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Authors: Joanne Fluke

Cold Judgment

BOOK: Cold Judgment
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When I graduated from college with a degree in psychology, I toyed with the idea of going on for an advanced degree and becoming a therapist. Then I considered the enormous responsibility I would be shouldering for my patients' mental health, and I reconsidered. What if I turned out to be a bad psychologist and I hurt my patients instead of helping them? What if I let my patients become dependent on me and suddenly, I was not there to help them?
This line of questioning led me to make an abrupt turnabout in my career path. I decided that since I now had a plot for a new suspense novel, I would remain a writer for at least as long as it took me to complete the manuscript for
Cold Judgment
Cold Judgment
is a suspense novel featuring a clinical psychiatrist who is diagnosed with a terminal disease. Every one of his patients has a severe and dangerous affliction, but they are living borderline normal lives thanks to his treatment. How will they fare when their therapist is gone? Will they self-destruct, hurting themselves and others in the process?
I never did go on for that advanced degree in psychology. Perhaps that's a good thing. I know that I wouldn't want to be faced with a decision like the one that Dr. Elias was forced to make in
Cold Judgment
Books by Joanne Fluke
Hannah Swensen Mysteries
Suspense Novels
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
He did not look like a dying man. Dr. Theodore Elias made a dispassionate examination. Excellent muscle tone for a male, age fifty-three. Normal pulse, blood pressure in the low-normal range. Hands steady, no sign of tremor. Eyes clear, intelligent, penetrating. A near-perfect specimen of the middle-aged adult male. There was no evidence of physical imperfection, no outward sign of terminal disease. Yet there was no cause to doubt the diagnosis. He had seen the results of the ultrasound and the CT scan. And the exploratory surgery had been conclusive. Within six to eight weeks, this body would die of carcinoma of the pancreas. First the jaundice would appear, then increasing pain and physical weakness. There were drugs to control the pain, but death was inevitable. And when the body was wasted and useless, the mind would continue to function, the fine analytical mind that was the source of his pride. Dr. Theodore Elias would be fully capable of monitoring and cataloging his own demise until the very end.
His steps did not falter as he crossed the tasteful gray carpet and took his customary place behind his large polished desk. He could not afford the luxury of self-pity, not when there were decisions to be made. He had to think of his profession, of his duties to his patients. Something would have to be done with his group immediately.
Dr. Elias's eyebrows met in an impatient frown. This cancer could not have come at a worse time. Progress in his only current group was exasperatingly slow and it was the holiday season, a time when depression deepened and suicidal tendencies became severe. It was a time ripe for crisis. His eight patients, the last of his toughest cases, brought together over the years, were presently under control, but they would need help to get through the holidays.
The files were right where he had placed them after yesterday's session. Dr. Elias lifted the bulky stack and weighed it in his hands. So much paperwork, so much effort, and his patients were still far from the cure he had promised to spend his remaining career trying to achieve. His colleagues called him a miracle worker. A cure rate of 83 percent was more than impressive. But it was no comfort when he knew he'd run out of time with his last eight dangerous patients.
It was possible these patients could maintain their equilibrium for a while, even in this perilous season. Dr. Elias forced himself to look on the bright side. His patients might take months to break down, even longer if he could refer them to the best therapists. But eventually they would crumple. It was only a matter of time. And without the proper help, each of them was capable of violence that could destroy innocent people.
Dr. Elias remembered the late-night discussions of his college days. They were held in cluttered, smoke-filled student apartments, fueled with jugs of cheap red wine and accompanied by loud, idealistic arguments. One in particular came back to him in vivid detail. An animal trainer had spent his whole life training a brilliant but vicious dog that only he could control. When the trainer was told he was dying, he was faced with a decision. He could destroy the animal and annihilate his life's work or he could let the beast live and hope that another trainer could carry on with his project. No profound resolution had been reached that night. Undoubtedly a new group of students was debating the same question with no better results. Theoretical discussions were diverting in college, but real-life decisions were painful to reach. The guidelines set down by his profession were clear. He was obligated to refer his patients to other therapists and hope for the best.
Snow swirled past the office windows high above the city. The white, glittering particles seemed to have a life of their own, whirling gracefully above the city streets. The beauty of a snowflake was brief. Soon it would spiral inevitably downward to the street below, to turn to muddy slush under the wheels of traffic.
Dr. Elias opened his desk drawer and pulled out the list of alternate therapists he had prepared. These were the best psychiatrists in Minneapolis. He had to trust that they were competent to handle his patients. It would be inconceivable for one therapist to take over his entire group. That was a job only he could handle. His patients would be upset, but the group would have to be disbanded. He was forced to refer them individually to eight different therapists.
He would tell them tomorrow and give them the names of their new therapists. Out with the old and in with the new. It was appropriate for the season, but Dr. Elias doubted his patients would appreciate the irony. There would be tears and panic, but he would be firm. Tomorrow would be their last group meeting, and the last time they would see him alive.
He opened the first folder and read the neatly typed synopsis he had stapled inside.
Kay Atchinson, age forty-two, wife of Charles Atchinson, mayor of Minneapolis. Diagnosis: paranoid schizophrenia
A photo was clipped to the sheet of medical background. Kay was a pretty black woman dressed in an expensive, well-cut suit, hair carefully styled. Everything about Kay was careful, from her fashionable but not pretentious home on Lake Harriet to her studious, well-mannered children. In the fall of 1980 Kay had been under a lot of pressure, caught between a conservative political party and the radical black caucus. Charles had made public his plans to run for the Senate, and both Kay and Charles had anticipated the governor's endorsement. It had been a shock when the governor had backed out at the last minute. The time wasn't right, he'd stated. It would split the party. The governor was sorry, but he felt obligated to endorse a white candidate.
The night of the announcement Kay had put a gun in her purse. She'd planned to assassinate the governor. He was a racist, just as the black caucus claimed. Luckily Kay had been intercepted by Charles, who'd managed to keep the news from the press. After his wife had had two months of unsuccessful therapy in another state, Charles had called in Dr. Elias. Now, after over four years of therapy, Kay was functioning well as the mayor's wife. Dr. Elias had successfully sublimated her hostility, but if the defense mechanism failed, Kay could be dangerous.
Dr. Elias selected a therapist for Kay and wrote a referral. The new psychiatrist might help Kay maintain a cloak of normalcy. Of course, no one but Dr. Elias could cure her.
The next folder was thicker. It contained years of notes.
Greg Davenport, age twenty-three. Single. Diagnosis: pyromania.
Greg had not smiled for the camera. His elbow was propped on a table and his chin rested on his hand. A handsome young man with dark, intense eyes. Greg had the world by the tail, as far as anyone knew. His inheritance was considerable, and now Greg was making a name for himself as a songwriter. No one knew much about Greg's childhood, no one but Dr. Elias. And certainly no one but Dr. Elias knew that Greg had set the fire that had killed his father.
Dr. Elias remembered the day, eleven years ago, when the trustees of the Davenport estate had called him in to examine Greg. The boy had been twelve years old, his slight frame making a barely discernible bulge under the maroon hospital blankets. His face had been pale, eyes turned inward, seeming not to notice Dr. Elias at all as he'd conducted the examination. Greg had been catatonic, unable to move or speak. He'd been like that since the night his father had died.
After long months of treatment, Greg had finally broken his silence with a tortured confession. He had set the fire in a desperate bid for attention. He'd been lonely after his mother's death, and his father had been more interested in women and wild parties than he'd been in Greg. The boy hadn't realized the small fire would spread so quickly, and he'd been horrified at what he had done.
As Greg's therapy had progressed, Dr. Elias had discovered he was dealing with a classic pyromaniac. Fire excited Greg. It made him feel powerful and compensated for his low self-esteem. Now, after eleven years of therapy, Greg's pyromania was under control. Dr. Elias had taught him socially acceptable ways to satisfy his need for power. But Greg was not cured. Under stress Greg could revert to setting fires that could kill anyone caught in their path.
Greg needed good maintenance therapy. Dr. Elias consulted his list and finally settled on a compassionate young doctor with the University Medical Facility. Now two of his patients were referred. Dr. Elias picked up the third folder and massaged the back of his neck as he read his notes.
Debra Fields, age thirty, widow of Steve Fields, newspaper correspondent. Diagnosis: postpartum depression, complicated by severe melancholia leading to a psychotic episode of kidnapping.
Debra faced the camera squarely, her classic features perfectly balanced. She was a beautiful woman who took pains to appear ordinary. Her short brown hair was cut in a no-nonsense style, large green eyes hidden behind tortoiseshell glasses. Her blouse was severely tailored, without lace or frills. Debra's femininity was masked by an aloof, professional exterior, but Dr. Elias knew it was fear that made her appear cold and unapproachable.
Four years ago, when he had first met her, Debra had been in restraints, screaming for her baby. She had totally lost contact with reality. The shock of her husband's death on assignment in El Salvador had sent Debra into premature labor. The baby had survived for a month, but then died suddenly in the night. Driven frantic by her grief, Debra had kidnapped another baby from the hospital nursery and fled in a cab to the airport. When the authorities had found her, she'd insisted she was taking her baby to her husband in El Salvador. The infant Debra had abducted was unharmed and the parents did not press charges. After Debra had received several weeks of unsuccessful therapy at the hospital, Dr. Elias had been called in by her employer, the
Minneapolis Tribune
. Since Debra's husband had been on assignment for the
when he was killed, and because of her own employment by the
, the newspaper had assumed the responsibility for her medical bills.
It had taken six months of intensive therapy to bring Debra back to her empty reality. After a year she'd been able to return to her work as a photojournalist. Dr. Elias used a process of substitution in Debra's therapy. A doll took the place of her baby; whenever Debra felt anxious, she rocked and cuddled her placebo. Even though Debra was performing well at work, her personal life was a void. She was afraid of social contact, afraid to get involved with anyone on a personal level. Unless she continued her therapy, Debra's depression could deepen and trigger another psychotic episode.
The list of therapists that had seemed so inexhaustible held only one option for Debra. The Psychiatric Institute had a pilot program for parents who had lost their children. Dr. Elias wrote the referral and moved to the next file.
The next case was critical. Dr. Elias read over his notes and frowned.
Doug Sandall, age thirty-six, wife and children deceased. Diagnosis: suicidal depression
Doug's sandy hair and clear blue eyes gave him a boyish appearance. To his coworkers at MilStar, he appeared to be a conscientious pilot, never complaining about long back-to-back flights. Only Dr. Elias knew the fear and the compulsion that rode with Doug, thousands of feet above the ground. Six years ago Doug had flown his wife and small daughter to Detroit, to visit relatives. The plane had crashed in a sudden storm, killing Doug's family. Doug's friends said it was a miracle he wasn't injured, but Doug thought it was a curse. He still relived the accident in his dreams, agonizing over whether there was some way he could have avoided the tragedy. He had killed his family and he should have died with them.
Flying was Doug's life, and after a month of intensive therapy, Dr. Elias decided it was safe to let him return to work. Now Doug had five years seniority at MilStar Corporation and a reputation as a dependable, dedicated pilot. Only Dr. Elias knew that Doug needed continual therapy to keep his suicidal tendencies under control.
The Swiss clock on the bookshelf chimed the hour softly as Dr. Elias completed Doug's file. He pushed back his leather chair and got stiffly to his feet. There was a dull pain in his abdomen, which he decided to ignore. If he took the powerful analgesic now, he would not be alert enough to finish his referrals.
With slow, careful steps, Dr. Elias crossed to the window. The pain diminished a bit as he stood looking out at the city. From his penthouse apartment, he had a view of the entire downtown area. Lights gleamed from the offices in the Foshay Tower and the surrounding buildings. The copper dome of the Basilica of St. Mary stood stark and solid against the darkening sky. A plane flew high above the skyline in the wide flight pattern that would take it to Wold-Chamberlain Airport, midway between Minneapolis and St. Paul. And far off in the distance he could see the strings of headlights on the freeways that encircled the Twin Cities. It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and traffic was heavy. People were leaving work early to avoid the rush. The grocery stores would be packed tonight. Turkeys and cranberries would be in short supply. Tomorrow was the traditional day of celebration and feasting, and on Friday the downtown area would be crowded with Christmas shoppers. The Friday after Thanksgiving was the heaviest shopping day of the year.
Softly falling snow covered the grimy streets with a frozen blanket of white, and the traffic slowed on Marquette Avenue below. The double glass window was cold to the touch as Dr. Elias watched in the gathering gloom. The temperature would be in the low twenties tonight. In a few weeks the mercury would drop to the below-zero figures hardy Minnesotans had learned to endure. This was the last winter he would see. Suddenly the icy streets with their early Christmas decorations seemed oddly dear to him.
This year Christmas fell on a Tuesday. A bitter smile crossed Dr. Elias's face. Celebrating a holiday on a weekday had always made him feel vaguely guilty. The week was for working, and Christmas was an excuse for a lot of commercial nonsense. This year he was spared his guilt. His work was nearly over. By Christmas his patients would be resigned to life without him.
Two men in parkas and moon boots were putting the finishing touches on the strings of lights that decorated the roof of the Northwestern National Bank Building. Cables of bulbs were anchored to a huge circle on the roof and met at the top of a pole, thirty feet high. Dr. Elias saw the workmen step back and signal to someone below. A moment later there was a blaze of multicolor brilliance as the switch was thrown and a mammoth Christmas tree appeared against the night sky.
This would be his last Christmas, if he lived long enough to see it. The holiday was less than five weeks away. Chef Leon Lossing of the Orion Room was preparing a special holiday dinner for him, and Dr. Elias had been looking forward to it. Wild rice soup, lobster and sweetbreads with raspberry sauce, and black velvet torte for dessert. Dr. Elias smiled in anticipation.
It was convenient to have a fine restaurant in the same building. Every evening, at precisely five thirty, Jacques delivered and served his meal. Wednesday's menu was rack of lamb boulangère. Dr. Elias reminded himself to open a bottle of Château Margaux 1974 to complement the lamb.
Jacques had the perfect blend of deference and efficiency that Dr. Elias expected in a waiter. He would prepare Jacques's envelope with his yearly gratuity in advance this year, just in case.
On his way back to the desk, Dr. Elias turned on his favorite music. Gustav Mahler's Ninth Symphony would help him to concentrate. Mahler understood his anguish. He was a kindred soul. Mahler, too, knew torture and disappointment in his search for excellence.
There were four folders left. Dr. Elias flipped open the top file and stared at the photograph. The man's face was tanned and healthy—brown eyes, hair thinning slightly on top. His most striking characteristic was a wide smile that displayed a full set of perfect white teeth.
Jerry Feldman, age forty-four, married, no children. Diagnosis: sexual aberration—child molester.
Jerry was a successful dentist specializing in cosmetic reconstruction. He claimed that he had worked on every one of the city's leading newscasters. It was an in-joke. All the dentists in town knew they could switch to any channel to see Jerry's handiwork.
His wife, Dotty, was a typical midwestern woman, warm-hearted and eager for a house full of children. Jerry hadn't told her about his vasectomy. And Dotty knew nothing about Jerry's darker secret.
Jerry's trouble had started early in his marriage. In 1979, he'd come to Dr. Elias after he'd nearly raped a ten-year-old girl. After six years of therapy, Jerry still was not cured, but he had learned to avoid situations that put him into contact with young girls.
In two weeks, Jerry would face a crisis. His ten-year-old niece, Betsy, was coming to stay with him over the Christmas holidays. Dr. Elias knew he had to find a good therapist to help Jerry deal with his niece. Without help, Betsy could be in real danger from her uncle.
The light in the room was fading rapidly. Dr. Elias switched on the Tiffany desk lamp and wrote a short letter of referral for Jerry. The golden circle of light illuminated the next file as he opened it, hitting the photograph like a spotlight. It was appropriate. Nora Stanford was an actress.
Nora Stanford, age thirty-six (actually forty-six), single. Diagnosis: thanatophobia leading to episodes of psychotic aggression.
BOOK: Cold Judgment
5.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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