The woman shifted on the ivory leather couch and smiled. “Thank you for seeing me at such short notice, Dr. Chase.”
Megan nodded and forced herself to return the smile, just as she would if the woman were a patient.
But the woman—Elizabeth Reid—was not a patient. Elizabeth Reid was an FBI agent.
Eleven months before, the idea of a federal agent having any reason to talk to her, to question her, would have surprised Megan enough to make her spill her cocktail, had she been drinking one. Not so now. Damn it. She was only surprised the feds were being so blatant this time, that they were actually speaking to her openly.
“Of course.” Megan folded her hands in her lap, decided that looked too prim, as if she had something to hide, and rearranged herself into a more relaxed pose, arms resting on the arms of her chair, ankles crossed. Casual. She hoped.
At least Agent Reid didn’t seem to see a problem. Her mind, when Megan reached into it as stealthily as she could, seemed totally focused on her objective, and seeing what it was put some much-needed steel into Megan’s spine.
“You haven’t asked me why I’m here, Dr. Chase.”
“I assume you’ll tell me, Agent Reid.”
The woman smiled. “I suppose I will. We were wondering if you knew anything about the Bellreive Hotel.”
Okay. This had not been in the woman’s head a few seconds ago. Good thing Megan had had some practice lately in keeping calm, in not letting her own emotions and feelings show. Something she’d always considered herself pretty good at; now she figured she’d just about graduated from the Masterclass.
“I’ve heard of it,” she said. “I’ve never been there. I wouldn’t be able to afford it, I don’t think. Why?”
Agent Reid gave her a sunny smile, as if this was the answer she’d expected. Which it probably was. She pushed a strand of ink-black hair behind her ear and leaned forward, her black-suited body a deep crack against the pale couch and walls. Everything in the room was light, an attempt to counteract the darkness of the windowless space in the dingy little strip mall.
Maybe not as bad as that. It was a big space. It was in a nice part of town. But it still wasn’t . . . wasn’t what she’d dreamed of when she’d thought of having her own practice.
It was good enough, though. And she couldn’t have everything. The rest of her life certainly held little cause for many complaints.
“Since you asked, we’ve received some interesting information,” Agent Reid said. “And I think you’ll be especially interested, as it concerns you.”
“I assumed it did, since you’re here,” Megan replied, “but I can’t imagine how this could have anything to do with me.”
“We’ve received information that a meeting is due to take place at the Bellreive next week. Attending that meeting will be one or two . . . persons of interest to us.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know anything about that.”
“You haven’t taken next week off ? According to your schedule—”
Megan stood up. Done. “Next week is my birthday. As I believe you know. Yes, I’m taking some vacation time. I have every right to. So?”
“So you’re confirming the meeting?”
Megan just stared at her.
“Dr. Chase, I’m trying to . . . I’m offering you a deal. Immunity. Full and total.” Elizabeth reached into the sleek black briefcase resting like a coiled viper at her side. “If you’d read over these papers—we know you’re not involved. But your testimony, if you would—”
“I’m sorry. I have a patient due here any moment.” Megan dodged the papers and pushed past Elizabeth to open the door. “Thanks for your time, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Perhaps Greyson Dante does.” Elizabeth didn’t move; neither did her eyes, focused intently on Megan’s face. “Greyson Dante? You are involved with him, right? Don’t bother denying it. We already know.”
“Thank you for your time,” Megan said again. She raised her eyebrows, glanced at the open door and the bare little room beyond. The office’s arrangement was one of its chief charms; it may not be the greatest place in the world, but it did provide her patients with privacy. Those exiting left through that little room. Those waiting sat in the furnished waiting area with magazines and a water cooler. Neither saw the other.
She’d never thought the arrangement would be of such benefit to her. It wasn’t as though Agent Reid had “FBI” printed across her forehead in big block letters or anything, but just the same . . . Well. If it weren’t for the separate exit, Megan could hardly stand there with the door open, could she? Not when her two o’clock was bound to be already waiting, and her two o’clock was a notorious shadow-jumper.
Agent Reid finally gave up. She sighed and stood, shoving the papers back into her briefcase. “I do wish you would think about it. It’s only a matter of time, Dr. Chase. Someone with your public image ?”
Had Megan thought the woman had given up? Ha. No, she’d just been waiting for the opportunity to turn the screw tighter.
But Megan’s skin was pretty thick. So she let the implied threat fall to the ground between them and refused to pick it up. “If you don’t mind, I do have another appointment.”
“Of course.” Agent Reid slipped a stark white business card from the black depths of her suit jacket The blue FBI logo seemed to glow against the background. “Take my card, though, please. And call me if you change your mind. Or if you find yourself at the Bellreive next week.”
Megan took the card. No point in appearing uncooperative. Or rather, more uncooperative than she already appeared.
It didn’t really matter; she hoped it didn’t anyway. But that bothered her too, didn’t it? Hoping it wouldn’t matter? Hoping that Agent Reid and her fairly odd attempt to get whatever information she thought Megan might have were no more important than the few casual words Megan exchanged with the checkout girl at the grocery store and no more likely to stick in anyone’s mind later?
Yes. It did. But there was very little she could do about it at that moment, save utter a quiet “Fuck” under her breath when Agent Reid finally closed the exit door behind herself.
Meanwhile timid taps at the other door told Megan she’d been exactly right. Her two o’clock—Ted Anderson—was there, and even if she wasn’t really watching the clock, he certainly was. He always did.
She shouldn’t be so hard on Ted, though. He’d followed her over from Serenity Partners the winter before, and that loyalty meant something to her. Sure, most of her patients had come along. That didn’t make their loyalty any less valuable.
The door opened with an almost imperceptible squeak. She’d have to oil those hinges again. The office plaza now housing her practice wasn’t old, but apparently the previous tenant had run some kind of family-encounter group that involved lots of slamming doors.
Ted stood just past the threshold in his typical hunched pose, like Sisyphus trying to push his worries up a hill. The overhead lights shone through his thin hair and made his scalp beneath glow pinkish.
“Come on in, Ted.” Megan stepped back. Usually he practically knocked her over in his haste to enter the room. Not a surprise, really. Ted’s wife ignored him. So did his children. Those years of neglect seemed to have erased him somehow. Sad. But it was something Megan usually felt she was doing a decent job of counteracting, encouraging Ted to speak up at home, to get out into the world more.
Today, however, he didn’t move from the doorway. “Dr. Chase, I just . . . I just came to tell you I won’t be coming anymore. I thought I owed you letting you know in person.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake. First the FBI showed up and made vague little threats and offered vague little deals, and now this. Losing a patient wasn’t exactly a joy. “Ted, I . . . Is something the matter? Please, at least come in and sit down.”
“Come in, please. Whatever decision you’ve made is your decision, and I respect that. I won’t try to talk you out of anything. But if you wanted to tell me in person, you obviously thought there was an explanation to be made, right?”
Still he waited, like a golf ball teetering on the edge of a hole. Finally he nodded and edged past her.
“Okay.” She sat back in her chair and plastered what she hoped was an understanding smile on her face. “What’s up?”
“You can’t help me anymore,” he mumbled. A piece of paper she hadn’t noticed before tumbled in his hands; he folded and unfolded it as though performing the motions incorrectly would result in the destruction of the universe. “What’s wrong with me . . . it’s not something you can fix.”
“It’s not a matter of ‘fixing.’ I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you, or that you’re broken in some way. You shouldn’t feel—”
“No, you’re not,” she said, before she thought, Okay, double what-the-fuck. Possessed? Where the hell would Ted get an idea like that?
Especially since it wasn’t true. Not remotely. She could still read him; had he been possessed, she couldn’t have.
He glared at her. It surprised her almost as much as his previous utterance had. “That’s what he said you’d say.”
“Reverend Walther. He said you’d say that. You people are just desperate to keep us on a string, to keep taking our money.”
“Where in the world—”
“All these years I’ve been coming here, thinking something was wrong with me, and it wasn’t me. It was these demons.”
“Ted. You are not possessed by demons.” And she should know. She was, in fact, probably the only human being in the world who could tell him definitively that his problems had nothing to do with demons. Or at least very little to do with them. Ted’s personal demons—his little Yezer Ha-Ra, that was—numbered only two, and they were fairly content with that.
At least they were now. Since Megan had assumed the leadership of the local Yezer “family,” there’d been a few sticky moments. At one point she’d almost lost them completely, along with her life.
But that had been months before. Now her relationship to and rules for the Yezer had reached a level of equilibrium, and if the Yezer weren’t growing fat off the misery of humans, they weren’t starving either.
But none of that was the issue at the moment. She seriously doubted Ted was talking about Yezer, especially since Yezer didn’t actually possess people. They merely sat on people’s shoulders and tried to persuade them to commit . . . well, if not evil acts, then certainly not good ones. Selfish acts. Mildly cruel acts. Depending on the person, of course.
“I don’t expect you to believe it, Dr. Chase. But all this therapy, psychology . . . what you do . . . it can’t help people. It’s demons making people unhappy and demons making us do wrong, and Reverend Walther can help me. So I won’t be coming back here. Just thought I should tell you.”
Eep. He’d never know how right he was about demons making people unhappy, even if he was wrong about how it actually worked. Possession . . . Walther . . . A bell rang somewhere in the back of Megan’s head. Yes, she’d heard of him, hadn’t she? Seen something recently on one of those newsmagazine shows. Her memory of it was rather vague but clear enough for one thing, at least.
“Are you talking about an exorcism?”
Ted nodded. Shit.
“Ted, please. I really have to strongly advise you against this. It could be dangerous, I don’t know—”
Ted stood up. Megan could say one thing for whoever Reverend Walther was, he’d given Ted more strength than she’d ever seen from him.
Of course, that strength was based on falsehoods and the promise of a quick fix and so was more akin to zealotry than any actual strength, but why quibble? There didn’t appear to be much she could do about it either way.
“The only dangerous thing is to go on living the way I am,” he said. “To let these demons grow and take over. No, thank you, Dr. Chase. I know there’s a solution to my problems, but it requires faith. And faith I’ve got.”
“You need to have faith in yourself, Ted, you don’t need an exorcism, you just need—”
“Thanks, Dr. Chase, but I have to go. Lily’s waiting for me in the car, and we’re about to head over to see the reverend.” He stood up and held out his hand.
Megan took it and, with it, the visions that came when she lowered her shields: Ted’s wife, Lily, convincing Ted this exorcism thing was the answer to their problems. Why had Ted never told her how deeply religious Lily was becoming over the last six months? The shadowy face of a man—Reverend Walther, she assumed. A face she instinctively disliked, but whether that was because she thought he was a charlatan, because he was lying to one of her patients, or because of some other reason, she didn’t know.
And at that moment she didn’t particularly care. It was barely quarter past two on a beautiful July day, and all she wanted to do was go home, crawl under the covers, and stay there.
“If you ever need anything . . . you can always give me a call.” She dropped his hand. “I’ll still be here.”
“Well, thanks again,” he said.
They stood for an awkward moment, unsure how long to keep shaking hands or if they should do more or what. Rather like greeting a long-lost cousin you’d never really liked. Should you forget the time he locked you in the basement and kiss him anyway because he was family, or did you treat him like any other stranger? How thick was that blood anyway?
Not so thick in this case or, rather, nonexistent. Ted let go of her hand, nodded, and let himself out the little exit door, leaving Megan with an open forty-minute window and plenty to think about during it. Including the FBI.
© 2010 Stacey Fackler