Psycho Doc, Chapter 2: Let’s Go Worm Digging

Detective LaTreille’s question ticked me off more than a little bit. I felt the surge of anger threaten to take control, to make me do or say something stupid. Fortunately, this was not my first rodeo. Twenty-one days ago had been the first time I’d ever been handcuffed and stuffed into a patrol car, “Watch your head, sir.”, but it certainly wasn’t the first time I’d been faced with authority figures looking to slap me down, put me in my place.

No, I’m not a member of an ethnic minority in any traditional sense. Three sixteenths Arapahoe that shows nowhere except in my cheekbones is not enough to allow me to cry victim. But I have had people doing their best to insult my intelligence since I was old enough to walk. Hopefully, the kid cop noted the flash of heat in my storm gray eyes…because that’s all he was going to get.

“You caught the case, Samuel?” I asked mildly. Addressing him by his first name was not accidental.

“Nope.” He grinned, stretching his arms, lazy as a cat. Letting me know how relaxed he was? “Harbison and Finkbeiner.”

Heckle and Jeckle. I suppressed a groan. “You their advance man?”

“Now, see, Doc, that’s why they pay you the big bucks, always answering a question with a question. Haven’t you learned by this time that we investigators ask the questions? So, alibi or no alibi? Because I don’t really care, but you know the magpies are going to ask. If you can CYA on this one, you’d best be doing it up brown.”

He didn’t press. Let me simmer that one long enough to come to my own conclusions. Samuel LaTreille had connections; there’s no way he’d have been able to jump over dump truck loads full of candidates for promotion in the highly political Police Department without being hooked up. There were plenty of theories on that one, the most far fetched being the true story. The current Governor’s love child? Golly gee, who’d a thunk? Still, he had a ways to go before activating the Peter Principle. He was as competent as they came.

Which meant he had an agenda. H & J making fun of his tailored suits and handmade silk ties? Eyeballed his manicured fingernails and accused him of being gay? If what he said was true, he was giving me a heads up. Helping me out. Why? If his coworkers found out he’d deliberately warned a potential murder suspect before the assigned investigators could get out the bright lights and rubber hoses, even his Sacramento connections might not be able to save his job.

Another possibility. He could be looking to find a way to put me in his debt. It was hard to imagine what me owing him a favor could do for him, but….

“Home alone.”

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“That could be a problem, Doc. Harby and the Finkster love it just a little too much when a person of interest can’t produce an iron clad.” LaTreille looked concerned. Sincere? What was his interest in seeing me cleared?

There was way too much going on here that I did not understand. Mysteries? Fun to read. Not so much fun to experience first hand.

“Never said I couldn’t prove it, Samuel.” I thought about calling him Sammy, but that might be going too far. Especially if he detested being called Sammy as much as I detested being called Marty. “I was home all night, yes. Except for an old one eyed tomcat big enough to scare a bear, I live alone, yes. But I’m about half a night owl, and as it happens, last night was not good for sleeping. I hardly ever go to bed before midnight, but last night I napped early, then got up and stayed up. Worked on the computer most of that time. You said between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00 a.m., right? I’m pretty sure there are at least two outgoing emails and one article published on my website during that time frame. So bring on the magpies, and thanks.”

“Nothing to thank me for.” Detective LaTraille got to his feet in one fluid motion. “I was never here.”

And just like that, he was out the door and gone.

I sat back in the receptionist’s chair, considering. L.D. Mess, dead rapper. Her former therapist, prime suspect at the moment. There were plenty of details I couldn’t access yet; the cops would sit on as much information about her death as they could. For as long as they could. Still, Sammy La Tee’s inexplicable visit told me a lot. I called up a fresh page in Word and began typing, making notes.

1. The killing had been done by either a professional or a relatively lucky amateur because
2. It sounded like the cops had no clue.
3. When there’s no fool standing over the corpse with a smoking gun or bloody machete, look for altercations in the victim’s recent past.
4. Latisha Dawn had a record of insulting and/or assaulting people, but
5. The most recent and also the most titillating set-to had been the one with me. She usually came out the winner, with the victim ending up in the hospital or selling his/her story to the National Enquirer. I was the only one to ever whip her butt and then lash her to a chair with my bootlaces.

Yeah. No surprise so far. Typing it out helps me think; that’s all.

Be nice to hear, “That’s all, folks!” Where’s Mel Blanc when you need him? Oh yeah. Mel’s been dead since, what, 1989? Something like that. “Looks like I’m my own, Mel,” I muttered. “Thanks a lot.” The office walls laughed at me. Or maybe it was Mel, checking in from the Other Side. There did seem to be a Woody Woodpecker quality to that laugh.

Not for the first time, I was reminded of the old truism about people who decide to study psychology. I know I certainly got into it for the free analysis.

Knowing the future is not always a good thing. There was no telling when Heckle and Jeckle would decide to show up. In the meantime, I had to be able to function as a psychotherapist. Or as a psycho therapist. Time to get back to studying up on bulimia. Back to City Cuisine for the supper break. Shrag was due at 7:00 p.m. After that, if nothing else was happening, maybe work on the rough draft of Using the Stars (the celestial bodies, not the Hollywood types). If the investigation got really serious about me, they might very well get a warrant and seize my office files, searching for the slightest indication that I might be something other than one hundred percent innocent.

Whoa. Dumbass. Print notes. Don’t delete file; rename it BULIMIA, then copy and paste the text from a couple of online articles in there. The printer wouldn’t give me away, the Word file was covered, there’d never been any Internet exposure, and they wouldn’t find my hard copy notes unless they searched me.

Oh, hell. I had them memorized anyway, so shred the notes. Burn the shreds in the Smoking Room, which was in direct violation of State regs, but no way was I going to send an evening client outside to grab a couple of drags after dark. If they ever tried to bust me for that, I’d claim ignorance; it certainly wasn’t advertised as a Smoking Room. Okay, flush the ashes. Light up a Camel from the pack kept in the side table drawer, let it burn down so the room smelled like cigarette instead of burned paper, then Febreze the place.

Nervous and paranoid much, Marten? Best settle yourself down, dude. Get back on top of your game. Man. The heroes in those suspense novels never freak out like this.

On the other hand, the African American is not the only male with reason to distrust the po-po’s. The average Detective’s motto is not Solve the Crime. It’s Close the Case. During my undergraduate days, I’d done a term paper on that exact syndrome. True, that was back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, but I was betting the system was still the system.

It’s not that a dedicated law enforcement officer consciously intends to subvert the process, I’d written. It’s simply that the mind, upon seeing an intensely desired result such as closing a murder case, is often able to produce a plethora of reasons why that result is a true representation of the facts.

Professor Colson had chewed me out. In his opinion, (a) my experiment had not included a large enough population and (b) the control group was tainted. In my opinion, old booze hound Carlson was an idiot. Kept it to myself, though. Junior Psychology students don’t openly disrespect Department heads without paying the price.

The remainder of the afternoon was almost spooky-quiet. Nobody came in, nobody called, I got a good bit of research done on bulimia, and the time slipped right by. It was 4:30 before I noticed. I got up, stretched, walked to the front window and stared out, pretty much a mindless zombie until a white car parked across the street caught my attention. Not a neighborhood local; I knew all the cars on the block and this was not one of them. Besides, it was sitting in front of the fourplex. Cockroach haven, that place; the landlord had been forced to put the tenants up in a motel for a couple of days while the building was tented and fogged. One more losing battle in San Diego’s endless war against cockroaches. A war the Chamber of Commerce has never once featured in its slick brochures. Most importantly, every one of those tenants was a raving lunatic environmentalist, a twenty-something who rode only bicycles and identified with other twenty-somethings who rode bicycles, shopping endlessly for organic food, preferably raw and vegan.

The driver of the white car at the curb was clearly a smoker. His (or her) window was down about four inches. The tinting on all windows was so extreme that the human behind the wheel couldn’t be seen at all, but the smoke clouds could. I watched, mesmerized, trying to figure it out. Draw in a huge drag, down to your toes…hold it…then expel the cloud of gray poison in a rush, right out through that partially opened window. The timing was right; it was probably Mary Jane, not Marlboro Red.

So. A heavy pot smoker, sitting across the street, watching my building? Maybe not. It might be a coincidence. Not that I believe in coincidences.

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you. Man, had I been this jittery before experiencing the grim reality behind that Protect and Serve motto? Probably. My old man had never trusted the po-po’s, and neither had I. But being falsely accused and arrested does give a fellow a whole new appreciation for outlaws.

No way to get the car’s license plate number without going out there and making a fool of myself. Still twenty-five minutes to go before I could lock up and head out for my supper break. Might as well do my Tai Chi. Which is not anybody else’s Tai Chi. I can almost guarantee that. Fifteen years ago, was it? Something like that. Cheryl and I signed up, tried one of those group Tai Chi instructional classes. Disaster. It couldn’t have felt more wrong. One session and that was it; we never went back. Cheryl never followed up, either, but I did…using only the Short Form book I’d owned for most of my life, doing the forms the way I felt like doing them. Any true Chinese Tai Chi Master would probably have a Bart Simpson cow if he ever watched me slaughter his beloved martial art.

Not that I cared. The book said to do the forms “very slowly”, but apparently I took slow to a whole new level. Cheryl once told me it was like watching a lizard sunning itself on a hot rock, or maybe like watching paint dry. That was fine by me. All I knew was, the slower I moved, following the moves as well as I could from the excellent illustrations and admonitions contained in the dog eared volume…the more power I gathered unto myself. In order to make sure I didn’t do too much damage, I’d started using the empty metal urn that had once housed my wife’s ashes as the target when I released–or attempted to release–the Chi. There’d never been any spectacular results. Did rock the urn on its base a little bit once. I think. Or else that was an aftershock; turned out there’d been an earthquake that day with an epicenter out there in the desert somewhere.

This time was different. I knew I was ready, the Chi coiled and ready to fire, my state of consciousness exactly what it needed to be. “PUH!” Not a classic kiai, almost certainly not associated with Tai Chi in any traditional form…but it was my kiai and I was sticking to it. The energy blasted forth from my right palm, wizard style. Hit the urn hard. Blew it clean off the stand, bounced it off the wall before the container finally ricocheted toward the floor, bounced around a bit, and eventually came do a stop.

I make my living by talking to people, but I was speechless. I did it. I really did it. I’d never actually doubted, but making it happen…could I do it again? No. Not today. Greed kills. Chill, dummy. Take your winnings, walk away from the table.

Yeah, right. Chill. I wouldn’t be chilling for a while.

Yet I remained in a deeply centered state, at least for the moment. Because of that, and only because of that, I was able to handle the call properly when my cell phone rang.

“Doctor Warner’s office. Marten Warner speaking.”

“Doc? Can I set an appointment? Like, right now?”

I knew that voice. Centered as I was, it didn’t throw me, though it certainly should have. But I knew it.

“No rebar?”

“No.” Latisha Dawn Messinger’s shame reached right through the phone. Tapped me on the cerebral cortex. “No rebar. I need to apologize. I know that. But this is about…something else. Can I–”

“Will eight o’clock do?” I’d see her right now if necessary. I knew that. But I wanted my time off if I could get it. My favorite booth at City Cuisine isn’t Tai Chi, but it does relax me. Helps me stay focused. In other words, don’t mess with my me time, bitch.

“Yeah.” Her tone was abrupt. “See you then. And thanks, Doc.”

“You’re welcome.” But I was talking to dead air.

Interesting. The rumor of L.D. Mess’s death had been wildly overstated. The rowdy rapper was very much alive and well. Samuel LaTreille lied to me. Why had he done that? Not that I’d ever fully trusted the young Detective; I wasn’t that naïve. But what could he have possibly hoped to accomplished by telling me she was…damn.

I took a couple of minutes to mull it over. Puff the Magic Dragon was no longer parked across the street. Connected to L.D.’s phone call? Or not?

No way to tell. One thing I did know: I was hugely relieved to know my attacker wanted to come see me again. No, not a suicidal impulse. Our first two sessions had been remarkable; we’d hit it off well–or at least I’d thought we had. She’d opened up quickly about her past, her present, her vision for the future, all the good stuff. More than that. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Why had she called me? To be sure, that was the question. There were quite a few possibilities. I would need to be prepared, just in case.

At 5:00 p.m. exactly, I locked the front security gate and door, double checked to make sure the toilet handle in the restroom didn’t need jiggling, and headed out through the back door. With the sun lower in the sky, a po-lice dee-tective lying to me, and an intermittently homicidal client looking to re-up our relationship, I didn’t much feel like walking to the restaurant. The little detached one car garage wasn’t much, but it kept the eyes of passers-by from glomming onto my ride.

Unfortunately, the garage door was manual all the way. I’d just pulled it down, checked the locks, when I heard the voice from the street. “Wow.”

I turned. The speaker was a Caucasian kid, a boy maybe twelve years old, wearing a short sleeve shirt with a blue and white checked pattern, droopy black jeans that revealed more than a hint of lighter underwear, gray Walmart sneakers cracked in several places (with one lace undone and dragging), and a look of awe on his freckled face. He was either gobsmacked by the vision before him or genetically cross eyed.

“You like?” Had to smile at the little guy. I’d been about that same age when I first fell in love with this model.

“Yeah. What is it?”

Presumably, he knew it was a pickup truck. Unless he was color blind–certainly a possibility–he could also make out the two toned, red over white paint job. “1958 Chevy Apache.”

“Huh. That’s older’n me.”

By almost half a century. “It’s almost older than me, too. I was only two years old when they made this one.”

“Huh. It go fast?”

“Nope.” My smile morphed into a full-on grin. “Seventy, max, except for passing.” The stock in-line six cylinder Thriftmaster engine, all 235 whopping cubic inches of it, coupled with a 4.11 rear end and three-on-the-tree transmission, topped out at 103 mph…but you didn’t want to be doing that too often. At seventy or less, it would cruise all day just fine.

I’d turned off the ignition and pulled the key before getting out to close the garage door. Habit; more than one carjacker in the city has taken advantage of a driver who’d left a vehicle’s door open and the engine running. Kind of wished I hadn’t, though; I needed to get going. The kid had some more questions, but I had to be careful. It would have been cool to show him what was under the hood (amazing amounts of space which made service access a breeze, the one barrel carburetor, etc.) and inside the cab (a full set of gauges, a real bench seat designed before the butt-squinching era of bucket seats, etc.)…if I wanted to risk being accused of pedophilia. In this age of child molestation and justifiably suspicious adults, anybody under the age of eighteen was automatically as dangerous to a mature male as a rattlesnake after dark.

“Gotta get going,” I said, getting in and shutting the door. The step-down starter lever on the floor did its job, the Apache fired right up, and I headed for the street. Had to wait a few seconds for the kid to move on down the sidewalk before I could pull out, but I was safe as long as I didn’t wave any candy his way.

Since I didn’t have any candy in the truck, that was not a problem.

Nancy’s shift was over. My waitress was new, someone I’d never seen before. The meatloaf was probably okay, though, and the coffee as good as ever, so I had no complaints except for the fact that my favorite booth was already occupied when I got there and I had to settle for my second favorite. No big; I simply placed my order, sat down, opened my Kindle to read a book on the Arapahoe Indians, and tuned out the rest of the world. The Arapahoe book sucked. It went into great Museum of Natural History detail about clothing designs, how many stripes of this and dots of that meant who knows what on a moccasin and why do I care. Boring. Very, very boring. Roughly on the same level as an insurance text. Things started to look up when the author explained that Arapaho (only sometimes spelled Arapahoe) girls were deemed “less chaste” than members of other Plains tribes. That sounded titillating until the discussion swung back toward things like bone knives being used as awls when they were too worn down to serve as knives any more, porcupine quills softened in the mouth before being used to decorate clothing, and brother, am I the only one who needs a nap?

Maybe that was how I’d ended up with Arapahoe DNA in my genetic makeup. Great great great great great Grandma was a raging slut.

The time went fast, the time went slow, I paid my check, it was time to go.

Outside, the Chevy sat proudly on the street, parked where I could see it from inside in case anybody got ideas. Even while reading, or pretending to read, I’d had one eye on my ride. Just because I had two more 1958 Chevy Apaches at home did not mean I cared to risk losing the shiniest one to some punk who knew how to hotwire. Back to Psycho Doc’s turf, tuck the beastie in the garage, and open up the office at six minutes to seven.

Shrag pulled in at 7:03. The man was never on time. I watched him lurch his ponderous bulk out of his latest ride, a low slung gray Cadillac that forced him to painfully pull himself erect.

“Meeting me at the door?” The big man’s tone was slightly mocking with a touch of snide. He could sell, no doubt about that, but I was hired help. He didn’t have to be nice to me. “What happened to the lovely Alicia?”

We headed back to the room he’d dubbed the Counseling Citadel. “The lovely Alicia took her lovely leave a few weeks ago. Doesn’t work here any more.”

“Ah, poor widdle you. Manning the entire fort by your lonesome self?”

“Looks that way.” We settled in, Shrag’s extreme weight forcing a creak of protest from the recliner. If he broke that chair, he could find a new therapist. I loved that recliner. I did not love the fat man. But as much as he irritated me, I always knew how to take my revenge. Big Shrag (B.S. to those in the know) habitually used what he thought of as his rapier wit to reduce anyone other than a paying customer to a pile of blubbering goo. High school stuff. It drove him even crazier than his default state of consciousness to know his preferred weapon was as useless against me as a Nerf lance would be against an iron-scaled, fire breathing dragon. He waited. I waited longer, calmly checking out the tent-sized gray suit (just a couple of shades darker than his Cadillac), the shiny spots starting to show. He’d always prided himself on his high end loafers, shoes that originally cost him nearly a thousand dollars a pair, but they were showing signs of wear. The fingers of his right hand drummed nervously on the soft arm of the chair while his left hand lay motionless in his lap, as lifeless as a fish three days out of water. His eyes showed something that could have been pain–packing all that poundage around was certainly less than comfortable, and his knee joints were trashed–but which I chose to interpret as fear.

Before he admitted a thing, I already knew he was in financial trouble. Serious financial trouble.

It didn’t take him long to confess. “Doc, I’m broke.”

Not too broke to pay my fee on your way out, I hope! “Broke? As in, next thing to homeless?” Active listening with a twist.

He laughed, short sharp barks with no humor to them. A bizarre sound, unlike anything I’d heard a human utter. Closest thing to it I’d ever heard was a ticked-off fox terrier, once upon a time. “Damn near. Could be. I…I guess I can’t ignore it any more. I was…they found out….”

I waited, impassive. Speaking now, even a single syllable, could end up causing Mr. Yeager to lock down completely. In earlier sessions, I’d learned quite a bit about the man. Youngest of a mess of brothers, with his older siblings all cutting him down. No luck with the ladies, the extreme obesity a symbol; excess weight is often an indicator of powerful and traumatic emotions the individual simply can’t release. The man had made millions (he said) for his firm’s clients and earned (he said) a six figure income. Addicted to porn and, as previously stated, also addicted to raw hamburger by the pound and milk by the gallon.

Repulsive, the sort of human being I would go around the block to avoid.

Insecure, frightened, and angry, the sort of human being I treated regularly. Somebody had to. Serial killers have been motivated by less.

The wait had stretched on too long. “Found out what, Shrag?”

“Five Bills, they found out….”

Five Bills was the nickname for Beyond the Horizon, LLP, the investment firm for which fat Shrag Yeager had worked these past six years and change. A respected partnership, all Bills. Bill Carlson, Bill Bliss, Bill…whoever. Five Bills. Each one of them William on legal paperwork, Bill to his friends.

“…they say I lied about my Master’s degree.”

“That would do it.” A lot of entry level stock broker jobs could be had with Bachelor’s degrees, but not at Five Bills. Without a Master’s in hand, preferably from a big name business school, you might as well not even darken their doors. “You lied about where you graduated, or you never had one at all?”

“Sh*t.” The floodgates had opened. His voice took on a slightly screeching tone. “I never lied! Those bastards got it all wrong. Somebody faked up the files. Had to. They called me in to the office, said their HR people had called Harvard, and their business school never heard of me.” He stopped, panting, trying to catch his breath. His countenance was turning a bit purple. Great. That’s all I need, a fat man stroking out in my office. Any publicity is good publicity, my ass!

“I’m confused.” I kept my voice quiet. Calm. Disgustingly professional. What I wanted to do was slap him upside the head with his own baloney, but that wasn’t the way the game was played, now was it? “I don’t understand. Your records at Harvard went missing, or what?”

“No, no, no. Like I told you before, I got my Master’s at Wharton, not Harvard.”

“Ah. I see.” I really did see. In several earlier sessions, Yeager had bragged about graduating at the top of his class…from Harvard. What we have here is a congenital liar.I’d long thought so, but this was the first definitive proof. A world class congenital liar. Perhaps even in the Hillary Clinton class.

A graphic image of a five hundred pound Hillary screeching her way through her Presdential campaign almost made me bust out laughing. Probably not a good idea, that. I controlled myself. Barely. “When did this happen?”

Shrag’s suit and shoes hadn’t gone downhill overnight. The gravy stains on his red power tie, maybe, but the rest of it? Not so much. There was a reason for my question about timing.

He became evasive, confusing (if one was inclined to that sort of thing), and contradictory. He had just been fired. Ah, but he had been suspended, placed under investigation some time ago, without pay. His enemies at Five Bills had been plotting his downfall for months, mysteriously causing his checks to bounce. He had covered the checks. No, he was not under threat of prosecution.

And so on and so forth, ad nauseum.

At length, I tuned him out long enough to think things through, letting him screech-ramble in nearly incoherent rage while I cogitated. As an educated guess, a call to Beyond the Horizon would uncover the fact that they had never employed a stock broker named Shrag Yeager. A couple of slips of the fat man’s tongue in earlier sessions came back to mind, clicked into place, and made it seem likely my client had not only failed to receive his Master’s degree from any place, but that that he’d never pursued formal education beyond the high school level. No Master’s, no Bachelor’s, no career as a stock broker. Nada. Zilch. Nothing.

Waiting until he paused to take in a deep, shuddering breath, I stepped firmly into the breach. “Life’s a bitch, eh?” Psychotherapy, Psycho Doc style.

He simply nodded, still trying to catch his breath.

“Looks like the real question is, what are you going to do now?” I didn’t wait for him to respond, just went right on ahead. “If a major employer like Five Bills puts the word out, you’ll not likely be able to get another job as a stock broker anywhere, right? At least, as I understand the industry?”

“You got that right.” He wiped his nose, swiping across his broad face with the sleeve of his coat. Which made it even shinier, at least for the moment. “Bastards.”

“Plenty of them out there. But fighting them is most likely a losing cause?”

“I could sue. I should sue. Maybe ten million…or twenty….”

No delusional thinking here, eh? “You could do that. Takes a lot of time and energy, though. Never know how long you might be tied up in court. Years, maybe. Especially if it ended up going all the way to the Supreme Court.”


“But let’s say you do that. One way or the other, you’re going to need to make a living, right?”

“Yeah, sure. Like that’s gonna happen, with everybody against me.” Bitter. Major pity potty.

Victim much? “Well, it’s sure not going to happen in the stocks and bonds industry. Would you agree?”

“No. I mean yes, I agree. They’ve screwed me good.”

If they ever heard of you, which I doubt. “So it would have to be in some other industry. They say the best way to succeed is to do something you really love. What do you love to do, Shrag?” I knew the answers, but he had to say it.

“Love?” He sat up a little straighter, thinking. “Love?”


“Um…food. But I don’t see myself flipping burgers at Mickey Dee’s. Knees wouldn’t take it. Minimum wage wouldn’t pay the mortgage, either.”

“Good point. What else? A man with your skills, there has to be something.”

He shifted uneasily, causing the recliner to creak again. Damned whale. “Adult films, maybe.” A sideways glance toward me, looking to see if I was going to judge him. I was, but not that he’d be able to see.

“Acting?” I grinned, hoping to make him laugh.

A long shot, but it worked. His chortle had nothing of the panicked bark-laugh in it. True amusement. “Ha! Ha! There are a lot of chubby chasers out there, but not even they are going to fork over good money to watch a guy who’s so fat he can’t even find his own equipment! Ho! Ha! No, not acting. Sales, maybe. If I could get a job at Blue Laguna or Mature Entertainment, on commission….”

I had a hunch. A really deep hunch, the kind that had screamed about my wife being in danger that day. Those hunches were seldom wrong. But Cheryl wouldn’t listen. She never did. “Maybe own your own store some day?”

He shook his head vehemently. Bingo. Dollar to a donut hole, the mighty Shrag Yeager, stockbroker to the stars in his own mind, had in fact been selling porn for a long time. Bootleg, storefront, or out of the trunk of his car, I did not know. Maybe he’d never thought about working for the other guy, but Blue Laguna and Mature E were big operations, possibly the biggest in San Diego County. Best of all, he’d come up with the idea of selling porn on commission all by himself. His hour was nearly up; all I had to do now was cover myself.

“No guarantee it would generate enough income to keep the mortgage squared away.” And pounds of raw burger in the freezer.

“No, no, don’t try talking me out of it, Doc!” Shrag began his epic struggle to get out of the chair. Manic phase coming up. “It’ll work! Next time you see me, I’ll be King of the Beach.”

King of the Beach? Oh, right. Classic porn flick, that one. He probably didn’t even realize what he’d said.

And…he was gone, lumbering out to his Cadillac, firing it up under the streetlights, the tired suspension higher on the passenger side, squashed down noticeably on the driver’s side.

Latisha Dawn Messinger sat in the corner front office chair, waiting her turn. a half-smile playing around her lips. “You doing pro bono these days, Doc?”

I grinned at her. “Looks like I’ve been boned, all right. Next time he calls for an appointment, if he calls, I’ll remind him that I’ll need the cash up front, before we do the session.”

“None of my bidness. We go on back?”

“Sure.” I went first, letting her follow. Telling her I didn’t fear an attack from behind. It’s all about image, doncha know.

She glanced at the recliner. I could see her wheels turning; she knew the fat man had just vacated that spot. L.D. Mess wasn’t having anything to do with that. Her decision to settle for one of the smaller, less padded chairs was quick enough, though. “Somebody set us up, Doc.”

“That possibility has occurred to me,” I admitted as I opened the mini fridge, retrieved a bottle of Aquafina, and passed it across the desk to my client. Another bottle for myself, settle into my own chair, and we were in business. “Damned if I can figure the angles, though.”

“Me either. But you remember what you taught me? About my astrology?”

“If memory serves,” I said, not bothering to pull her file, “the heaviest challenge in your chart is a T cross with Mercury combust the Sun, Jupiter in opposition, both square to a tight one degree conjunction of Mars and Venus. Those two serve as the triggers for all that energy. Which means, layman’s terms, that you think, feel, and act instantaneously, with no stopping to consider consequences.”

“Yep,” she agreed, rolling the water bottle between her palms, “that. You went on to explain to me that it didn’t have to be that way, but that only when I was in a higher state of consciousness, above it all, working out of the higher worlds or whatever, then I wouldn’t be controlled by the magnetic influences surrounding my time and place of birth. But the second I didn’t keep my eye on the ball, the moment I dipped back down into what you called the human consciousness, that’s what would happen. I wouldn’t think things through. I’d just…do sh*t, damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.”

“Pretty good summary. I’m impressed. Didn’t realize you’d absorbed all that.”

“Hey, shrink, I ain’t stupid.”

“Never said you were. Never thought it, either. So, this has something to do with us being set up?”

“That’s the way it looks to me. I got an email. Thought it was from an old friend. Turned out it wasn’t; the address was the same name, but at Yahoo instead of Gmail, and I didn’t notice the diff. This person pretending to be my friend tells me that you been running your mouth, talking outa school, talking sh*t about me. Stuff I’d said in confidence. They had a lot of details, stuff I don’t know for sure how they got it, but they got it. I just naturally believed it was you. Wanted to kill your ass. I’d opened up and told you stuff I never told anybody–”

“Hold on.” My interruption was quiet but important. “Are you sure you never told anybody else? Because if you didn’t, somebody either got into my files or had this room bugged.” If the latter, they were listening right now, but I didn’t feel like worrying about that just yet.

“Don’t know.” She suddenly looked helpless, vulnerable in a way I’d not seen before, even when she was baring her heart. “Since…I been thinking a lot. I ain’t really sure now. It’s possible I did say all that. After I got to thinking about it, I realized there’ve been times I was blasted outa my mind. Coulda shot my big mouth off in front of the wrong people when I was so impaired I wouldn’t remember it the next day. I been cutting back, Doc. Don’t party near like I used to. But…anything’s possible.”

“Okay.” I leaned back, elbows on chair arms, steepling my fingers. “So you got the email and wanted to kill me.”

“Did I come close?” She asked suddenly. “When I get like that, I don’t always remember things right, after.”

“Close enough.”

“I had a hunk of rebar, right?”

“You did.”

“And what did you beat me up with? Your bare hands? Bruce Lee kick?”

“Against a trained martial artist? Not a chance.” I was enjoying this. “I used a formidable weapon of mass destruction called a magazine rack.”

She lost it. Busted out laughing. “You clobbered my beautiful black ass with a magazine rack?”

“Aimed a little higher than that,” I said, struggling to keep my face straight, “but yeah. The magazine rack out there in the waiting room. Surprised it survived the experience, you having such a hard head and all.”

We both went south. Had my adversaries among my peers been able to witness the two of us, gasping and sputtering and wiping our eyes, completely cracked up over the image of Psycho Doc whacking his insane celebrity patient with a small piece of oak furniture, they’d have been convinced Rod Serling was lurking in the background.

When we got ourselves under control, Latisha wiped her eyes and got down to brass tacks. “Lots of people know it’s easy to make me fly off the handle, Doc. What I need goes so far beyond Anger Management, they don’t even have a name for it. So hey, there’s no way to know who’s behind this. But it has to be somebody who wants to mess me up, or wants to mess you up–”

“Or both.”

“Or both. And I got to thinking, yeah, I’m sorry I blew it, and except for the stitches they had to put in my head, I’m glad you clobbered me instead of me beating you to death, okay?”

That, I figured, was as close to an apology as I was going to get. “Okay.”


I nodded slowly. “And we need to team up, you and I, if we’re going to figure out who’s stirring the pot and put a stop to it.”


“Wouldn’t exactly be your traditional psychotherapy relationship.”

She snorted. Blowing out, not in like she’d done before kicking cocaine. “Ain’t nothing traditional about either the rapper bitch L.D. Mess or the guy who has a brand new Psycho Doc sign welded into his front gate, now is there?”

“No”, I said slowly, “I don’t suppose there is. Before we decide to become blood siblings, though, you need to consider something. Detective Samuel LaTreille told me this morning that you were found murdered, somewhere between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m. Which means the po-lice lied to me. If we do this thing, we may be digging into a can of mighty ugly worms.”

“Ha!” She could put an awful lot of scorn into a single word. “It’s worse than that, Psycho Doc. He maybe didn’t lie, ’cause there was a girl found dead this morning. Looked like me. Wearing clothes that coulda passed for mine. ‘Long about ten this morning, two detectives showed up at my place with a warrant to search ’cause I was dead, see, and there might be clues inside. They were about to bust the door when I pulled up, back from a trip to the dentist. Like to pooped their pants when I honked my horn at ’em. So I don’t need to worry about getting into it with the cops. One way or another, I’m already in it, deep as a dinosaur in the La Brea tar pits.”

“Well, then.” I stood up and walked around the desk, extending my hand. “Therapy, shmerapy. Until this is settled, we are no longer shrink and shrinkette. Let’s go worm digging.”

She rose from her chair, grasping my hand firmly, shaking it up, down, three times. “You bring the shovel”, she said. “I’ll bring the bucket.”