Authors: Alan Jacobson
Still, as he walked down the street to the doctor’s office, he could not get past the feeling that the therapy sessions were going to be a waste of time. Before leaving the house, Uzi called his office and asked Madeline, his secretary, to get him the lowdown on the shrink. His cell rang as he approached the front entrance of the building, an upscale ten-story office and residential mixed-use facility with a curved façade and open balconies to M Street below.
Madeline reported that Leonard Rudnick was short on stature but long on experience. He had worked as a consulting psychologist for the Bureau for seventeen years, and though in semi-retirement, his practice now consisted primarily of agents and support personnel.
“Oh, and one more thing,” Madeline told him. “There’s a special entrance for Bureau employees. A nondescript taupe door. You go in one door and leave a totally different way. For confidentiality.”
“That’s what I was told.”
“You think I can still cancel?”
“Uzi...” she whined.
“Okay, okay, I’m going.”
He hung up as he approached the elevator. Once again he had thoughts of ditching the appointment altogether. He did not like talking about himself or his feelings— two obstacles to successful therapy, based on what little he knew of the practice of psychology.
Uzi exited the elevator, then pushed through the door Madeline had mentioned. He took a seat in the small, cherry-paneled waiting area. His eyes wandered and his knee bounced. There weren’t many things that made him nervous, but facing someone to whom he was supposed to bare his soul was clearly one of them. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a cellophane wrapped toothpick, and shoved the mint-flavored wood in his mouth.
A moment later, Leonard Rudnick emerged from his office, a smile broadening his thin face. As Madeline had said, Rudnick was short. By Uzi’s estimate, five-foot-two. With shoes on.
Rudnick took Uzi’s hand and shook it vigorously. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Leonard Rudnick. You’re Mark Klecko—the plumber, right?”
Uzi eyed him suspiciously. “No, I’m— Wait, you’re kidding, aren’t you?”
Rudnick clapped him on the back and led him into the room. “Of course I’m kidding. An experienced psychologist never guesses at his patient’s identity. I know you’re Mark Klecko.” Rudnick peered over his quarter reading glasses. “Sit, make yourself comfortable, Agent Uziel. I was just pulling your leg.”
Uzi settled himself into a firm upholstered chair opposite the seat Rudnick claimed. “Please—call me Uzi.”
“Do you happen to know my son Wayne, at the Behavioral Sciences Unit?” Rudnick asked as he crossed his legs.
“Haven’t had the pleasure.”
“Different world, I guess. Wayne’s buried down in the bowels of the Academy, studying serial killers and other such upstanding citizens.” He slapped his thigh. “So—Uzi—let’s talk about why you’re here.”
“Because my boss said I had to come.”
Rudnick smiled. “I see you can make jokes, too.”
“I’m not joking.”
The grin faded from Rudnick’s face. “I see. Well, we’ve got some work to do, then.”
“That’s what my boss said.”
The doctor’s eyes brightened. “I like a patient with a sense of humor. Now, tell me, Uzi, how do you feel about your boss ordering you to come here?”
“Look, doc, I’m not into this touchy-feely, get-in-touch-with-your-emotions bullshit. I’m not that kind of guy, okay? I don’t like to talk about how I feel. Sometimes I don’t even like to think about how I feel.”
Rudnick nodded, but did not say anything. When Uzi’s gaze began to wander around the office, the doctor said, “Go on.”
“Go on with what?”
“Why do you think you don’t like to talk about yourself?”
Uzi shrugged. “I don’t know. I just don’t.”
Rudnick nestled his chin in the palm of his left hand, his elbow resting on the arm of the chair. “Think about it a moment, okay? Think about why you don’t like to talk about yourself.”
Uzi began bouncing his knee. Rudnick’s gaze dropped to Uzi’s fidgeting leg, then came to rest on his patient’s eyes. “Extra energy,” Uzi said. “Used to drive my wife crazy.”
“Oh, so you’re married?”
Uzi looked away. “Yes.”
“But the information I received said—”
“She’s dead. I’m widowed.”
“I see.” Rudnick waited for elaboration. Uzi did not provide any. “So your wife, did she die of health-related causes, or was it an accident?”
Uzi stopped bouncing his knee. He did not want to get into this. “Neither. But if you don’t mind, doc, I’d rather not talk about it.”
“That’s annoying, you know that?”
“The way you kind of look at me and say ‘I see.’ You don’t see anything. With all due respect, this is a complete waste of time. I don’t know why I agreed to come.” Uzi stood and turned toward the door.
“I believe your boss said you had to.” Rudnick’s voice was measured, matter-of-fact.
Uzi, facing the door with his back to Rudnick, sighed deeply. He put his hands on his hips. “I’m in the middle of an important investigation, so my time is a bit limited right now, Doctor.” He hesitated, then said what was on his mind. “Besides, I disagree with my boss’s assessment.”
“Well, since you have your orders, and I have mine, and they both involve talking to each other, I suggest we do what we’re supposed to do.”
Uzi turned to face the doctor. “How often do we have to meet?”
“Four times this week, then three times a week.”
“No offense, Doc, but I don’t have time for that. I’m running the Marine Two investigation.”
“Then you have a lot of people working for you. A little time here and there won’t hurt. I’m sure Mr. Shepard wouldn’t have...suggested you see me unless you really needed it. And I’m sure you could afford a little time out of your schedule. But how about this. Let’s strike a balance—take it one session at a time and see how we progress. Fair enough?”
“How am I doing so far?”
A smile crept across Rudnick’s lips. It seemed to round his entire face. “That depends. Do you like the truth, or do you want sugar-coated opinions?”
“I don’t like bullshit, if that’s what you mean.”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” Rudnick said. “So here’s the straight scoop, Uzi. You’ve got some serious issues and your boss sent you here to explore them. I don’t have to tell you how you’re doing because you already know. What would help is if you’d realize that I’m not here to hurt you, but rather to help you. You tell me something, it stays with me. No one will ever know what we’ve talked about.
“I think you’ll find that once we pop the lid and start examining what’s bothering you, you’ll feel better—relieved, even. But you have to work with me, help me get to the roots buried beneath the surface. Can you help me do that?”
Uzi turned back to the door. “I’m not sure.” He placed a hand on the knob. “When do I need to be back?”
“Tomorrow. Same time, before your workday starts. Again, balance is important. I don’t want to take you away from your case.”
As far as that goes, we’re on the same page.
The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, known as the WRNMMC—because it wouldn’t qualify as an official military institution without a government-mandated acronym—dated back to the War of 1812. At the time, the facility occupied a rented building adjacent to the Washington Navy Yard. During the next century, its name and location underwent numerous changes until it found a permanent home in 1938 on a 250-acre cabbage farm in Bethesda that would become, four decades later, one of the ten largest medical centers in the country.
The private ICU room was guarded round the clock by a bevy of Secret Service personnel. Doctors and nurses wore photo ID and had their thumbprints scanned each time they entered the room—or they weren’t allowed in. Extraordinary measures, even for the military hospital, but after one nearly successful attempt on the president-elect’s life, the Secret Service vowed it would also be the last.
Forty-nine-year-old Vance Nunn, slim without ever having seen the inside of a health club, sporting a thinning head of gray hair and facial jowls of a man ten years his senior, waited for the fingerprint identification system to, literally, give the green light. He pulled his surgical mask down, then tapped his foot impatiently, glancing to his left at the Secret Service agent assigned to him.
“Dick, this is ridiculous. Can’t you just tell them who I am?”
“Sorry sir. Must be a glitch in the program. I’ll make sure it’s repaired so you don’t have to go through this again next time.”
Nunn took that as his answer. Of course Dick couldn’t bypass procedures. After what had happened, everyone’s actions were being examined with renewed scrutiny. It was post-9/11 hysteria all over again. Though Secret Service agents routinely followed procedure to the letter, the slightest transgression during a time of heightened domestic threat could result in reassignment to the contingent guarding foreign nationals. Nunn would not ask Dick to jeopardize his job.
Nunn and Glendon Rusch had come up through the ranks together, first as senators in neighboring Virginia and Maryland, then as governors of their respective states. As freshmen lawmakers, they had promised each other during a late-night drinking binge at Nunn’s brownstone in Georgetown that if one of them ever ran for president, the other would be his running mate. Regardless of the political climate at the time, or who owed what favors to whom, they would somehow make their arrangement work. At least, that was the plan. But Nunn, of all people, knew that plans didn’t always take root the way you thought or hoped they would.
Quentin Larchmont, another of their longtime political allies and Rusch’s ever-present advisor, also figured into the equation—though in a subservient, or supportive, role, which played to his trusted friend’s strengths. Larchmont, who long ago had ambitions of his own, seemed content to ride their coattails, though Nunn figured there had to be some resentment buried deep within. No matter. Both Nunn and Larchmont were good soldiers and, until recently, things had gone as they had always figured they would.
A noise down the hall caught Nunn’s attention. A doctor wearing a large red ID tag entered the corridor. Nunn motioned for Dick to wait where he was, then moved to meet the doctor. He extended a hand and said, “Vance Nunn.”
“Josh Farber. For what it’s worth, congratulations on your victory, Mr. Nunn.”
Nunn gave an obligatory nod. “Dr. Farber,” he said, glancing around the corridor, “can I have a word with you?”
The doctor motioned to an empty room off the hall. As soon as they entered, Farber tilted his head in inquiry.
Nunn shifted the surgical gown he was instructed to wear and said, “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, Doctor, but I need to know how bad the vice president’s condition is.” He cleared his throat. “Specifically, whether or not he’s going to survive.”
Farber lifted an eyebrow. “Mr. Nunn, you have to understand that I can’t discuss the vice president’s medical status with you. Doctor-patient confidentiality—”
“I understand that under normal circumstances, your patient’s condition is something you hold in the strictest confidence. But this situation is anything but normal. If he’s not going to make it, I need to know as soon as possible. There isn’t a lot of time before the new administration takes over, and a lot has to be done between now and then—not least of which is putting together a cabinet. If the president-elect is going to survive, there’ll be one set of people chosen. If not, I’m going to bring in my own people. Glen is a dear friend. Believe me, I’m not trying to pry into his private life or do anything to harm him. But I’ve got the welfare of three hundred million Americans to worry about.”
Farber sighed, then glanced around the darkened room. “Mr. Nunn, you’ve put me in a very difficult spot.”
“Why don’t you go ask him? He’ll tell you it’s okay to brief me on his condition.”
Farber nodded slowly. “Please give me a moment.”
The doctor disappeared into the hallway, and returned a few moments later. He set down his clipboard and leaned back against the wall, hands shoved into the deep pockets of his white coat. “Despite being in a crash-worthy seat, the vice president’s got a fractured right hand and two fractured legs. Left tibia and the right tibia and fibula. But they’re uncomplicated fractures and broken bones heal extremely well, so by comparison that’s of little concern.
“He’s got mostly first- and second-degree burns, which is the good news. The bad news is he’s also got some nasty third-degree burns as well. Full thickness burns, open and weeping.”
Nunn recoiled a bit at the image.
“The skin is the body’s largest organ,” Farber continued. “Normally, it sheds fluid all day to help maintain the body’s temperature. When the skin is burned, it’s even worse. The patient loses a great deal of fluid and sometimes we can’t replace it fast enough. Other times finding the right fluid balance is tricky. We’ve infused the vice president with electrolytes and are watching him for infection.”
Nunn rubbed at his chin. “Okay.”
“I don’t have to tell you his facial burns are going to be disfiguring. Fortunately, I think we’ll be able to manage these fairly well with plastics. The idea is to make him look as normal as possible. We’ve already taken steps. The best surgeon in the country is en route from Los Angeles. Per his orders, we’ve excised small pieces of skin from other parts of the vice president’s body and have them growing in tissue cultures. When they’re ready, they’ll be used for covering the wounds on his face. I won’t lie to you, Mr. Nunn. This will be a long process. Rehab alone could last six months, if not more.”
Nunn bowed his head. “Jesus.”
“In the acute phase, we’ll be debriding his wounds. Once the wounds are appropriately covered, we’ve got contractures to worry about, particularly where the injured skin crosses joints. Fortunately, there’s very little joint involvement. If you’re going to burn your hands, the best place to do it is on the palmar surface. If the backs of his hands had been burned, even gripping a pen would cause major pain—and take a year of therapy to accomplish.”