It was Mayday and the crabapple trees were blossoming and scattering their white petals on the grass and across the campus sidewalks. Robins hopped around and engaged in their unlikely predation. Every now and again one sang like a flute from a tree.
Donna had been to church. She had placed herself in the hands of God, for better or for worse. Steele could see how free she was. She was happy.
“I think this is a perfect time to tell you what’s been going on with me,” said Steele. “I need your perspective.”
“Something is wrong and dangerous. I don’t really know what to do. I mean, I don’t know if what I’m doing makes sense. I never imagined myself in a situation like this.”
“Your concern is ethical?” she asked.
“Don’t turn this into an exercise in theoretical ethics. Where is coffee?”
She bumped him with her hip to make a right turn and they walked together past the front of Music Hall. It had a tower and a working bell.
“I had a class in liturgical music there last year,” Donna said. “We sang material dating back to the 4th Century.”
“Catchy tunes, I bet.”
There was an open table outside the coffee shop. Lilacs were in bloom there. No breeze. She held the table while he got the coffees, one vanilla latte and one doppio cappuccino.
When he sat down, he said, “Donna, I don’t want to worry you with scary events. They will probably get worse before they get better. If you want me to, I will keep them to myself. But it will help me see things more clearly if you let me tell you. You might have an insight I need. I am too close to this.”
“You were struggling with this a couple nights ago. Have things gotten worse?”
“Yes, I know more. All I told you about last time was the hang-up call and my patient’s short essay on gopher justice.”
“’Killing gophers is an important job,’” she quoted, smiling ghoulishly.
He ignored her. “Do you know the song from the 50’s ‘Great Balls of Fire’?”
“Of course not.”
“You don’t need to, except to know that it was a big hit for a wild pianist named Jerry Lee Lewis. She listened while he told her about meeting his patient’s mother and how she called her boy Little Richard, after another wild pianist of the late 50’s. He told her about how he had gone home after seeing her Friday and then how he had received a midnight phone call playing “Great Balls of Fire,” by Jerry Lee Lewis. He also told her how he had visited the parolee’s apartment and discovered the recording equipment on his kitchen table and the four phone numbers written across the front of the refrigerator. “One of those numbers is mine,” he said.
“No. I am truly scared. I was scared before I had any evidence. I know this patient in my gut. We connected in therapy. He bonded with me and showed me some secret places in his mind. There is a good reason he keeps them secret. The man is dangerous. I think his mother is at greatest risk right now, but it’s possible he will take his intended victims in reverse until he is ready for her? He might start with me. He likes to use fire. Fire is the angry man’s best friend.”
“If he bonded to you in therapy, why do you think he’s out to get you? You’d think he’d be grateful for someone who understands the way you do. I am forever grateful to you, Andrew. You understood me when I needed it. What did you ever do to him?”
“I let him get too close. I let him think I was his father and brother. I led him to feel some hope. When I couldn’t save him from prison, his feelings toward me turned to anger. I think it falls into the pattern he has with his mother. She would reach out to him and seduce him, but then become overwhelmed by her own act and resent him. She’d beat him. He represents to her all the betrayal by all the men she has ever known. She gets back at all the men who betrayed her by punishing Richard. Meanwhile in his mind she is all women, seductive but cruel. She has pushed him toward an act of ultimate betrayal. He will obey her sooner or later.”
“What can you mean by that?”
“He will attack her and kill her.” Schram wondered if Donna even understood he was talking about incest.
“You’ll be killed with your own gun if you do that!” She almost shrieked it.
“Maybe not. Isn’t it better I should shoot an attacker than let him kill me? Don’t you think this a justified self-defense?”
“Events don’t usually go the way people plan them. Somehow things turn around. I am afraid for you. Your having a gun doesn’t give me confidence that you’ll be okay. In fact, the other way around.”
He gulped his cool cappuccino. He looked at the innocent woman sitting across from him. Naiveté on parade. He felt a flare of anger. He had hoped for her support. She was, after all, probably the only person who knew him. He detested this self-pity.
“You are angry with me. I’m sorry,” she said.
“I had hoped you of all people would understand,” he said.
“I think I do understand,” she said slowly. “In the beginning you identified with your patient because you were raised by your grandmother and your aunts. They didn’t know how to raise a sad little boy. You were grieving your parents and your sisters. You became obsessed with the details of the car accident that took them. Your persistent sadness turned your grandmother and aunts away from you. And you turned away from them, resenting their resentment. Fortunately you were strong enough to give yourself the understanding and love you needed. You excelled. You found a career doing good, a career you are great at.”
“Don’t make it sound so noble. So what do you think I should do, Donna? Will you run off with me to Mexico?” It was a standing joke between them whenever either of them felt a need to escape. He saw that the joke had unnerved her this time. He could see that she didn’t believe he was in danger.
“Okay, Donna. Assuming this former patient of mine is still sick, here’s the bright side. He tries to commit a violent act, gets caught before he can do it, and gets sent back to prison. This could happen. He might not even get to me. This is the best I can hope for.”
“Assuming he is sick, it seems likely that he will violate his parole in some way before he comes after you. Be careful. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“I think you’d manage just fine,” he said. He hadn’t been feeling much affection for her these past few weeks, and he assumed the feelings were mutual.