Authors: Robert Ward
Cattle Annie and Little Britches
The Cactus Garden
The King of Cards
a division of F+W Media, Inc.
FOR JEFFREY AND GAYLE LEWIS
Thanks to John Lansing; Sascha Blair; Gwenda Blair; John Manciewicz; Dan Pyne; the late Bill Sackheim; Jo Anne Sackheim; the wonderful artist Susan Hall; Baltimore Police Detective Matt Bauler; my best pals in Baltimore, Jed and Julia Dietz; Mary Jo Gordon; Detective Nick Giangrosso; Dr. Larry Horowitz; Chuck Lorre; Lee Lankford; Dr. Bob Huizenga; Mike and Toni Andreen; Bob Asahina and his wife, Linda Ashour; Pat McGuire; Nina Marino; Rick Kaplan; David Milch; Lukas Ortiz; Gary Phillips; Michael Schur; Susan Steiner; Wendy Martin; Dr. Jeff Schwartz; Lenny Levitski; Brent Staples; Jeff Weber; and Robert Wallace. Special thanks to my wife, Celeste Wesson, who read every draft; my son, Robbie, who I kicked around the ending with time and time again; Dr. Brent Walta; R. D. Laing; Sol Yurick, who introduced me to radical psychotherapy many years ago; and the great Michael Connelly, who read the book and got it to my brilliant and charming agent, Philip Spitzer. Phil, in turn, sent the book to the right man, Michael Homier, at St. Martin’s, who is not only a terrific editor but now a good friend. Love to all of you.
Even after three vodkas and an Ambien, it had taken Bob Wells two hours to fall asleep. Now he lay in his bed dreaming that he was running through a maze of dark city streets, while sharp little stilettos of ice stuck in his chest. Somewhere ahead of him in the gathering dark, a voice screamed, “Terrorists. Terrorists … they’re coming! The terrorists!” He knew that panicky voice so well, knew it nearly as well as he knew his own. He turned a dream corner and saw the screamer lying there, near a battered old phone booth, his sore-covered head hanging in the gutter.
Bob Wells woke up with a start. There it was again. The panic dream of ice rain. A lethal injection that fell from the night sky, accompanied by a high-pitched scream, the same scream he could hear for real now, somewhere out there on the wet city streets.
He got out of bed, went to his bedroom window, and with some effort pushed it open. The cold wind and sleet blew in from the harbor. Bob stuck his head out into the night and looked down the far end of Aliceanna Street. The homeless guy was there, just as he’d been the night before, the guy everybody called 911, lying in the gutter, right next to the battered and windowless telephone booth. Loaded on rotgut and crack, he held his wine bottle in the air and screamed: “Here they come! The terrorists! They’re in the air! They’re here! Terrorists! Terrorists!”
Bob listened to 911 rave, his hysterical voice cutting through his rapidly beating heart. Finally, he shut the window, sighed, took off his sweat-soaked pajama top, quickly threw on his old wool crewneck sweater, and reached for his black Levi’s.
Bob buttoned his old navy pea jacket against the sleet as he headed down the slippery street. He was ten feet away when the terrified, wide-eyed, filthy man looked up at him.
“I know you,” he said. “The fucking terrorist.”
“Nah, Nine,” Bob said. “No terrorists, man. It’s just me. Bob.”
The drunken, panicked wreck looked at him through rheumy eyes.
“Dr. Bobby?” he said. “Dr. Bobby, that you?”
“Yeah,” Bob said. “That’s me. What’s up, Nine?”
“They’re coming,” 911 whispered. “They’re coming. I heard it from my people.”
“Right,” Bob said. “So, if they
coming, maybe the smart thing to do would be to get off the street?”
911 bit his scabby lower lip and looked at Bob in a cagey way.
“So you might think,” he said. “But then again, maybe that’s exactly what they want me to do. After I get to the shelter, boom, the death strike hits there.”
“I don’t think so,” Bob said, moving even closer. “You know why?”
“ ‘Cause I talked to your people just a few minutes ago and they told me that tonight is just a street action. Anybody in the shelter is safe, Nine. Okay?”
911 looked frantically around like a frightened gerbil.
“Also it’s cold and wet out here,” Bob said, looking up at the sky. “You could get real sick and then you’d be playing right into their hands.”
From beneath the street grime, 911 assumed a thoughtful stare.
“You’re right,” he said. “They would just love that, bro.”
“Of course they would,” Bob said. “Hey, the thing is, I gotta go to St. Mary’s shelter right down on Broadway, so maybe you’d like to keep me company, huh?”
“Like riding shotgun on the stagecoach to Dodge,” 911 said.
“Just like that,” Bob said.
“Maybe we should go now, before they come,” 911 said. Like he’d just thought of it. Like
was taking care of Bob.
“Let’s do it,” Bob said.
As 911 tried to unfold his bones from the street, Bob gently took his arm, a mistake he wouldn’t have made earlier in the night, when he was less wasted.
911 pulled away quickly and kicked Bob squarely in the balls. Stunned, Bob went down on his knees, groaning and holding his crotch, as the homeless man scuttled away.
“Oh no, man. You can’t fool me,” 911 screamed. “You almost had me, dude, but I saw through you! You fucking terrorist son of a bitch!”
Bob fell over on his side as the pain shot through his stomach and lodged somewhere near his Adam’s apple. He lay there and it occurred to him, for maybe the hundredth time that day, that he seriously needed out of this shit. Up, up, and away, like forever, for good. No more, baby. No more friend of the friendless. No more poor folks. No more 911s.
As the burning pain subsided, Bob Wells entertained a small, almost funny thought. If any of his neighbors looked out their windows just now, they’d see
there and think, Look at the poor, homeless son of a bitch out in
And they’d be right, Bob thought, dead right. Because this was it. This was his life. The grand and once near-glorious Bob Wells was lying in the street after being kicked in the balls by a madman. Not only that, but the madman was one of his own patients, a wretch he’d helped get off the streets time and time again.
Cold winter sleet raining down on his face, Bob began to laugh. It was perfect really, just fucking perfect. Slowly and with great delicacy, Bob picked himself up and limped up the dark wet street toward home.
During this period, the last “normal” phase of his career, Bob’s life had taken on a ghoulish regularity. When he was done with the last patient of the day in his dying psychology practice, he’d come up from his knotty pine basement office, make sure his little row house was locked (he’d been robbed five times in the last two years), and trudge on down the street to American Joe’s bar. Here he would meet his old pal, the semiretired labor reporter Dave McClane for happy hour and the two old cronies would belt back their well drinks. Dave drank something foul called Misty Isle scotch and Bob Popov vodka, which tasted, he suspected, not unlike Sterno. Despite their vows to “tone the drinking down,” and get into a “health bag for the new year,” more often than not one drink would turn into two and two into four. By six o’ clock, they would both be whacked and as the darkness settled like blue ink over downtown Baltimore, the boozy glow of the afternoon would shade into a sour feeling of discontent. The approaching night held little excitement for two middle-aged, divorced men and that lack of promise often lurched Bob Wells into a tailspin of melancholy.
“Twenty-two years of marriage to Meredith and it’s all she wrote,” he said to Dave, as he rocked back on his heels, standing at the bar. “I spend all my time assessing other people, watching them, learning about them so they can deal with their hang-ups and yet I never saw it coming.”
Big Dave McClane shook his head and grabbed a handful of Spanish peanuts from the plastic dish that Gus Smetana, the bartender and proprietor, had just set in front of them.
“But that’s the way, huh, Bobby?” Dave said. “Isn’t the husband always the last one to know?”
“I guess so,” Bob said, slightly irritated that Dave answered his own lame self-pity with an even lamer cliché.
“Of course, Darlene left me, too,” Dave said, snapping up another handful of the foul peanuts. “But that was a long time ago. And it wasn’t for somebody else.”
“Thanks for reminding me, bud,” Bob said bitterly.
Dave looked a little hurt.
“Come on, Bobby,” he said. “You know I didn’t mean it that way. Personally, I can’t understand why she would ever leave you for Rudy fucking Runyon. The guy’s a total asshole.”
“Yeah, but a
asshole,” Bob said. “Saw the happy couple just the other day.”
“Where?” Dave said, running his big hand through his graying and disheveled hair.
“Over at Hopkins Hospital,” Bob said. “They had a seminar on bipolar disorder. Just as I’m about to go inside, I see this huge black limo drive up. Man, it’s about a hundred feet long. The driver parks and opens the back door and out pops Dr. Rudy and the lovely Meredith.”
“Brought the limo, huh? Heard his publisher pays for it,” Dave said.
“ ‘Ask Dr. Rudy,’ “ Bob said, in a voice that mimicked the announcer’s on Rudy’s nationally syndicated radio show.
“‘Whether it’s love or loss, Dr. Rudy has the answers,’“ Dave said. “Gotta hand it to him, though, the guy’s done all right for himself.”
Smetana came over and showed off his gleaming new dentures.
“Hey, lads,” he said. “Hate to break up this high-toned conversation, but it’s last call for happy hour.”
“And what a happy hour it’s been,” Dave said. “You want a last drink, Bobby?”
“Why the hell not?” Bob said, smiling with what he hoped would look like his devil-may-care grin.
“The thing is,” Dave said, “you gotta be a personality. You could write a book, Bobby, all you been through. The activist shrink, man.”
Bob laughed, as he picked up his vodka and ice.
“Yeah, that would sell maybe ten copies.”
“Whatever,” Dave said. “You’re still a hero to me, Bob-a-ril,” Dave said, putting his big arm around Bob’s shoulders. “All you done for people down here. You stuck with your youthful dreams, baby, helping the people who needed it most, and that means a hell of a lot. You never sold out, and not too many guys can say that.”