Andrew Steele, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, was at his desk on a rainy Thursday afternoon in April. He was between appointments in his boxy little office on the seventh floor of the Cook County Social Services building. His next appointment was a new patient named Luis Ortiz. Only 13, but a suspect in a rape, Luis needed a battery of psychological assessments. Despite the Hispanic name, fortunately the kid spoke English. That always made the assessment easier.
Double-checking for last-minute changes, Steele scanned this week’s memo from the director which gave the official listing of all new assignments. His eyes found Ortiz. A few lines below he noticed the name Richard Schram. Schram had been a patient of his about four years ago when he was a new clinical psychologist in the department. Schram had received a seven-year sentence for arson, he recalled. He had grown to like Schram—for awhile. He remembered how disappointed he’d been in the sentence because it ensured that Schram would not get the help he needed. He also remembered that Schram had chosen to threaten him as one of his last acts before his incarceration. He had mouthed the words across the courtroom, unmistakable: “I’ll get you.”
He noticed that new parolee Schram had been assigned to Dr. Kyle Bridges. Bridges, whose method was classical, had a reputation for being competent, but the productive years were behind him now. Steele couldn’t picture Schram opening up to the buttoned-down Bridges. Schram was edgy, repressed, ominous. He didn’t like being put down. If he thought you had hurt him in some way, he blew it way out of proportion. When he threatened revenge, he kept his word.
“Shit,” said Steele, immediately returning to the feeling he’d felt four years earlier. At the time--and again now—icy fear swept over Steele like a surprising gust off the lake. When Schram was first referred to him, Steele ran the assessments and diagnosed the sixteen-year-old as paranoid and narcissistic, following the DSM-IV guidelines for psychological disorders. That diagnosis opened the funding for psychotherapy, but the diagnosis was about as helpful as saying Schram was a Leo with a moon in Cancer. He was isolated, physically repulsive, sexually abused by his mother, minus any male role models good or bad, intelligent, and vindictive if crossed even in the slightest degree.
That’s where paranoid came in. He was unreasonably fearful that those who were trying to help him were really betraying him. As for narcissistic, Schram seemed to think he was special, worthy of every pleasure and comfort others had to offer. He basked in attention like a movie star. He should be revered. But all the while he was looking for any sign of insincerity or betrayal. If he fixed on one—real or imagined—his anger exploded against you. He was capable of attacking you face to face, but most of the time he preferred using fire when you were unprepared for it. If he threatened you, you had to take it seriously.
Steele shook it off. Surely there were measures to deal with threats from former patients. Probably fully-articulated policies. In the meantime, he could look into the details of Schram’s parole. He’d check in with Dr. Bridges too. He made a list on a bright yellow Post-It note. Under the heading Schram, he wrote Bridges and PO, then Lisa Rainey? He’d need Bridges to find out who the parole officer was. Rainey was a long shot.
The soft knock on the door was Mrs. Simone. She opened the door wide enough to stick her head inside, looked at him with her usual politeness, and smoothly announced his next patient: “Luis Ortiz.”
“Thank you. I’m ready for him, Mrs. Simone.”
“You’re welcome, Doctor,” she said, and pulled back the door all the way to let in a very wide kid.
“Who did you expect, Heracles?” said Luis, with no hint of Latino accent. The flesh of his face hung down in babyish white pouches, like bread dough. He was sprouting a thin moustache. Maybe he was trying to fit the rapist profile. Steele smiled.
“Welcome, Luis,” he said.
“Are you a doctor?” Luis eyed Steele, making him self-conscious in his tweed jacket, blue dress shirt, teal tie.
“No. I’m a clinical psychologist. But some people call me doctor because I have a Ph.D.”
“I know who Psyche was. A girl. Eros, the god of love, raped her--carried her away. Later she became immortal. Does that have anything to do with being a psychologist? I think you are a doctor for ….” Luis tapped his temple with two fingers.
Steele laughed. The kid had a presence. “You know the Greek myth. Because of the myths about her, psyche also became the Greek word for a person’s soul. It’s in Plato. Some of my patients are perfectly healthy. Most of the time it’s my job just to help my patients understand themselves better. Why they do what they do.”
“How do you know why they do it? I see what my cousin Gordo does, and I sure don’t understand why. It’s like he wants people to give him a hard time.”
“Throwing beer bottles at cop cars. Makes no sense to me.”
“I thought you knew why people do things.” Luis gave Steele a disappointed glance.
“Well, I do, sometimes. I studied a lot.”
“That’s why I’m here?” Luis looked puzzled.
“Luis, you are a suspect in a crime. A girl was raped. And I don’t mean ‘carried off’ in the classical sense. I don’t know why they think you did it. The juvenile court—the judge and the attorney want to understand you better.”
“You can do that?”
“Only if you help me.”
“Why should I?” The big guy had a point.
“If you didn’t do it, you should talk to me.” Luis preened his moustache thoughtfully.
Chapter 3– Dr. Kyle Bridges
Luis was his last patient of the day. After he left, Steele sat at his desk a long time thinking about Schram. He noticed his Post-It note. He dialed Kyle Bridges’ extension. Over the line he could hear the phone ringing in Bridges’ twelfth floor office.
“This is Dr. Bridges.”
“Hello, Kyle. This is Andy Steele. How are you?”
“Andrew. I’ve finished for the day and was thinking about having a drink before I head home. Will you join me?”
“Thank you, but I’m afraid I can’t tonight,” said Steele. “I want to ask you about a new patient you’ve been assigned, Richard Schram. Have you seen him yet?”
“Yes, I have.” Bridges stopped. He was not going to be forthcoming, Steele gathered.
“Well, you already know from his file that I treated Schram before he was sent to prison.”
“Yes, Andrew. I have the benefit of your notes.”
“I was concerned when they sentenced him.”
“Duly noted, Dr. Steele,” said Bridges. “I read that in your report. Are you apprehensive?” That was Bridges’ way of saying he knew about the threat too.
“No, not at all,” Steele lied, “but I’d like to look at the parole documents and perhaps talk to his parole officer. I assume he made parole at his first opportunity.”
“People change,” said Bridges. “The parole board released him with great expectations.”
“He threatened me after his sentencing,” said Steele, annoyed at himself for forcing conversation about it.
“I know that,” said Bridges.
“D-d-do you mind telling me who his parole officer is, Dr. Bridges?” Steele sometimes stammered. After years of hard work, he had almost overcome it, but the stutter reappeared at odd times.
“Call me Kyle.”
“Kyle,” said Steele, obediently.
“Rebecca Johnson. She’s in the building--219. Her extension is 53357.”
“Thanks, Kyle,” said Steele, eager to hang up now.
“Sure you won’t have a drink, Andrew? You sound like you could use one. I like to go to the Riptide. We can sit at the windows overlooking the lake. At sunset, it’s interesting--looking east as the shadow of the skyline lengthens on the water.”
Steele tried, but couldn’t picture it. “I’d really like to, Kyle, but I can’t tonight. Another time.” Steele hung up.
Steele immediately punched in 53357 but got only her recording, not Rebecca Johnson. He left a message for her to call him in regard to Richard Schram, giving her his cell phone number.
Then, done for the day, he began to clean off his desk. Every piece of paper he chose to keep got properly filed. Anything he didn’t want got shredded. He emptied the shredder into his wastebasket. He sharpened all his pencils and emptied the pencil shavings into the wastebasket too. He took a paper towel from a roll in the cabinet, sprayed Windex on it, and wiped down all the surfaces—his desk, his table, its three unmatched chairs, his phone, his file cabinet, and his windowsill.
He glanced at the dirt on his paper towel. This wiping up was not an empty exercise. A little compulsive perhaps, but he chose to have a clean start every day. He threw the dirty paper towel into the wastebasket. He took out the plastic liner bag and tied it with a twist tie from his desk. He put a new plastic liner in the wastebasket.
He slung his briefcase over his left shoulder, grabbed the garbage bag with his left hand, and used his right to exit and lock the door behind him. Mrs. Simone had long left. He rode the elevator down to the parking garage, tossed the bag of garbage in the dumpster, found his black Jetta where he always parked it, and drove home. There was a significant fact he needed to assimilate: Schram was out on parole.