Scapegoat by Douglas Leonard

Chapter 7– Visit with Johnson


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Chapter 7Visit with Johnson

After he’d written in Luis’ file, he left the office. He’d have to produce a formal report on the roly-poly rapist for the court--but he had time.

Mrs. Simone was at her desk in the waiting room. She was wearing a conservative pants suit, something of a uniform for the clerical women who worked in the County Health and Social Services Annex, whether they were medical, legal, police, or administration.

“I’m heading down to Rebecca Johnson’s office, Room 219. I’ve got my cell if I’m needed.”

“Thank you, Doctor. I scheduled your no-show for 3:15. I’ll ring you should she appear.”

Should she appear? Mrs. Simone, you use the subjunctive mood so well. You are one in a million these days.”

Mrs. Simone blushed. “I attended Catholic schools until my graduation in 1966. I remember most of my English teachers very well. We had our 40th reunion a year or so ago. But you are more rare than I am, Dr. Steele. You are at home in the subjunctive mood and are hardly 30.”

“What’s my excuse? Foreign languages. I took Latin, Greek, and French in high school and college,” he said. “I always liked the way the subjunctive allows you to speak of doubt, hope, and conditions contrary-to-fact.”

“You have a psychologist’s mind, Doctor.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Simone.” Her support meant a lot to him, but he wasn’t about to say so.

The “no-show” Mrs. Simone referred to was a 16-year-old girl who was trying to reign in her addictions—she had cycled from alcohol to gambling to sex to shoplifting, and now she seemed ready to repeat the cycle. She showed up for her weekly appointment no more often than once per month. The check came in from the county whether she appeared or not.

He took the stairs down to the second floor, then tried to follow the numbers to 219. The building was a complex of three separate buildings, expanded and spliced together in various makeshift ways reflecting the low-bid standards of their eras.

He found himself in a short hall that was making some attempt at law enforcement décor—silver badges, lots of blue, military-style posters showing such things as dress inspection of new officers, women officers conspicuous in every one. A chest-high counter blocked his passage. Behind it, studying him as he approached, was an elderly woman, no doubt the gatekeeper.

“I’m looking for Rebecca Johnson. I’m Andrew Steele from Psychological Services upstairs.”

“I must see your ID, Doctor.”

He pulled his wallet and presented his cards. She scrutinized them and handed them back. “I’ll ring her,” she said, punching her phone. “A Dr. Steele to see you.” She listened a moment, frowning. “Yes…yes…no…okay.” She looked up at him. Everything about her—tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions—declared: over my dead body. Then she sighed and said, “Go that way,” pointing left. She had probably perfected her misdirection skills playing Texas Hold’em.

As he headed down the hall, a plump brown woman with a blue police shirt and silver badge came out of a room and headed toward him. “Dr. Steele?” she asked.

He followed her back to Room 219 and let himself be steered to an upright chair with high arms. She sat in another like it, facing him. She was plain, tough-looking, and alert, about 35. “What can I do for you, Dr. Steele?”

“Call me Andy. Thank you for your time. May I call you Rebecca?”

“Becca,” she said, after a beat. Steele assumed she was touched by his good looks. Most people were, especially women. He tried not to play them, but it was just a fact of life that women found him very attractive.

“Becca, I’m sorry to bother you again about our mutual client Richard Schram. I know how the system works, and I have enough to do without wasting time on past patients. But Schram’s situation concerns me. I spent last night and this morning reviewing the files on Schram, and I am more concerned than ever. Let’s assume I helped him turn the corner, and he made great progress in my treatment. Let’s assume he continued that progress in prison with a psychologist and a priest. Let’s even assume a transforming touch from God Almighty. Having made all those assumptions and hoping for the best, I still cannot imagine that Schram is no threat to others. Schram has demonstrated well-developed patterns of narcissistic, paranoid behavior, and he is smart enough to hide them. He is a furnace of anger. I believe he has spent his time in prison learning how to work the system. He can erupt in violence at any time.” Steele thought his speech persuasive, but he smiled to charm her just in case.

“Andy, we know guys fake it,” said Rebecca Johnson. “The system tries to ID them before they hurt somebody. Sometimes people get hurt anyway. When a bad guy serves his time, we have got to let him go even if we know he is going back and doing mayhem. Drugs, guns, gangs, thefts, rapes, murders, bombs—you name it. We got to let them out when they’re done with their sentences.” Steele nodded. He thought he knew where she was going.

“But Schram was different,” she continued. “He made great progress, and he is young. The judges want to see that. Where else can you find hope in this system? Innocent until proven guilty—that’s the assumption we all salute, even when we know someone is guilty but we can’t prove it. It bites. Here’s another one that bites: Serve your time, you get your rights back no matter how dangerous you are. You are scared of Schram, but we have to give him the benefit of the doubt, Andy.”

Steele was growing impatient. His stomach hurt deep down—probably acid squirting on an ulcer. He hoped his pain wasn’t evident to Rebecca Johnson.

“One more thing, Andy,” she said. “The thing that counts big for me is the anger piece. Not just for Schram, but for any of these heavy parolees—but especially for Schram because anger drove him, every crime. You expect a guy like that to fight and be killed in state prison. He’s not a strong man. But Schram was different. No fights. No murders. No dirty tricks. Talk to him now. Try to put him down or make him mad. The kid is unflappable. Richie doesn’t even use four-letter words. Ask him, and he can tell you how he defuses his anger before he is tempted to act it out. He’s got some self-talk routines for anger management that I should learn myself. Make me a whole lot easier to live with some days.”

Steele laughed, then heaved his shoulders like a man giving up. “I hope you are right about everything, Becca. I am glad I talked to you. By the way, what’s Schram’s program? I assume he’s got residential placement and a job of some kind. Is he wearing a bracelet?”

“No bracelet. He’s living in a house and works full time doing manual labor.”

“Is that the house near 6th and Lincoln?” He was trying to sound off-hand.

She stiffened. “I’m sorry. I can’t be more specific.”

“Where does he work?”

“You know I can’t tell you that.” she stood up quickly, smiling coolly, extending her hand. “Goodbye, Dr. Steele.”

“Damn it,” he said when he got back to his office. He’d learned very little from Rebecca Johnson, but he couldn’t see how he might have managed it better. Self-talk routines for anger management? Schram had developed some skills, all right. He remembered that he himself liked Schram in the old days. You always like people who are getting better. Maybe he never called him Richie, but he had come to call him Richard. Now he was just Schram.

The no-show had not shown, as expected. Mrs. Simone told him he was the only psychologist in the juvenile unit still working at this late hour Friday afternoon. He persuaded her to leave thirty minutes early. He would stay and kill time before his meeting with Bridges at the Riptide. As was his custom, he put away all his files and wiped everything down with Windex and a paper towel. Then he sat in the armchair where his patients usually sat and closed his eyes.

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