Late March is nasty and incorrigible in New York. The weather sucks, hacking up its final gobs of winter phlegm. If you're not an obsessed hoops fan it's a good time to commit suicide.
I don't do suicide anymore. It got too heavy. I'm an expert in the psychological autopsy of the suicide victim. Nothing a good cop couldn't do if he had the time to investigate every suicide as if it were a murder, which of course it is.
My private practice had become a haze of self-destruction: slicing, starving, drugging, drowning, shooting, and immolation. I was so good at putting together the puzzle after the fact that people started thinking I could save their hellbent loved ones before they did themselves in.
They were wrong. I couldn't do that, so I quit.
I gave up suicide and turned to crime -- rape and incest sometimes, but mostly murder. People killing someone other than themselves was, for me, a breath of fresh air.
What I do in late March to ward off the gloom is watch endless contests among hormonally imbalanced young men trying to put a ball in a hole. The symbolism has never been lost on me. I just ignore it.
In the early morning while the dribbling giants sleep, I sit in the window seat, my bubble on the world. There I indulge my chocolate habit with Swiss bittersweet and pour my soul out to my best friend, Tupelo Honey.
She is, strictly speaking, a dog, but Tupelo is really a cultured pearl, my shrink and my companion, and the only known surviving heir of Sara Smile, the Mother of all golden retrievers. I was into golden retrievers before they signed on to endorse the American Dream, when they were just dogs.
Tupelo is medium height, has a distinguished gait, and wears a tight-fitting body stocking covered in amber fleece. She's easy to look at.
I'm a bit more of a challenge. Tall and gangly as a kid, I grew up the same. My hair has grown unhassled since the sixties and remains mostly brown. At my temples it's growing white, a curious blend of venerable and scuzzy. My beard, the same beard I've hidden behind for over twenty-five years, has gone for the most part to salt.
One morning after a particularly rigorous triple-header, I sat in my bubble and Tupelo sat on her ratty throw rug slightly behind me, just out of sight. I don't know where she picked that one up, because I never used a couch, not even in the days when I still acted like a real shrink.
"I don't know where to start," I said to Tupelo, but it didn't matter. She got up, shook herself from head to toe, and walked to the door. Either she was bored or someone was coming and Tupelo heard it before I did, as usual.
I watched from my bubble, hoping it wouldn't be work, hoping I wouldn't suddenly have to act like a forensic consultant, hoping I wouldn't have to get up at all. Tupelo's insistent pointing told me I was sunk.
I answered the door before it asked me anything. I stepped outside and the cold drizzle sprayed my face, pebbling my granny glasses, rendering me sightless. But by then the sound was unmistakable. It was the K-mobile. It wasn't work. It was Kate.
I returned to my perch and cleared away the colorful squares of silver foil that still carried a faint aroma of chocolate. It would take some time for Kate to make it to the door, but I had learned early on that offering help was an insult to her integrity.
Kate had designed her K-mobile and supervised every facet of its production like her life depended on it, which, in part, it did. It had once been a Nissan Pathfinder, but was now much more. The driver's seat swiveled one hundred eighty degrees, coming to rest facing a platform that supported her wheelchair. She deftly swung herself into the chair and activated a remote control similar to the super model used by the average couch potato. Only Kate's didn't turn on her VCR. It opened the rear doors, turned her chair around to face the street, and gently lowered the platform. Once outside, with the same remote, she then raised the platform and locked the doors.
The chair was no ordinary model, either. She could handle it manually if she chose, or kick in her motor, borrowed, I think, from a Harley 950. If she popped it just right, she could do a wheelie.
Kate preferred to propel herself without mechanical help. She had been an accomplished wheelchair marathoner for many years and although she no longer raced, she worked out regularly and stayed in shape. It was important to her to be physically powerful.
She waved to me in the window seat and I could hear her whir up the ramp, in low, to my door. Low was best for rain.
"Are you sufficiently fed up with March yet?" she asked as she rolled in to love up Tupelo and accept a gentle lick on her cheek. She was wrapped in an elegant crimson cape with a hood that she wore against the rain.
"No," I said, "but I've missed you." I bent down and laid a bear hug on her and was squeezing the last bit of air out of her lungs when she groaned. I released her. I'm not violent, just demonstrative.
I stood looking down at her as she struggled to release herself from her cape. "Do you have time for some tea?" she asked in her small voice, the one reserved for intimates. The public only heard the big voice. Everything in its place. Kate was grounded better than anyone I knew.
"Sure, make yourself comfortable. I'll put the kettle on." Kate had given me the kettle.
She moved into the "head shop," my pet name for the consulting room, smiling at the lettering on the door as always. It stated that Simon Rose, M.D., Ph.D., Forensic Consultant, could be consulted therein. It said so on glass intentionally pebbled, a page stolen from Raymond Chandler, the most obvious manifestation of my professional ambivalence. Kate thought it was a roar.
"You still can't decide what you want to be when you grow up!" she yelled down the hall to the kitchen.
"No, but I feel I'm on the verge of a breakthrough!" I yelled back. I heard her laughing.
I served the tea on a Japanese lacquered tray that had also been a gift from Kate. One of the ways she ensured her comfort in my home was to give me everything she liked and to trust that I would have the good sense to use it. Kate was a master manipulator, essential for her profession, and I was clay in her hands. I had known her for fifteen years and had loved her for the better part of that time.
As always, Kate preferred to sit by the fire. She squared herself in front of the antique Morris chair, flipped into it, folded the wheelchair and stowed it on the floor beside her. She was a transfer expert. She could flip in and out of the chair effortlessly. She passed me her cape with a one-handed dismissal that said "Get it out of my face." I draped it over the bentwood coat rack and sat in a leather sling chair, right next to her, one of my favorite spots on the planet.
"Thanks, Simon," she said as she wrapped her chilled fingers around a cup of fresh chamomile.
In general, Kate's clothes wore her and she wore all of her forty-eight years on her face. She had on funky old wool slacks and a bulky cableknit sweater that she probably made herself.
I countered with a vintage Lovin' Spoonful T-shirt, rough-hewn cotton drawstring pants big enough for friends, and Birkenstocks. We sat in front of the fire, two relics of another time, basking in the glow.
She was lovely as always, fine features, thin angular face, and ivory skin. Her straight brown hair was cut short and simple, no nonsense. It lived behind her ears. She was vain, but not about her surface. She couldn't care less about fashion, and even in court, her playground, no one ever commented on her gray-on-gray ensembles. She even made them forget the chair.
The name Katherine Newhouse shone with the best and the brightest in a profession overpopulated by mediocrity. She was a criminal lawyer and her speciality was women in deep shit.
Kate defended women who killed their pimps, women who liquidated their rapists, women who squashed their oppressors, whether they were husbands, lovers, or fathers. She would work on any provocative, challenging case without regard for money. She had more than enough. She was a force, a fact that she appreciated, cultivated, and worked hard not to abuse.
She stirred her tea gently, watching the swelling flowers and stems swirl around the cup, breathing in the sweet essence of the chamomile. She set it on the coffee table until it calmed. Only then was she ready for real conversation.
"Have you seen the news in the last couple of weeks?"
She knew better. It was March.
"Uh-uh," I said, shaking my head. "Pure hoops, not even a bulletin." Just the way I liked it. I hoped she wouldn't ruin it by telling me anything of substance. The slightly devilish look in her eye told me she had a surprise.
"Have you heard anything about Jensen yet?"
"Jensen. First name Janice."
"No, should I have?"
"Maybe." She appeared to think it through and decided against continuing. "No, first things first," she said, picking up her tea. She considered it, tasted it, and smiled at me, like a fox.
I saw it coming. I knew that look. It meant she'd found another woman for me.
"No. No way in the fucking world. Forget it." I only resort to profanity when I'm speaking.
"Simon." She exhaled the breath of infinite patience, a virtue she did not possess. "How long has it been now?"
"You know perfectly well how long it's been. Probably to the day." Prickly. I get that way when my scar tissue is disturbed.
"And that's why I claim the right to talk to you about it, straight, without your getting defensive on me. It's me, right?"
"Yes, it's you." I sighed, knowing I would hear her out. "But no blind dates, understand?"
"Okay, I'll skip the part where I tell you that your widowerhood has become your identity, your armor against the world, your all-purpose defense mechanism. All that goes without saying.
"I knew you'd go the hard way if you could find it and I never doubted your ability to find it. But you're forty-five years old. I thought that by now, if you weren't willing to drop it, you would've at least learned to use it. Widowerhood is a gold mine. Women love it. Right up there with paraplegics for conquest value. And I should know. I've seduced more men with this damn chair than with my lush and alluring body.
"For some reason you must explain to me someday, men assume I'm uninterested in sex. It never occurs to them that I might like it as much as they do. As if legs were the only erogenous zone. Have they missed something? Am I dead because I can't tap my feet? When they finally get the idea, it's an unbearable turn-on. They can't help themselves. I know it and I use it, unashamedly. But you use your most enticing quality as a chastity belt. It's ass backwards and such a waste."
I could have told her that I fully appreciated the perks of widowerhood, I simply hadn't learned to enjoy them.
I could have told her that I had long since given up defining myself by whether or not I was with a woman. Single women have the same problem. No one imagines that they could actually choose to be alone.
I could have told her I loved her.
I could have told her to shut up.
Instead, I sat silently watching the fire, smelling the burning cedar, trying to imagine Kate walking.
"I'm worried for you, Simon. I'm afraid that if you don't break out of it now, you never will. You don't let anyone in."
"I let you in."
"I know, but I'm different. I'm no threat."
"She's different, too, and you know it. You always pull this on me. And you know what I mean."
"I know what you mean and I have one thing to say. No date. Forget it. Don't even give me her name."
"I won't give you her name."
"Thank you. How's Sidney?" I inquired. Sidney was Kate's latest, as she put it, "squeeze." He was wealthy, which made them even, and he was an adventure that had lasted longer than most, almost a year. I didn't like him, but I never liked any of her beaux.
Kate had a talent for choosing the wrong guy. While capable and often dominant in the cerebral sphere, she was a miserable failure at romance. She chose victim after victim, loser after loser, promise after promise, in a vain attempt to find connectedness. She usually got the shaft.
"He's gone." She cracked it off like it didn't hurt but her face said different. "I think I tired him out."
The part of Kate's face that most intrigued me was her upper lip. It curled curiously when she got emotional -- angry, upset, sad, excited -- I never knew exactly what emotion triggered the curl, but it was always worth watching. "Are you unhappy or relieved?"
"I'm hovering around Acute Situational Depression, nothing a little frenetic work and another pot of tea won't cure." With that, her upper lip relaxed again. She was resilient, tempered. "Will you take care of the tea?"
I took the pot to the kitchen. Kate was difficult to comfort and comfort was not what she'd come for. She didn't want to moan about Sidney's departure. Nor had she come to beat the long-dead horses that are my love life.
I could try the analytic power tool, the open-ended question. Or I could cajole it out of her with silence. Silence makes most people so uncomfortable, they begin to blather. Shrinks are trained to handle silence. Real people aren't. But Kate wasn't real people, either, so I was running out of ideas.
I brought the fresh tea and set it down. Kate fussed with it and at her leisure announced, "I've got a special case. I want you to work with me."
Kate and I did not work together. It had come up many times since our first and only courtroom encounter. But each time, we decided not to compromise our specialness to each other by submitting it to the almost unbearable strain of a murder trial. We always chose instead to play, acting as each other's oasis.
Surprised and intrigued, I asked, "Why now?"
"Because this one's different and so are you. You're a hot commodity since the prediction thing. The Mother Jones feature hasn't exactly hurt your credibility."
"Bullshit," I snapped. "That was almost a year ago and you know how many people read Mother Jones. Sixty, that's how many. Religiously."
"And the rest of the country watches Peter Jennings, religiously, every night. What did he call you? 'Private dick of the mysteries of the mind.' I love that one. And your prediction was positively flashy."
That pissed me off.
"I've already told you, I didn't exactly predict anything. I was mad and I ran off at the mouth. I didn't see the damn camera. And ABC wasn't even covering the trial. They aired it after the fact because it was August and they were out of beached-whale stories."
"But you were right, weren't you? That was the whole point of the story: Shrink predicts felon will rape within thirty days of his release. Felon is released from hospital after successful insanity defense and brief but effective treatment. Felon then obliges shrink. Thirty days exactly. That's what Peter said, and he wouldn't lie."
"It wasn't like that. I was furious so I talked to the reporter outside the courthouse. This asshole rapes three women and says the devil made him do it. He does his act for the jury. Schizophrenic, paranoid type. Does his six-month cure and walks. The only rapist I've ever seen who was legally insane raped his mother. And it wasn't this guy. So I opened my mouth. That's how it happened."
"How did you know when the perp would rape again? Magic?"
"No, a time-tested analytic maxim: 'Once a scumbag, always a scumbag.' Freud, 1933, I think."
"Be that as it may, this case is perfect for our first collaboration. It suits you. Hear me out. All I want you to do is a competency."
Kate told me what March had been like for Janice Jensen. Apparently, she was responsible for the bloodbath in her home. There would be no bushy-haired stranger, just a woman and her demons.
"She's probably fucked," I said. Insanity as a viable defense has taken a beating since John Hinckley shot President Reagan, claiming an irresistible impulse to impress the actress of his fantasies. The jury bought it then but the public didn't. These days it's even harder to sell.
"Is she legally insane?" I asked her. She had been down this road often enough to know.
"I don't know. That's why I want you to see her." The devil popped back into her eye. I saw it.
"Are you going to tell me?" I asked.
"Whatever you're holding back. It's me, remember?"
"Yes, it's you. And that's precisely why I want you. Janice Jensen wants you, too. She asked for you."
"She asked for me?"
"She wants you."
Copyright © 1999 by The Estate of A.W. Bahr
In Arthur W. Bahr's Certifiably Insane, that is the question forensic psychologist Simon Rose must answer. He must determine whether the real Janice is a pitiful and psychotic aging cheerleader or a shrewd and conniving evil actress. But Simon's experience and considerable expertise haven't prepared him for the likes of Janice Jensen. She shuns analysis, confounds his clinical judgment -- and provokes intense and conflicting emotions.
Kate Newhouse, Janice's defense attorney and Simon's best friend, suspects the problem is that Simon is attracted to Janice. Kate pleads insanity on behalf of her client, but Simon remains unconvinced. Determined to uncover the truth, he finds that he must first revisit his past and come face to face with his own demons.
Surprising secrets, both ugly and beautiful, are uncovered as Simon pulls his family and friends into the psychological circus of Janice's life -- and into danger. Tenderness and rage, friendship and manipulation, seduction and love -- these are the passions that drive the principal players as they unravel the strands of a complicated, violent personality.