Scapegoat by Douglas Leonard


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Chapter 12– Run

Steele went to the window. The sun was glancing through it, warming up the room. Far below he could see the flags and pennants were drooping. No wind in the windy city today. He saw a few bicycles, some riders in short sleeves, short pants. He dressed in his running clothes. He had a new pair of Asics, a model that allowed him to run comfortably without socks. It saved him from always having to match athletic socks in his sock basket, something he had never mastered. It was his style to eliminate from his life anything he couldn’t master.

He checked his watch—a little after nine already. He felt his pulse at the carotid artery, three fingers under his jaw bone on the right. About fifty-five beats per minute. He pocketed his spare apartment key and made sure the door lock clicked on his way out.

He took slow-motion giant steps down the hall to the elevator, clenching all his leg muscles, leaning forward, trying to stretch his tendons. Man walking on Pluto. He almost always had some pain in his right heel, an inflammation of a leathery tendon running along the foot bone. It was hard to warm an area where there was so little blood flow. That’s why it was so slow to heal too. He called the elevator, pushing against the wall while he waited.

As he rode the elevator down, he tried to recall Lisa Rainey, public defender. Still a public defender after all these years? She was on some slow track to legal success. The one time he’d seen her was from a distance through glass. He could see her now in her blue sailor outfit. Pretty. He remembered her hair, kind of wilting blondish curls. He remembered her pacing before the judge. What she said was smart, but it came off as shaky. Then she turned to speak to the jury—tense, self-conscious, equally ineffective.

He stepped out onto the sunny sidewalk. The air was still cool. He turned toward the sun and started slow, as he always did. The only way really to warm up for a run was to run slowly for awhile. He allowed himself 12 minutes for warm up. He willed the sun to shine on his shins. He zigzagged among the day’s first shoppers, mostly women, alone or in pairs, still without packages. He headed toward the lake. Once he reached it he’d have clear sailing north or south as far as he wanted. He chose north because he didn’t want to see his office building, and he didn’t want to see the Riptide. The sight of either of them could induce an unwanted memory. He would run away from the museums. Now the sun was warm on his back.

He could see far over the teal water. Long, low waves were sweeping toward shore. Did they never tire? Small white gulls circled over the beach, not landing. He checked his watch: 12 minutes. He kicked it into gear. He would run north for 8 minutes--times 4—that is, 32 minutes, or 4 miles.
While he ran he thought about his grandmother and his aunts, his only family. He hadn’t seen them for over a year. He had no desire to see them. He didn’t mean to be hurtful to them, but the truth was he never wanted to see them again. Grandma—it was easier to think of her as his mother’s mother than as his own mother—was all charity, but no love. She opened her home to him after his parents were killed, but she never opened her heart. He was only a toddler when she took him in, but he was never fooled into thinking she had any attachment to him. After services at the Presbyterian/Congregationalist/Methodist Church (they had merged to offset declining attendance they all had in common), Grandma would introduce him to curious ladies as her “adoptive grandson,” a term that made little sense since he was never adopted and he already was her grandson. In private she liked to make him aware of how much she was giving to him—food, clothing, a Christian home. She wanted him to thank her. Even when he had thanked her, she kept asking for his gratitude. So he stopped thanking her altogether.

His aunts—Marsha and Millicent, known as Missy, were younger sisters of his mother, Monica. His mother, a beauty, had married his salesman father, and they escaped to a normal life—and premature death by car accident, it turned out. Marsha and Missy never married, both very plump. Both still lived at home at forty-something. Marsha worked as a librarian for a law firm; Missy was probably still waitressing.

They shared a passion for dancing. They’d go to the Spokane bars and clubs a couple nights a week and drink and dance all night. They could dance to virtually any kind of music in an appropriate style. They even did some contemporary moves. Marsha researched them on the Internet, and they practiced them in the living room before going public. Steele had enjoyed watching them, but they didn’t seem to care. He was just out of diapers when they were teens, irrelevant to their dancing. They had neither motherly nor sisterly impulses toward him from the beginning.

All they cared about is that they were excellent dancers, especially Missy. In the bars they danced with each other, with other women, or alone. Rarely with men. Men were never a threat. Their short fat bodies and round plain faces protected them from flirtatious men. If a man did become flirtatious, they were immune to being picked up, singly or together. They had sublimated all their sexuality into their dancing. Steele had no hostility toward his aunts. He just didn’t fit in their world—and he never had.

His own emotionally barren childhood, however, served as the catalyst for opening up Schram. The relationships were parallel enough—no father, the strange mother, the two older sisters, and the one boy—Schram and himself—entering the families long after they were wanted. After Steele had shared his childhood, Schram had taken to him like a big brother, a father, even a lover all wrapped in one. Steele saw now, four years later, that he had worked the similarity between them pretty hard, desperate for a breakthrough. He had been an inexperienced psychologist back then. He did not yet have practical understanding of how a patient often transfers onto the therapist and how the therapist must manage his own counter-transference onto the patient. Transference, he now understood, was a powerful aid to effective therapy. But a young therapist often handled it badly. He had it going in his treatment of Schram, but he allowed it to get out of control. In his current practice transference was part of the discussion and the accompanying emotions were subjected to reason.

When he had run north for 32 minutes, Steele made a u-turn and came back at exactly the same pace, though bucking a moderate breeze off the lake. He had to push harder, but it felt good. Finally he jogged back to his apartment, cooling down as he had warmed up, about 1.25 miles. Total time: 88 minutes. Total distance: 10.5 miles. Calories burned: About 1,200. Now he could have anything he wanted for breakfast.

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