SIX

Patients returning to see me after an extended absence from treatment, like Gibbs Storey, tend to labor under the suspicion that a decade does nothing to alter my recall of the facts of their lives. The truth is that that is not the truth. Since Gibbs and Sterling last left my office on their way to Capistrano or Corona or Laguna or Newport Beach or wherever they ended up, a few hundred new patients had crossed my threshold and told me their tales. That’s too many stories for my brain to juggle. Way too many. Scores too many. Sometimes I got the details confused. I would assign faulty facts to a patient or misremember who had died in what year, who had what illness, and who had slept with whom.

So why didn’t I just go back to my patient files and refresh my memory?

Because as a general rule I put few facts in my case notes. The more potentially private the fact, the less likely I was to put it on paper. Why? Because doctor-patient confidentiality is not a brick wall that forever separates my knowledge of my patient from the gaze of the judicial system. Confidentiality is actually a brick wall with a few conveniently spaced locked gates. And the courts, not I, hold the keys to those gates. Whatever I wrote down might therefore someday become public. In all my years in clinical practice I hadn’t discovered a single reason to volunteer to be a conduit to making the private public.

Consequently, I didn’t write much down.

I caught Diane Estevez in our little kitchen about an hour after Gibbs left my office. Diane would remember everything that I’d forgotten about our ancient conjoint treatment of the Storeys. I suspected sometimes when I queried her about such things that Diane made up whatever she didn’t actually remember, but in any event, her recall would appear seamless and complete.

“Hey, Alan, how’s Sam?”

Although I hadn’t had a chance to tell her about Sam’s heart attack, I wasn’t surprised that she already knew. Diane had sources everywhere. If gossip was an art form, she was the Picasso of our generation.

“He had an angiogram this morning. I’ll know more later today when I go visit him.”

“Angioplasty, too? Stent?”

“I’m still waiting to hear.”

“But it was an MI?”

“Enzymes say yes. They used clot busters.”

“Keep me informed.”

“Of course, but we both know that you’ll probably know his prognosis before his cardiologist does. Guess who I saw this morning?”

Diane was scooping ground coffee into a filter basket. My question caused her to lose count of her tablespoons. She said, “Shit. Tell me.”

Dr. Estevez and I had been friends since we’d interned together many years before. Although our practices were independent businesses, we shared the first floor, and the ownership, of a small century-plus-old Victorian that housed our clinical offices on Walnut Street on the edge of downtown Boulder.

“Guess.”

“D. B. Cooper?”

An inside joke. “Close,” I said. “How about Gibbs Storey?”

She looked at me. “The Dancing Queen?”

Diane had always called Gibbs “the Dancing Queen.” I thought the moniker was some obscure reference to the old ABBA song, but I wasn’t absolutely certain what the allusion was. I did know that Diane had never been fond of Gibbs. And I’d never been fond of ABBA. Not before the Broadway play.

Not since.

“That’s the one.”

“Where’d you see her? In town someplace?”

“No, right here. In my office.”

She placed the carafe full of water in the sink and faced me.

“For therapy?”

“It’s what I do.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Diane wasn’t being argumentative-although she was quite capable of it. She was querying me as to why I was breaching Gibbs’s confidentiality so cavalierly.

“Because I have a signed release to talk to you.” Before she’d left my office at the conclusion of her session, I’d asked Gibbs if I could consult with Diane, and she’d said I could.

“I’m not going to like this, am I?” Diane asked.

“Probably not.”

“Is she still with Platinum? Or did she leave him? If she’s still with him, don’t even ask because I’m not doing conjoint again. Especially with them. With her. Count me out. I mean it.”

“Platinum” was Diane’s nickname for Sterling. Although I was never quite sure, I’d always operated under the assumption that she wasn’t particularly fond of him, either. Regardless, I knew she’d liked him more than she’d liked Gibbs.

Hell, she liked bad cheese more than she liked Gibbs.

“She’s still with him. At least temporarily. She doesn’t feel she can leave him without him resorting to stalking her, or something worse.”

Diane shot me an I-told-you-so glance. “Every battered woman feels that way. That’s why God invented safe houses and restraining orders. The Dancing Queen will need a good kick in the butt to get out of that marriage. God knows Sterling will never leave her.”

“Why’s that?”

“ ’Cause she’s such a little dreamboat. You ever notice her fingers? She has perfect little fingers.”

I didn’t admit to Diane that I had, in fact, just noticed Gibbs’s fingers. Instead, I said, “Anybody ever tell you that you have a propensity for sarcasm?”

“Don’t worry; the tendency is soluble in caffeine. Let me finish making myself some coffee, and I’ll be much nicer. I’m glad it’s your job to help the Dancing Queen, not mine. Don’t even think of recruiting me for this one. I’m out, Alan. Out. Out, out, out.”

Diane was better at acting definitive than she was at being definitive. Despite her best efforts, compassion softened her steely heart. Still, I knew I had to get her on board before she convinced herself that she really was a taciturn bitch. I said, “Gibbs thinks Sterling murdered someone a few years ago.”

Without missing a beat, Diane said, “Sometimes I pretend Raoul’s on the FBI’s most-wanted list. I play the special agent making the bust. If we don’t run it into the ground, it’s always kind of fun.”

Diane’s husband was an irascible Spaniard named Raoul Estevez. I knew nothing about their sex life and preferred it that way.

“I’m not kidding, Diane. Gibbs thinks he may have killed a friend of theirs. A woman he was involved with.”

The pause that followed permitted Diane sufficient time to convince herself that the calendar indicated November, not April first.

“And you believe her?”

“A hundred percent? No, not that he did it. Not yet. But yes, I do believe that she believes what she told me.”

“How does she know? What’s her evidence against him?”

“It’s a mix of things. Things he did. Things he said. Part circumstantial, part supposition, part confession.”

“If Lauren heard it, would she be swayed?” Lauren, my wife, was a deputy district attorney for Boulder County. Where prosecutorial conclusions were concerned, she was a stickler for, well, facts.

I shrugged. “I asked myself the same question and decided Lauren would be interested in what Gibbs has to say.”

“But Sterling confessed?”

“So Gibbs says. Not an ‘I did it’ confession exactly, but he told her things that she thinks only the murderer would know.”

“If-a big ‘if’-what she says is real,” Diane reminded me before she shifted her focus from the forensic to the psychological, “why now? Why is she talking about this now? The murder of the friend was when?”

“Nineteen ninety-seven. It’s a good question, and I’m not sure about the answer. I assume it has something to do with them being back in Boulder. But that’s a guess on my part. I asked, of course, but she didn’t have an answer.”

“Why you?”

The subtext wasWhy not me?

“I wish I knew the answer to that one, too. Maybe she’s aware of your, um, countertransference issues.”

I was certain Diane was going to argue that she didn’t have any negative feelings about Gibbs. But she didn’t go down that road.

“Other than murder, did you and Gibbs talk about anything else that was important during your… session?”

I explained that Gibbs wanted me to make a call to the police about the murder. Diane narrowed her eyes upon hearing that news. I continued. “And we talked about you, and what help you could be. I’d like your consultation about all this, and specifically your help setting up a meeting with Celeste what’s-her-face over at Safe House. Make sure she’s okay with this situation. Gibbs will need Safe House’s services when the shit hits the fan.”

“Clayton. Celeste Clayton. When?”

“Later today, if possible. I’m seeing Gibbs again tomorrow morning. I’d like to be confident that Safe House is comfortable having her by then so I can assure her it’s safe to go to the police with what she knows about Sterling.”

“She should be in Safe House right now, Alan. Not tomorrow.”

“I know. I suggested. She refused. I strongly encouraged her to reconsider. She refused.”

“Can I come to the meeting with Celeste? I’d really hate to miss this.”

“I was hoping you would. The release lets me tell you whatever I think is appropriate.”

“And Gibbs signed one for Safe House, too?”

“She did.”

“She didn’t argue with you?”

“No. She’s not the arguing type. You know that. Maybe that’s the source of your countertransference.”

Diane considered my words for a heartbeat before she said, “I treat lots of wimpy women. That’s not it. Do you find it odd that she dumped all this in your lap? The old murder, making the call.”

“I find this whole thing odd.”

“I know you don’t want to hear it, but this isn’t just aboutmycountertransference, you know?” Her voice was now at least a half-octave lower. The change was intended to draw my attention.

I bit. “What do you mean?”

“Are you going to call the police for her?”

“I don’t know. I guess.”

“This is your countertransference, too, Alan. What you’re doing for Gibbs you wouldn’t do for a lot of patients. Making all these arrangements, making all these calls. She’s pushing some button for you, too. Call me cynical, but I suspect it has something to do with the blond hair and the pert breasts.”

Pert breasts?“I don’t think so. The circumstances are unusual. If they were repeated with anyone else, I’d do the same thing.”

“You would call the police in another state and report an old crime for any patient who asked?”

“Yes.”

“Any old patient who wasn’t cute and blond?”

I was grateful that the pert breasts had disappeared from the equation. I said, “Yes.”

“Sure you would.” Diane returned her attention to finishing the coffee-making process. With her back to me, she said, “Alan, why is it you who always gets cases like this? You have more dead bodies in your practice than a small-town undertaker. Do you ever think about that?”

I could have confessed that I thought about it all the time, but I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction.

“I promise to think about it if you’ll think about something for me, too. Way back, Gibbs brought up something during conjoint therapy. When she mentioned whatever it was, Sterling doused it like a Boy Scout putting out a campfire. Do you remember what it was? He glared at her. Really glared at her. That’s what I remember most clearly. The glare.”

“I don’t have to think about it at all. I know what it was. I know exactly the incident that you’re talking about.”

“Yes?”

“Gibbs was saying that at some point she wanted to talk with us about their sex life.”

“Yes, yes, okay,” I agreed. “Maybe that was it. I remembered that, too, that it was something about sex.”

Sort of.

Diane said, “Don’t patronize me. That was it. And what she was about to tell us was that she and Sterling were swingers, or he was a cross-dresser, or something good and juicy like that. For a while I thought it might be bondage, but try as I might, I could never quite see the Dancing Queen in a black leather G-string and a studded bra. The whip? Maybe.”

The mental image that Diane was painting was a little distracting to me. “And you think she wanted to talk about it?” I asked.

“Exactly. Something about their weird little sex life was starting to give her the heebie-jeebies. And Sterling didn’t want her to let the cat out of the bag. He let her know he didn’t want her to talk about it. That’s what the look was about. You can take it to the bank.”

“Come on, Diane. Seriously. Bondage? Cross-dressing?”

She stared me down. The glare was only minimally less effective than Sterling ’s glower at Gibbs had been.

“I am serious. But I told you, I ruled out bondage and S amp;M early on. My vote? I think they were swingers. Probably still are swingers. Gibbs wanted to talk about it with us; Sterling didn’t. I’d guess he was pushing her to try something she didn’t want to do, and he didn’t want our votes counted.”

“Swingers swingers? Like… you know?”

“Yeah, like having sex with other couples on a regular basis. That kind of swingers. Do you know another kind?” She giggled to herself. I assumed it was at the thought that I might possess more esoteric deviant sexual knowledge than she did.

I didn’t admit that I had been actively considering the country-and-western dancing connotations of the word “swinger.”

“Gibbs and Sterling, swingers? How exactly did you come to this conclusion? She never actually said anything about that, did she? Did she say something to you in private? God, you’d think I’d remember if she’d implied they were swingers.”

“I just knew where she was going. You could tell.”

“How come I didn’t know where she was going?”

“What we do? Psychotherapy? People sometimes think we read minds. But what we do is more like seeing in the dark, you know? I knew where Gibbs was going. Sterling knew where she was going. You, sweetheart? You’re such a prude. You don’t like to go places like that. You’re a very good therapist, but where sex is concerned, you can’t see too well in the dark. Honestly, it’s one of the things I love about you.”

“You love that I’m a prude?”

She placed a mug beneath the dripping brew to catch the first, strongest cup of coffee. “I have to pick something to love, don’t I?”

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