’t work alone. And if there’s no problem you shouldn’t be here.”
He laughed easily as he moved his chair to the wall. I leaned back in the easy chair unable to move. I didn’t want to leave the room, to go back into the world. Back to the fear. The black dogs. Spinning the chamber.
We had another moment of silence. Not a stare-off this time. He was off to the side and I couldn’t tell if he was looking at me. I figured he was, so I used the quiet time to look around the office. The walls were a warm brown colour, dark enough to make the room seem smaller than it was. Cozy. I didn’t notice the sliding balcony door when I came in because the curtains were partially closed. I could see enough to know it opened onto a small deck with planters and a table and two chairs.
He had a modest desk and chair, with requisite framed degrees on the wall behind, where clients were sure to see them. There was one plant in the room in a huge pot. It grew up the side of the patio door, across the top and down the other side. A leafy green serpent. Green metal filing cabinets took up most of the wall space beneath the window. I wondered what secrets were concealed there. And about how easy it would be for someone to break in and find them out.
I don’t know how much time passed before Adams shifted slightly. A subtle signal from one smart guy to another.
“Okay, you got me. I’ve got a problem.”
I choked a bit at the end. It surprised me the way it came out. So feeble.
Adams stepped forward and lowered his voice: “Is it something you can’t solve yourself? Do you want my help?”
The sneaky bastard wanted a verbal commitment. To get me onside with the program. On the team. I knew what he was up to. Pure psychological bullshit. But the smart little prick had me backed into a corner. I had to answer in the affirmative or get up and leave the office. Things might have been different if I’d just got up and left right then. I can’t explain why, even now, but I didn’t want to leave that room.
“I’ve been depressed since I was a teenager. It comes and goes but for the last while things have gotten bleak. I’ve lived with it for 25 years but it’s bleaker now, and I’m married. My wife is concerned… and so am I.”
Adams grabbed the chair again and set it down in front of me, back to front. I thought for a moment that he was going to sit with his back to me as some kind of bullshit psychological ploy. But he straddled it instead, placing his arms on the back and resting his chin on his arms. He looked at me with concern.
“What is the depression like?”
“What do you mean?”
I hated him at that moment. Fucking charlatan. I wanted to drop kick his chin right off the back of the chair.
“Depression is just a word. I mean what does it feel like to you? How does it affect your life?”
“It feels like reality.”
“Hmm. Interesting, but what does reality feel like?”
He wanted to play word games.
“Reality is seeing the world for the shithole it is. It means understanding that nothing matters. People are born, people die. Things happen. Nothing anyone does means shit. Reality feels like nothing. A big empty void.”
“Is that your view of the world?”
“It’s not my view, it’s just the way things are. I see it clearly, that’s all.”
“Well, I’m not qualified to debate the state of the world. How about we start out by getting to know a little bit about each other,” he said.
His voice was compelling. It offered hope.
“I’ll go first. I have a Phd in psychology from the University of Alberta. I’m from a small town in Saskatchewan called Kepsie. It has three grain elevators and two commercial streets, each a couple of blocks long. The town is surrounded by empty prairie on all sides. I went to high school there. Kepsie Senior Secondary.
I wasn’t a super popular kid. Not one of the in crowd. A little too intellectual for a teenager. But I was quite good at baseball so I got along okay. My dad worked for the provincial highways department. He operated a grader in summer and drove a snow plow in the winter. My mother was a homemaker. She had four children. I’m in the middle. She died of breast cancer when I was 13. She died at home. A hard death. My father carried on. We all did. We had no choice. But dad was never the same. He remarried in his late 50s and still lives in Kepsie.”
He’d probably told a hundred sad sacks the same pathetic story.
“I came out to the West Coast a few months after graduating, new diploma in hand, out to set the world on fire. I wanted to help people. I wanted to change things for the better. Of course, I didn’t know enough to really help people back then and I struggled to make it financially for the first few years. Not many people wanted to share their lives with a guy who looked like Doogie Houser. Then I met my wife; she’s a physicist and a brilliant woman. We have two great kids.”
He paused to reach behind for a framed picture on his desk. He brought it around, looking at it as he did, then turned the picture so it faced me. It was a standard studio shot, Adams and his wife behind, two small kids in front. His wife was matronly, with a wide nose holding up large librarian glasses. Stout. The intelligence came through in her face, though. The boys were homely. They had the worst features of each parent. Both had thick, black hair.
“Nice family,” I said.
“You’re probably asking yourself how a guy like me can help you. As you know, a psychology degree doesn’t come with any special insights. It certainly doesn’t qualify me to advise other people how they should live their lives. Getting the doctorate took six years. It was an endurance event. An exercise in perseverance. You just put your head down and plough through it to the end. Then they give you the piece of paper and you go out into the world pretending to know more about life than other people. You don’t.
“I have many failings as a human being and I’m a long way from being a perfect husband or father. What I do have is a gift. The god-given ability to empathize and connect with other people. And I say god-given with a small g because it’s not about religion. What I mean is I was born with the ability to get inside people’s heads, to feel the things they’re feeling. I’m not talking about reading minds. I can’t foretell the future other than to say that if you work with me it’s very likely things will get better for you. I can’t say when, or even how it will happen but experience tells me that it will. I’ve helped a lot of people over the last 10 years.”
I sat there fuming. The smarmy little Elvis impersonator actually imagined he could get inside my head. Here I am, the People’s Wolf, soon to be the most talked about person in the city, and this little prick is telling me he can get inside my head. To feel things I feel. That was the first time I thought about killing him. Not a serious thought. Just a milli-second in a moment of intense rage. If he could really feel what I was feeling, then he was feeling hatred. Hatred and fear.
Fear kept me there on that first visit. Fear that walking out would mean walking into unrelenting blackness. I didn’t want to explain to my wife that things hadn’t gone well. I didn’t want to spin the chamber on the gun again. I didn’t want to kill anyone else. Most of all, I didn’t want to get caught.
“My mother died when I was 12. I guess that’s at least one thing you can empathize with.”
The words sounded distant. Like they were coming from my mouth but not from my brain.
“My father was a milkman. A nice man without ambition. He did what he could after mom died but her death took the best part of him. I don’t remember him doing anything but work. Nobody ever came over and he didn’t go out. When he wasn’t working, he read the paper or laid on the couch and watched TV. I remember him being tired. Always tired. My older brother left home the year after mom died. He joined the Canadian military. He moved around a lot and I never saw much of him after that. He stayed in the service long enough to pension out in his early forties as a Master Seargent. He lives in Red Deer, Alberta, with his wife, no kids. He worked as a rent-a-cop for a security firm until he had a stroke. I haven’t seen him in years. Wouldn’t know what he looked like if I passed him on the street.”
“That’s too bad, Roger. Family is an important connection with the world.”
He inserted his comment at exactly the moment I paused. Smooth. A smooth little prick.
“I like to wear sports coats.”
I said it to put him off. To ruffle the smoothness.
“I’ve got a dozen sport coats in my closet, one for every occasion. Colour-coded on their hangers, from light to dark. Does that mean I have an orderly mind?”
“My best guess is that it means you like to dress well and take pride in your appearance. Therefore, you care about what people think about you. I like the jacket you’re wearing today. It’s a nice colour and cut. When I was single I always wanted to dress sharp but I could never seem to get it right. I’ve never had much fashion sense. My wife has the good taste in the family. She does all the shopping. She knows my size and the colours I like.”
I had to give it to him. He was hard to ruffle. And he had me talking. I told him I was an English grad and that I made my living as a technical writer. I got into my university years and that first girlfriend, Melanie. How she left and I felt relieved.
He cut me off before I could get into my Good-time Charlie period. Before I met Kate. He ended our session by asking me to try fifteen minutes a day of quiet time.
“Just find a quiet place. Somewhere you won’t be disturbed. Get comfortable. I prefer to sit up because I usually fall asleep if I lay down. Let your mind relax and see what comes.”
“See what comes?”
I couldn’t keep the edge out of my tone. The goofy little faker wasn’t connecting very well with my mind. My whole life was quiet time. I didn’t have to find a special spot. I already knew what would come. Bleakness. Poison.
“Yes, see what comes.”
He didn’t acknowledge the edginess. He said it pleasantly, then asked me to stand. I had to apply pressure with my legs to get the recliner back up. I stood awkwardly and faced him, about five feet away.
“I like to end sessions with a mutual show of respect.”
He put his hands together as if in prayer, tilted them forward towards me, then bowed his head slowly, the overhang of his black bouffant obscuring his face. The session’s end had a weird uplifting feel to it. A kind of silly symmetry.
“Gail will set you up with another appointment. I think we should see each other every other week to start. See how things go.