At nine in the morning and not a moment earlier, Gordon Pope walked through the doors of the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse and slowly shuffled through security. He nodded at Harold, the security guard, who watched benignly from behind a scuffed wall of bulletproof plastic as Gordon removed his watch and walked through the metal detector. He beeped, as always. The attendant wanded him, as always, and homed in on the tarnished brass belt buckle holding up his pair of ill-fitting khakis before waving him through. He’d taken his belt off every visit for months before realizing it saved him no time and just made for an awkward re-dressing. He’d lost weight since the divorce, and his pants were hanging on to his hips for dear life.
Harold pointed at the pass-through basin.
Gordon slid in his ID. “‘Morning, Harold.”
Harold grunted and checked his ID without seeming to see it. He noted the time and nodded him through.
One day, Gordon was going to get Harold to say something. After that, maybe he could get him to smile. That was a small microgoal of the type that Gordon often counseled his patients suffering from depression or signs of depression to set and strive toward in their daily lives. And recently he’d set it for himself.
No smile that day. Maybe next time.
Gordon weaved his way down the tracked marble floors and around harried government workers, following a path he knew by heart toward a bench by the vending machine on the second floor, where the criminal division was located. He sat heavily next to a large woman parked in a scooter, evidently asleep. He eyed the Moon Pies behind the glass for a solid minute before deciding against one. He pulled out his prep papers from a scuffed leather carryall, shuffled through them again, checked his watch. The woman beside him snored loudly once, startling him.
His session was starting in ten minutes. Where the hell was Brighton? He needed that three hundred bucks—knocked down from three fifty because Brighton was generally an asshole and knew Gordon was hard up.
Five minutes from his appearance time, Gordon heard a rapid clacking sound and stood as Brighton slid around the corner on his leather soles.
He held up his phone toward Gordon. “No service around here. I thought I told you. We’re on the third floor today. Time to run.” He smoothed his hair back then took off toward the stairway without looking back.
Gordon followed along at an awkward lope, holding up his pants with one hand in the pocket. “Third floor? We’ve never been to the third floor.”
“You haven’t. I have. Many times.” Brighton fastened his double-breasted jacket and slowed to a power walk. He steadied his breathing as they climbed the stairs.
“What’s on the third floor?”
“Don’t worry about it. You just answer the questions exactly as the prep says. Nothing has changed.”
Brighton didn’t believe in going into detail with his expert witnesses about the cases in which they were to testify. He thought it muddied the waters. Expert witnesses were there to establish an objective point about which they knew an extensive amount and which had a bearing on the case. They didn’t need to know what that bearing was. Quick, easy, clean. That was how Brighton & Associates had become the premier law firm for psychiatric defense. He paid three hundred a testimony. Three fifty if Gordon had stuck to his guns.
Brighton stopped outside of a door labeled Courtroom 7. He held out a hand to still Gordon, who was panting like a dog.
“We’re at recess for another”—he looked at his gold watch—“three minutes. Sit in the back. Wait until you’re called. You know the drill.”
Gordon nodded, an unasked question on his lips, but Brighton patted him encouragingly on the shoulder and threw open the doors. Gordon followed and sat in the back as Brighton walked with a confidence just short of swagger to his place beside the defendant, who was a child. A boy, perhaps twelve years old. Gordon blinked.
“That son of a bitch,” Gordon muttered. Brighton knew that Gordon had stopped practicing child psychiatry after the divorce. Gordon had explicitly told him he would not testify in cases involving children. That part of his life was behind him. Thomas Brighton apparently had not listened or, more likely, didn’t care.
Gordon started sweating. Too late to back out now. He shuffled through his prep notes again. He skimmed the leading questions and reread his answers. Everything still rang true, from a professional standpoint, regardless of whether the defendant was an adult or a kid. But already his throat was dry. His mind jumped from memory to memory of how his life had been back then, with Karen, before this. His stomach rumbled with the vague nausea of loss. That was what kids did to him nowadays. He plucked his eyeglasses from his face and gave them a wipe down with the sleeve of his jacket. He could do this. He’d diagnosed a thousand kids before the divorce. The only thing that had changed since then was... well, everything.
“The defense calls Dr. Gordon James Pope.”
Gordon stood and made his way to the stand, which was little more than a plastic chair behind a low wooden shelf. A glass of water gleamed there next to a microphone, turned off and pushed aside. Gordon counted only nine other people in the courtroom, and all but three sat on the side of the prosecution.
Gordon made himself look forward, and only after he’d been sworn in and turned to sit down did he chance an extended glance at the defendant. The boy was lanky, swimming in what was most likely a borrowed suit, hunched over and staring down at the table in front of him. He had dark-auburn hair that fell unkempt and moppish about his face. He didn’t look up when Gordon was announced, didn’t even move. He was flanked on either side by who Gordon assumed were his parents, a lean, red-haired man who was practically straining with the effort to appear composed and a fidgety blond woman with spooked eyes who looked about ready to bolt.
The boy seemed the calmest of any of them, on the surface, but Gordon knew better. That was a look of shock. Gordon doubted the boy would even be able to place himself on that day if asked a year or so down the line.
Thomas Brighton leisurely stood and smiled at Gordon as if he’d known him for years, then he approached the bench. He stopped and rested one hand lightly upon the worn wooden balustrade.
“Dr. Pope, would you please state your name and profession for the court.”
Gordon cleared his throat and leaned forward as if the microphone were on. “Gordon James Pope, Doctor of Psychiatry from Johns Hopkins University, licensed and practicing psychiatrist with Jefferson and Pope, LP,” Gordon said without skipping a beat.
“And how long have you been practicing psychiatry on behalf of Jefferson and Pope?”
“Currently, you specialize in adult psychiatry, but when your firm first made a name for itself, what type of psychiatry were you practicing?”
That was off the script. Gordon clenched his teeth for the briefest moment before answering.
“Child psychiatry,” Gordon said.
“So you have practiced both adult and child psychiatry extensively, for the record?”
Brighton nodded. “Dr. Pope, would you please describe, for the court, what parasomnia is?”
Back on script.
“Well, medically speaking, it’s a category of sleep disorder arising from disruptions to the sleep stages,” Gordon said, still wary. The script had been odd enough when he read it back at his office in preparation. It seemed even more so when taking into account the boy in front of him, who still hadn’t looked up since Gordon’s arrival.
“Layman’s terms, please, Doctor.” Brighton smiled warmly at the judge.
“It’s when you do weird things when you’re asleep.” Gordon resisted the urge to bite the nail of his index finger.
“Things like what?”
“Well, anything from muttering all the way to walking, talking, eating... even driving.”
“People drive while asleep?” Brighton asked with a perfect mixture of are you kidding me? and of course they do.
“Yes, it’s been documented. Parasomniacs come in all shapes and sizes. There’s a common belief that a sleepwalker has their eyes closed, bumping into walls, mumbling incoherent things, but that’s not necessarily true. Many parasomniacs would look perfectly awake to you and me when in fact they are deeply asleep.”
It was true, of course, all of it true. Gordon wouldn’t sell himself out. He’d go into the poorhouse before he compromised the integrity of his profession. The medical facts stood true, no matter what age you were. But seeing the kid in front of him sent Gordon’s mind suddenly racing toward the rest of the prep, extrapolating what it might mean. And it wasn’t good.
“How is that possible?” Brighton peered into Gordon’s eyes.
“It’s simply a matter of missing chemicals in the sleeping brain. When you fall asleep, your brain eventually will become as active as it is when you’re awake—this is called REM sleep—it’s just that your sleeping brain has secreted a chemical to keep you paralyzed so you don’t physically act on the random synapse firings in your head. Extreme parasomniacs don’t get the release of this chemical at the right time, so they... aren’t paralyzed in sleep.” Gordon grasped the glass of water on the stand and took a quick sip. He’d have liked to have downed the whole thing. He could feel his bald head start to glisten with sweat, but he knew wiping at it would look worse.
“Extreme parasomniacs? How extreme can we get here?” Brighton asked, unfazed.
“Quite extreme. There is a subset of sleep disorder called violent parasomnia, an estimated four to five percent of the parasomniac population. These individuals can sometimes throw things, like their bedside lamp, or punch walls. People have been known to attack their partners or hurt themselves. People have even killed others in their sleep.”
Brighton let that last statement linger. Gordon looked from Brighton to the kid. You’ve got to be kidding me.
“And all of these examples are medically documented?” Brighton asked.
“Extensively. One particularly well-known case, the one we’re taught early on in medical school, is the case of Richard Chee. The man in question drove for fourteen miles in his sleep and violently assaulted his in-laws. He actually killed his mother-in-law before turning himself in to the police with blood on his hands and no recollection of what had happened. It was pretty clear he’d been asleep the entire time.”
The prosecutor, a woman dressed in a demure black knee-length skirt and jacket, scoffed loudly. “Objection, speculation.”
“Sustained,” said the judge.
Brighton bowed in allowance. “In the case of Richard Chee, was it the opinion of his medical staff that he’d been asleep the whole time?”
“Yes. It was their opinion,” Gordon said.
“And Chee was acquitted?” Brighton added, looking briefly but meaningfully at the boy.
“Yes, he was.”
“Objection,” said the prosecutor. “Irrelevance.”
“Mr. Brighton, let’s keep Dr. Pope within the confines of his profession, please. And of this case,” said the judge, eyeing them both over a heavy pair of plastic-framed glasses.
“Forgive me,” Brighton said, as if he and Gordon hadn’t rehearsed this exact back and forth. “One last question, Dr. Pope. When are sleep patterns most irregular in a person’s life?”
“During times of stress: changes in environment or routine or changes to one’s own person. Mental or physical trauma has been known to trigger parasomnias as well.”
“And in your medical opinion, having treated both adults and children, would you say that adolescence is a time of stress?”
Off script again but undeniable. “Yes,” Gordon said.
“A time in which one’s environment and routine is particularly susceptible to change? Not to mention one’s body, which is quite literally changing?”
“Thank you, Dr. Pope. That is all.”
Gordon took another slug of water while the prosecuting attorney stood. She walked over to him and gazed directly into his eyes. Gordon wanted nothing more than to look away, but Brighton had counseled him never to look away. No matter what.
“Just a few questions, Dr. Pope,” she said. “Have you ever personally treated a violent parasomniac?”
“No, not personally, but—”
“But you’ve read about them a great deal, yes, I’m sure. Might that be because they are so rare that they’re the stuff of collegiate case studies and not much more?”
“Like I said,” Gordon stammered, “four to five percent—”
“An estimated four to five percent,” she interjected.
“That’s still a great number of people,” Gordon said. “On the whole.”
“And what about violent parasomnia in children, Dr. Pope? Do you have any statistics on that?”
Gordon didn’t, of course. He hadn’t planned on testifying on behalf of a child. He didn’t plan on treating any child ever again.
“I don’t,” Gordon said.
Brighton furrowed his brow slightly, which on him, while in court, was as good as throwing in the towel.
“Neither do I, Dr. Pope. Do you know why? Because it is so rare that they don’t keep them.”
Brighton stood. “Objection!” he shouted. “Speculation, argumentative”—he ticked off each with his finger—“let’s see here, assumption… I could go on.”
“Sustained,” said the judge, and Gordon thought he caught an eye roll.
The prosecutor backed away then turned. “No further questions.”
Gordon nodded, gathered his things, and navigated his way down from the dais. As Gordon walked back down the aisle, he heard Thomas Brighton speaking. “I’d just like to make sure that the record shows that Ethan is twelve years old, just now entering adolescence...”
Gordon registered the boy’s name, but he wasn’t listening to Brighton any longer. He was a fairly good judge of age and wasn’t surprised that his guess was spot on. What nearly stopped Gordon in the aisle was the brief flicker of a glance Ethan gave him as he passed the defendant’s table. He’d seen thousands of kids back in the day, but none that looked like Ethan did just then. In fact, of all the kids Gordon had seen, only one reminded him even remotely of the way Ethan looked just then. Lost. Trapped. Cornered. But completely unaware of why.
The boy reminded Gordon of himself at that age.
Gordon stood outside the closed doors of the courtroom for several minutes, pulling himself together, Ethan’s face swimming in his mind. Even in that small glance, he had seen the marbled red of the boy’s bloodshot eyes, puffy around the rims. Scratches ran down his face, small but noticeable, like a downward swipe from a cat’s paw. Gordon had seen scratches like that before. They could’ve been from a lot of things. Or from one very particular thing.
He clomped down the stairs in a daze until he found himself back where he’d waited earlier. The electric whine and clunk of the vending machine brought him back to the humming hallway of the courthouse. The scooter lady grabbed the Moon Pie he’d been eyeing, sniffed at him with her nose held high, then whined off.
Why did he even care about the kid? He’d closed the door on that part of his life when Karen left him. Done. Over. He patted the breast pocket of his limp jacket. It crinkled with his measly paycheck, postdated because Brighton was an asshole like that, but still three hundred bucks. And three hundred bucks was three hundred bucks. That was his personal allowance, and he could do with it what he wanted. That was the rule he’d set himself. And usually, that meant booze. He checked his watch—eleven a.m. Too early. His mother would happily call it “brunch” and go hog wild—not at all out of the ordinary for Deborah Pope. He understood all too well the realities of children turning into their parents eventually, but he wasn’t yet ready to turn into his mother in that respect.
So coffee it was, then. Good coffee, served by the judgmental baristas at Arnaud’s down the block from his office. It was the closest he could come to a good scotch without the scotch. Gordon found himself looking forward to it. He pattered down the stairway, his mind on a perfectly foamed cortado and not where he was walking, when he nearly ran headlong into Dana Frisco. Dana sidestepped at the last moment and held out her hand to keep Gordon from taking them both down the stairs and into a wall. Gordon blubbered an apology until he recognized her, then he smiled.
“You always close your eyes when you go down stairs?” she asked.
“Sorry, Officer,” he offered, bowing slightly. “Got a lot on my mind.”
Dana straightened her gun belt over her sharp hips and moved both herself and Gordon out of the flow of traffic. “Yeah? Like what?”
“Well, money for one. Always money. Or lack thereof. Also booze. So sue me. And coffee.” Gordon looked at the ceiling, counting on his fingers as he spoke. “Then there’s my failing practice, there’s my crazy mother, I’m sort of hungry, so there’s that, too. And then the small matter of being an expert witness in a case that came out of the blue and settled right in the pit of my stomach.”
Dana held out her hands in surrender. “Is this the sleepwalker?” she asked lightly. The com on her shoulder chattered, and she shut it off with a click.
“I don’t know.” Gordon looked briefly back up the stairs at the closed doors of the courtroom. “But he sure looked tired as hell.”
Dana glanced back up the stairs and stepped in closer to Gordon. Gordon wasn’t tall by any means, but Dana was shorter, built like a gymnast. He could smell the shampoo in her fine black hair.
“Brighton’s case? The kid?” Dana asked, lowering her voice.
“That’s the one,” he said, finding himself whispering too. Dana nodded slowly, sadly.
“I processed that case,” she said. “It happened on the edge of the city circuit, out in East Baltimore. The parents of the victim fought for jail time, but Brighton worked some magic, entered a temporary insanity plea because the kid had no priors, no history, nothing.”
Gordon felt the heat that had flushed his throat while he was on the stand make a reappearance. He tried to swallow it away but struggled, and Dana noticed.
She looked sideways at him for a moment before moving on. “Not that it matters much. Odds are the kid ends up in Ditchfield anyway.”
Ditchfield. The name brought back memories for Gordon, none of them good. “That’s the juvie psychiatric hospital,” he said. “For high-risk kids.”
Dana nodded gravely. “You know about it, then.”
“Back before... a while ago, I was the psychiatrist of record for a few kids mired in the Ditchfield system. They were...” Gordon sought the right words. He wanted to say, “ruined by the place.” But while Dana was a friend, she was still a cop. He settled on “institutionalized.”
“Institutionalized my ass,” Dana said under her breath. “Cops are institutionalized. Lawyers, bankers, any nine-to-fiver working paycheck to paycheck—that’s institutionalized. Those kids come out of Ditchfield like shells if they come out at all.”
Gordon wasn’t going to argue with that. “Brighton didn’t prep me with the case specifics. He never does. I was going to keep talking like I knew what was going on with that kid, but if I don’t ask you, I’ll probably never know.”
Dana looked at Gordon for a long moment. He and Dana had known each other for over a year. She did part-time work managing the holding cells in the basement, so she was often around the courthouse. The reason he’d met her the first time was that she’d struck up a conversation about how gross the water fountains were in the place, and from then on, they just kept running into each other. She knew about the divorce. He’d mentioned it in passing, trying to downplay it as though it was nothing more than a rainy vacation. She knew his practice was struggling, too. Come to think of it, she knew almost everything. Almost. She didn’t know the whole of why he’d stopped treating kids, just part. But sometimes, the way she looked at him, he could have sworn she knew everything in his head.
“The kid almost murdered his friend at a sleepover,” Dana said, keeping her voice low. “Strangled him in the middle of the night. Put him in a coma before the other kids could scream loud enough to wake up the poor guy’s parents. He’s at Hopkins Hospital right now. Still hasn’t woken up.”
Gordon nodded. He knew it must have been something like that. He sensed it as soon as he saw the kid. But the truth still settled upon his shoulders like a slow stream of sand, heavier with each moment.
“Ethan, the defendant, he claims he did it in his sleep.” Dana cocked an eyebrow. “Claims he has no memory of it.” She paused. Her brow furrowed in concern, as if she could see Gordon slouching before her eyes under the weight. “Hey,” she said. “Sorry if I...”
Suddenly, Gordon needed that drink, time of day be damned. Coffee wouldn’t cut it.
“No, thank you for telling me. You’re the only one around here who would. I’ll see you around, Dana.”
She only nodded and watched as Gordon made his way past her and down the stairs. Gordon didn’t look back. He knew Dana had a thing for reading faces, and he didn’t want to be read right then.
Very few people knew that Gordon’s office was also his home. His lack of finances called for the double duty. When Karen left him, she basically took their entire child-psychiatry practice with her. Gordon had since come to understand that while she was half of Jefferson & Pope LP in name, she was a good deal more than that in substance. He’d lost half of his clients outright, and another twenty-five percent shuffled out the door in the years afterward.
No clients meant no referrals from clients, and so the stagnation built upon itself, his wheels spinning in the mud, until his career was basically swallowed up altogether. Almost as if it had never been. When he treated children in the aftermath, he stopped seeing their conditions as challenges with solutions to be unearthed and started seeing in their faces reminders of his loss. The divorce hobbled him, and nobody could sniff out uncertainty like kids, so he stopped treating them. Instead, he started treating their parents. His was a wonky, one-sided family practice. It had no heart, and so he doubted it would ever find legs.
The rare clients he saw these days were always window-shoppers who hadn’t yet realized that the Karen Jefferson of Baltimore’s Top of the Town: Doctor Edition and, more recently, of the New England Journal of Medicine, no longer physically practiced in Baltimore. They wandered into his Mount Vernon office building like tourists reading restaurant reviews years out of date—expecting to find a steakhouse but instead coming upon the dollar-a-scoop buffet that had taken over when the steakhouse moved to San Diego and married a powerhouse real-estate agent it had met through a pricey, high-caliber Internet-dating website.
Perhaps one in five of those tourists stayed for a session or two. That let him keep the lights on and the water running but either at his office or at his loft, not both. The loft reminded him too much of Karen, so the office it was. He still needed a place to live, though, so he’d turned the space into a half office, half apartment. The first-floor waiting room was where he worked, and the second floor he’d turned into a de facto studio apartment. He’d plugged in a two-burner stove and had an old college buddy jury-rig the guest bathroom to include a casket of a shower. It was a ramshackle affair, and very probably illegal from a zoning and fire-safety perspective, but it wasn’t all bad. One block over and one block down from Gordon’s home office stood a classic Baltimore pub. It was clean and dark and had all sorts of cold things on draft and more scotch and bourbon on the shelves than even he could name—the type of place the respectable pirates of old Baltimore would have gone, back a couple of hundred years before when the city was nothing but a smuggler’s den. A lot of people, his mother included, would say not much had changed since then, but Gordon disagreed. The city held pockets of brilliance still, and Darrow’s Barrel was one of them—especially with their crab-cake sandwich.
Gordon had four hours to kill before his appointment that afternoon, one of three he had scheduled for the entire week. He hadn’t eaten out at a legitimate pub since his last expert testimony over a month before. He took his bites slowly, savoring. He’d earned them. He’d come into Darrow’s thinking he’d earned an ice-cold mug of beer too. As it turned out, he’d actually earned three. And counting.
He watched the clock, an ancient thing shoved high up on a shelf, where the staff hoped patrons wouldn’t see it and would keep drinking. But Gordon saw, and as his appointment approached, he grew increasingly grim. At the last possible minute, he stood up and paid his tab in cash and walked his way back to his office, his hands thrust into his pockets.
Once inside, he popped in a stick of gum, rolled his shoulders, and forced himself to smile as he straightened his office. He dusted off his client’s chair and fluffed the pillows on an increasingly worn-looking loveseat. He dimmed the lights and cocked the shades, and by the time his front bell rang, he had halfway convinced himself he was excited to be working.
Gordon found himself tuning in partway through what was no doubt a cathartic story on the part of that afternoon’s client, an overconfident, bull-necked executive named Mark Bowman. Mark’s company paid for counseling for their C-suite executives, and Mark took everything he could from his company. In their second session together, Gordon had learned Mark was contemplating an affair with his kid’s kindergarten teacher ever since they’d hit it off during a parent-teacher conference his wife couldn’t attend because she worked nights at the hospital and slept during the days. He hadn’t made a move yet, but he also hadn’t shut up about it since.
Gordon was fully aware that Mark’s plight, if you could call it that, would be the professional envy of many of his colleagues. Once or twice, he’d even thought about referring him to one of them, but then his bank account poked him in the chest again. Better to let the man vent while his company shelled out Gordon’s hourly rate. With adult therapy, essentially what he had to do was let the clients run their mouths long enough to find their own solutions to their own problems.
He thought about how Karen would have rolled her eyes at him and told him he tended to wildly oversimplify things he didn’t want to deal with, most likely as a coping mechanism. She would tell him to stop feeling vaguely threatened by the mere fact that a man had family enough to have marital problems, and she would tell him to do his job. And of course, she would’ve been right. But she was also in San Diego. Far from there. Far from him. And he was in Baltimore and a bit fuzzy from three beers over lunch. When Gordon blinked back to reality, Mark was in midsentence.
“She thinks it’s unnatural to have only one. Says it warps the kid you’ve got.”
Gordon made a noncommittal humming sound and gave a half nod. What the hell is he talking about?
“I mean, I’m an only child, and I think by any standard you could call me successful. Frankly, it was a little insulting. Am I wrong?” Mark asked, leaning back in the client’s chair with his knees spread wide.
“You’re trying to have another child,” Gordon said, setting himself back into the conversation.
“She wants three. I’ve bartered her down to two and a condo. She’s not budging on the two, though. And she’s got a ticking womb, you know. That’s what I like about the teacher, Arielle. There’s none of this…” Mark swiped his hand back and forth between his knees, looking for a word.
“Talk of children?” Gordon offered, trying to keep the remnants of that benign smile on his face. “That usually doesn’t happen with mistresses, Mark. Not at first, at least. It’s the offer they provide of freedom from the classic family model that is the initial allure.”
Mark nodded as if he understood completely. “I wouldn’t call her my mistress yet. We just text. A lot. But my wife’s full of shit, right? About the single-child thing?”
“No, she’s not full of shit. Studies have shown that children that grow up with a sibling are better adjusted socially.” Gordon was done pandering to the man. So what if he walked away? Gordon was living like a broke college student already. He could stand to be a little bit more broke if it meant he never had to see Mark Bowman again. But Mark didn’t counter him. In fact, he seemed not to even have heard him.
“Christ, the one kid is enough. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jamie, but he’s a train wreck. He’s into all these magic card games, spends every waking second talking about them. Won’t even consider a sport,” Mark said, shaking his head to nobody in particular. “You got kids, doc?”
“No, I don’t,” Gordon replied evenly.
“Well, think twice. Jamie oughta be seeing a shrink. You know anything about kids’ brains?” Mark asked, looking out the window, grabbing blindly at the bowl of nuts on the table.
“Actually, Karen’s and my first practice was exclusively child psychiatry,” Gordon replied. “Years ago,” he added.
“So you know what I’m talking about. You probably saw the real crazies. And now she wants another one?”
Back on the wife again. Gordon muffled his sigh into a yawn.
“Where is Karen? She’s pretty famous, right?” Mark asked.
“She’s quite talented, yes. And she’s on sabbatical, pursuing a post-doctoral fellowship in San Diego for a time. But we both review each other’s cases, so she is here in spirit.” Gordon smiled blandly. How many times had he told that little white lie over the past five years? At some point, it wasn’t going to hold water. Gordon wondered idly how long a fellowship could reasonably be said to continue. Most were for just the year, and Karen’s was long done, so he was already pushing it.
Gordon felt particularly morose after Mark left, vaguely hungover and sluggish, his mind still stuffed with thoughts of the morning’s testimony. Had he helped Ethan? Had he hurt Ethan’s case? He’d answered everything by the book, aside from the few questions Brighton sprung on him, but those he felt he answered professionally. Dana Frisco’s words echoed in his mind: “Strangled him in the middle of the night… said he did it in his sleep.” And not just the words but the way she’d said them. Like she wanted to rib him with her elbow and add, “Can you believe that shit?”
For the first time in six months, Gordon walked to the storage closet behind his buzzing computer. After Karen had left, he’d packed up everything even remotely related to their joint practice and shoved it into the closet, in the back, along with a bunch of junk he didn’t know what to do with. He walked past his most recent castaways—a broken standing lamp, an old laptop he didn’t know how to get rid of, and his ugly metal filing cabinets—and stopped, facing the far wall. Playsets and boxes of toys sat there: Matchbox cars and marbles, action figures by the bucketful, plastic dolls and plush dolls, and stuffed animals of every sort. They were covered in a light coating of dust, but otherwise, they stared at him as if not a day had passed.
Toys had been Gordon’s tools back when he worked with Karen. Observing how kids played—or better yet, playing along with them—helped Gordon and Karen begin diagnosing their conditions the way a physician might examine a patient with a stethoscope or a blood-pressure cuff. That was the best part about working with kids. They didn’t come out swinging like Mark Bowman, expecting you to validate their neuroses. In fact, a lot of the time, kids wouldn’t even give you the time of day if you ask directly. But they will play. And if you’re game, they’ll let you join in. As to what was really bothering them? The root cause? That was up to the psychiatrist to figure out. Odds are the kid couldn’t even tell you if they wanted to. Kids couldn’t self-diagnose. They didn’t read a bunch of articles on the Internet and proclaim a psychiatry expertise. They never walked in the door ready to tell you what was wrong with them, one hand out and waiting for the antidepressant script.
But coming back to the storage closet was bad. Gordon didn’t have to be a shrink to know that. Closing this door in his mind had taken him a long time, and now he’d just opened it without thinking. That was called a regression. Worse was the fact that he also had his phone in his hand and Karen on speed dial, and that he pressed Call before he could talk himself out of it.
He held the phone to his ear. Karen Jefferson picked up after four rings. He counted that as a victory. She hadn’t yet shuffled him off to voicemail.
“Gordon, if this isn’t some sort of emergency, I’m going to be very disappointed in you,” she said. A judgment without sounding like a reprimand. Textbook therapist and not entirely unwarranted.