INTERROGATION

Interrogation- cover mock-up (Fall, 2014)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Long fascinated by the wonder called the human brain and an avid reader of psychological suspense novels, Scott quit writing exceptionally bad poetry, studied fiction writing under the late John Gardner and more recently at Washington University, and began writing twenty-odd versions of the first novel in his series in lieu of sleeping at night. He currently is working on his third Mitchell Adams novel from his home in Chesterfield where he lives with his wife Beta and their barn of beagles and cats. He finds time for sleep now, unless the animals hog the bed.

ABOUT INTERROGATION:
The first in Scott’s St. Louis-based crime series introduces the reader to Dr. Mitch Adams, a Ph.D. Social Worker in private practice. Life is good, Mitch is in love, and all is right with the world. Until his girlfriend’s boss, her ex-husband, and a deranged caller derail his whole world. Could the man at the heart of everything be one of his patients?

EXCERPT:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process
He does not become a monster.  And if you gaze long enough
Into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Prologue

Imagine what it must feel like to be treated like a piece of meat. To be afraid all the time and have no one to turn to, to be betrayed by the people closest to you. To misinterpret everyday events as plots hatched by an unseen enemy that’s everywhere, waiting, just waiting for you to drop your guard and take a false step.

Imagine what it must be like to exist in an environment so toxic and unpredictable that each hour could be your last. To interact with people who wear masks of many faces, none the same from hour to hour, never knowing the right thing to say or do or who, if anyone, you can trust.

Imagine never having a moment to relax, to just sit and be. To be wound so tight you’re always sick, or crying, or angry, and you dare not speak a word of this for fear of reprisal.

Now imagine you’re only five years old and you think this is the way of the world because you have no other reference point.

Can you imagine this?

If you said yes, you’re a liar. Only someone who survived that world could. If you’re one of the few who have, how did it change you? Did you turn your rage inward? Did you become a monster?

I know someone who grew up this way. My life changed forever because of it.

1 –  Sunday early morning

An Amateur Job

When the phone on my nightstand rang before dawn, I feared the worst—a counseling client in crisis or a health problem with one of my parents who were vacationing in Europe—and hoped for the best, that it’d be a kid asking if my refrigerator was running or if I had Prince Albert in a can.

Instead, it was Kris, and when she told me what had happened, I was out of bed, dressed and out the door before I even had a chance to process what she said.

When I arrived at her apartment, she sat in a green plastic lawn chair on the first floor landing, a blanket wrapped around her slumped shoulders. Her disheveled hair clung to her face. She had the same distant, withdrawn look in her eyes I’d seen in hundreds of abuse and trauma survivors. A crumpled piece of paper sat lodged between her legs while a uniformed officer sat opposite, taking her statement. She kept pressure on her elevated right foot, which was wrapped in a blood-soaked white bath towel and propped on a third chair. She’d calmed since her frantic call to me but looked to be in mild shock. A second officer and a technician trundled down the stairs as the interviewing officer finished taking her statement and handed Kris his card. As they left, I hugged her, looking at her foot.

“You didn’t say you were hurt.”

“I’m fine. I didn’t even know I was bleeding until it was over.”

“What happened?”

“Just before dawn I heard a tapping noise, like metal on metal, but I drifted back to sleep. Then something slammed hard into my front door, followed by a boom loud as a shotgun. I ran to the door and watched it crack down the center, someone kept slamming his weight against it. I could hear his breathing, he was that close.”

“What about the safety bar?”

She nodded and continued, “It was in place against the door knob, but each time he slammed into the door it bounced on the ceramic tile and nearly fell. I braced it with my foot while I dialed 911. When the door splintered, I yelled that the police were on their way. Even screamed I had a gun, though I don’t.” She began to shake. “He kept ramming the door. I ran into the kitchen, turned on all the lights, and grabbed my biggest knife. I ran back and gasped—the door stood open several inches. I saw a dark blur of movement outside, and thought I was about to die. He rammed the door one more time and I heard the whine of twisting metal—the hinge screws pulling out of the jamb. The door was ready to collapse inward. I raised the knife.”

She squeezed the crumpled paper tighter with her free hand, her knuckles white. “Then it got quiet. All I heard was my own shallow breathing. Two minutes went by that way. I closed the shattered door as best I could, repositioned the safety bar. I tried to look out the peephole but it was black. There are blind spots on the front landing even when you can see through the peephole, so I wasn’t going out there without the cops or you. I checked the back patio door, even though it’s on the second floor. Its safety rod was in the track. Then I called you.”

“How’d you get hurt? Let me see your foot.”

She slid the crumpled wad of paper into a front pocket of her jeans and said, “The boom was the Waterford bowl. It was on the table, but probably too far back against the wall. When he slammed into the door, it fell off the table and shattered into thousands of shards on the foyer. I stepped on some as I ran through the apartment, but I didn’t notice until he was gone.”

The gash in her foot began to ooze blood again when she eased pressure on the towel.

“You’re going to need stitches. Let’s go to the ER,” I said.

She nodded again. “Walk upstairs and take a look first, Mitch.” Her tone suggested I brace myself.

The sun crested the horizon and birds chirped happily outside by the time I got up to her second floor apartment. The cracked front door bowed inward down the center. It looked like two pieces of splintered wood held together by a coat of paint. Somehow it hung on the strength of one tiny, twisted brass screw. The jamb showed multiple marks and gouges from a jimmy. Fingerprint residue left by the techs on the jamb revealed scores of prints and smudges. The wannabe intruder had used a magic marker to blacken the peephole so she couldn’t see out. Inside, bits of broken bowl sparkled like red and white diamonds in the advancing sunlight.  Her blood stained every floor of the small apartment. The carpet needed deep cleaning. A butcher knife lay on the landing. The mangled safety bar was bent and missing one of its rubber end caps.

She must have been scared out of her mind.

Back downstairs, she tightened the towel. “The cops said it was an amateur job. Most likely a random kid looking to boost jewelry, electronics, or cash for drugs. They said there’s been a rash of break-ins nearby. The neighbors were sleeping; nobody saw or heard anything unusual. If the intruder had used a bazooka, sweet old Mrs. Wilson next door would have heard it. They lifted prints but they’ll be mine, yours, or other second-floor residents and visitors—I think I saw surgical gloves on his hands.”

“The cops going to do anything else?”

She wrapped her foot in an Ace bandage I’d brought down. “Patrol the area more often. Some extra drive-bys each shift for greater neighborhood presence. That won’t last long. They contacted my landlord. He’s on his way to install a new door and better deadbolt. They recommended he rethink the intercom system—like you did the other day, if you ring all the doorbells someone eventually buzzes you through the outer security door without asking who’s there, or you can follow someone else on through, no questions asked. They also suggested I put my lights on timers and get a guard dog.” She laughed sardonically. “Pets aren’t allowed in the building.”

She winced when she tightened the wrap past her tolerance level. Her body stiffened. “He didn’t stop when I yelled that I had a gun. He hit the door again and again. He wanted to get to me. I can’t prove it, but I know it. I had this creepy feeling that he was laughing at me, laughing at my fear. I think he was operating on some internal clock and felt his window of opportunity close as more time passed, so he left. He wanted me, not my TV, Mitch.”

A sudden chill sliced through me. Based on what I’d seen, I couldn’t argue the point. “Come stay with me.”

A tired smile appeared. “Thought you’d never ask. Help me get upstairs to pack a bag.”

I was surprised she’d try the steps. I helped her to her feet and pulled her to me, wanting to feel her body against mine, confirmation she was really okay. “You’re a tough cookie in the face of a crisis,” I whispered into her hair.”

She pulled back and looked up at me. “Remember I grew up in the Bronx. I survived gangs in the subway and rats the size of dogs in the alleys. I volunteered after 9-11. This won’t stop me. I won’t back down from a fight.”  I noticed her touch the front pocket of her jeans and thought of Dr. Warren Green , major player at the Gateway University med school, Kris’s boss, and first-class asshole.

“I’ll go upstairs; tell me what to pack.”

She flashed a broader smile this time. “Honey, I love you, but men have no idea what women need with them, or where everything is. It’ll go much quicker with me.”

She wrapped her arms around my neck, and I carried her upstairs. On the drive to my townhouse, after getting stitched up, I asked about the crumpled piece of paper, but she’d fallen asleep so I let her be. I never saw it again.