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First pages


"Herb, we got a problem."

"What now?  I'm trying to read, here.  Just once I'd like a little privacy so I can read.  You guys are always interrupting me."

"It's our Chicago buyer.  She wants more stuff, but she ain't paid for the last shipment."

Herb casually inserted his bookmark, closed the book and lowered his feet from his desk.  He sat staring at Joey, slowly nodding his head as if in contemplation, his face a blank.

Joey always liked to watch Herb go through this routine.  It was a good act. Sometimes Herb's acts, and he had many, were annoying because they were predictable and transparent. But Joey knew Herb was smart and envied that about Herb.  Joey respected Herb for his smarts so he simply stood and waited. 

"I'll take care of it, Joey.  Meanwhile, get my car ready.  I have a luncheon appointment."

After Joey left, Herb mulled on the problem of his buyer from Chicago.  In truth he didn't know what to do.  There were ramifications even he couldn't grasp, and, now that his latest advisor, his counselor, had left, he had no one to help him.  He picked up the phone.

"It's me.  I need some advice."

"I told you I'm out."

"I told you you're out when I say you're out," Herb used his menacing growl.

"Stop trying to intimidate me.  I gave you what I could.  I'm out.  Get somebody else and squeeze his balls for a while.  Just remember, the tapes I have are all the protection I need.  Don't call anymore."

Herb hung up the phone and mulled some more.  Then he called his wife.


“Tonight’s a late night,” Al said in a voice which reflected both his having awakened five minutes ago and his ennui.  He stared at himself in the mirror as he shaved.   Going to be forty next month, he thought.  He checked himself out again.  Hair mostly still there, weight mostly about the same.  Hearing, eyes, teeth, all about the same.  Mood: apathetic.  I think I'm coming down with something. Maybe some kind of flu is going around.  Maybe I should have myself checked out?

“Al, you’ve been at this for ten years.  I think by now I’ve got your schedule down pat,” Linda called back from the bedroom.  She was aware that she sounded churlish, but it was morning and she didn’t give a damn about anything in the morning.  She fluffed the pillow and sat up waiting for Al to emerge from the bathroom with his latest round of kvetches.

“Just thought I’d remind you.” Maybe I’m reminding myself, he thought.  “Look, I don’t like the late nights any more than you do,” Al said as he left the bathroom. He was hoping to ward off what had recently become a steady drumbeat of complaints about his hours.

“And your Saturday hours louse up our weekend,” Linda quickly added.  She left a slight pang of guilt at this because she knew that unless they were ready to reduce their standard of living there was little Al could do about his hours.  That, she knew, neither of them was willing to do. 

“Let’s not have this discussion again.  It’s too early.  I have to get dressed and get to the clinic." 

"That shouldn't be too difficult," Linda said as she headed to the bathroom.  

She's right about that, Al thought as he mournfully stared into his closet. Staring back at him were two pairs of presentable slacks to wear to work:  one brown, one gray.  As companions to the slacks were two jackets: one brown, one black.  For his feet, Al had available two pairs of decent shoes: one brown, one black.  To round out the ensemble, he could choose from two dress shirts, white, and two ties, striped.  He had other clothes as well, of course.  Jeans, sneakers, dock-siders (although he never owned a boat), and other apparel symbolic of lounging.  When it came to work, however, Al's options were narrow.

Whether for work or play, Al's clothing all had one thing in common: they were old.  Oh, every few years he would spruce up his wardrobe with a new shirt or pair of socks, but no one would notice because the new stuff simply replaced the old stuff with little deviation.

In addition to his normal hours, Al worked late two evenings and a Saturday.  This meant buying dinner for the evenings and Saturday lunch.  Over the years Al had tried various methods of satisfied the meal requirement.  He began by allowing time to leave the office and go to a local diner or restaurant for his meals, but this was both expensive and time consuming.  Then he tried bringing food from home, but whatever he brought was inedible by the time he got to eat it.  He finally hit on bringing in food from a deli.  After several attempts to find the right food, Al found that turkey breast, lettuce and catsup on a roll was the perfect choice.  Thus, two days a week, as Al drove to the clinic in the morning, he stopped at the same deli for his two turkey sandwiches, one for lunch and one for dinner.  On Saturday the routine was altered: he only bought one turkey sandwich, that for lunch.  Al had been doing this for the past eight years.

It's not that Al wasn't aware of the rut.  It's just that the rut was so deep he had trouble seeing over the edge.  Any deeper they may as well fill it in, Al often morosely thought.

 What a way to begin the dayI've got another twenty plus years of this.  Maybe I should buy a new tie.  And Linda.  Jeez, she's becoming a black belt in needling.

Downstairs Al found his two kids sitting in the family room watching The Flintstones.  He stood for a moment and observed them in their enrapture of the moment, still in their pajamas, engrossed and nearly mesmerized by animated, moronic characters.  Al envied their naiveté.  Was I like that?  Al wondered, and then reassured himself that he was probably more naive. 

"Hi, kids," he said.  They stayed glued to Fred Flintstone and his purple animal thing.  "Kids, I'm going.  I'll see you tonight."  Al stood in the doorway to the family room until the full impact of being ignored washed over him like a cold, depressing drizzle, yet leaving him feel high and dry.  

Standing by the open door, Al called upstairs to Linda, "I'm leaving, see you tonight."  When he got no answer, Al quietly closed the door behind him and left. 

Before getting into his car Al picked up his morning newspaper from the driveway.  As he drove to the clinic he scanned the headlines:  fuel embargo, hikes in fuel prices, effect on the economy, (particularly my economy, Al thought gloomily), mob infiltration into legitimate businesses.  I’ll bet they’re not hurt too badly by the gas hike, Al said to himself.  The mob just keeps rolling alongWe've all got a little of them in us except they exploit it and we try to deny or ignore it.  Maybe that writer was on to something when he said we should put more "id in the Yid."  They sure make it look easy.

Before getting to the clinic, Al stopped at Fairmount Psychiatric Hospital to check on the progress of one of his old patients.  Mrs. Anderson was depressed.  Al always thought of her as "was and will always be depressed," as in "forever."  There was some consideration at the hospital of filling Mrs. Anderson with neon, feeling that by now she had had enough shock treatments to make her glow.  The project was finally deemed impractical because no one could figure out where to plug her in.  At this point Mrs. Anderson was a long-term project.

Al knew Mrs. Anderson shouldn't be his patient and he tried many times to refer her to a psychiatrist, someone to watch over her medical treatments, her shock, her lithium.  No dice, Al couldn't shake free.  It was as if Mrs. Anderson had imprinted Al as a parent and together through life they would march, like Lorenz and his geese. At least Lorenz could get some eggs out of it.  I'd love to put her in the hospital, doctor, but we need the eggs.

When he got to Fairmount he discovered that he was in time to observe one of Mrs. Anderson's shock sessions.  Once finished, talking to her today would be like talking to a table.  He wandered over to the shock room in time to observe the administration of the Valium I.V.  The staff looked disinterested which was reasonable since they were the shockers not the shockee.  The shockee, Mrs. Anderson, looked miserable in her anticipation, which was somewhat startling considering the huge number of sessions she had in her lifetime.  With Mrs. Anderson's eyes closing from the Valium, a tongue restraint was placed in her mouth, electrodes attached to her scalp, and the little red button on the little black box was pushed.  Mrs. Anderson's back arched, her stomach muscles became taut, and she came to resemble a suspension bridge.  The staff continued to watch impassively, smiling only after Mrs. Anderson's toes twitched, and then they left the room allowing her to recover in peace. Al went to visit Ed Lapidus, a colleague and friend, and staff psychologist at the hospital.

"I just saw Mrs. Anderson being juiced.  I guess I should have called first," Al said, looking out of the window of Ed's office. There, on the lawn of the courtyard, he saw an oval path carved into the otherwise grassy carpet. "When did you get that dirt walking track? I never noticed it before.  Great idea.  Gives them good exercise."

"We didn't build it," Ed said.  "That's the product of Mr. Urbano.  That poor old man has walked that path for nearly thirty years.  It was all grass when he started.  Shows you what perseverance will accomplish.  Stick it out and you can do just about anything."

"So can a mule.  Ed, mind a question?"

"Was that it?"

"It's a real question, Ed, one that may require some thought.  Are you up to it, or are you going to fake it like with your patients?"

"I've always considered you a patient Al, so go ahead and take a chance."

"We're about the same age, same background.  I'm smarter, but you're better looking.  We both are married with kids, for good or bad.  You look chipper, eager, with a hard-on for life, I look and feel as if I'm carrying around a Steinway piano.  One of the big jobs.  All eighty-eight keys.  Do I read you right, and if so, do you know something I don't about life, or are you just so dull and punchy by now that you don't give a shit?  That's it, that's my question."

Ed checked his watch and said, "Well, that is a provocative question, but your time is up.  We can take that up at our next session.  You be sure to remember it.  Please pay my receptionist on the way out."

"Right," Al said, standing and moving toward the door.  "It's getting late.  I have to be going."


By the time Al had made the hour drive to the clinic he had driven himself into a minor hole.  Visualizing Mr. Urbano do his walk, and Ed brushing him off, didn't exactly bolster Al's mood. It’s not that he was depressed, he reasoned. It was more that he was attempting to resolve some minor conflicts about his life and work.  He always felt depressed around his birthday, anyway, he figured.  Nothing to worry about. 

Al’s colleagues, however, saw his depression in a different light.  “Al, can we talk a second,” Janet, his supervisor at the clinic said, following him into his office.  “Whew, it’s hot in here,” she said, walking immediately to the window and opening it to it’s limit.  “Better,” she said with certainty.  Then she left.  With some bemusement Al closed the window.  Janet re-entered, closed the door and sat down.  “You’ve been acting dopey lately, Al, what’s up?  We depend on you here.  You start getting dopey, acting strange, the staff starts getting nervous. I hope everything is okay.  We’ll talk later. I'll be right back.  We have disposition conference in a couple of minutes.”  Janet left Al’s office, closing the door behind her.

Al glanced around his office.  His desk was of the metal, institutional type, gray and functional.  His chair matched the desk except for being somewhat more worn.  Whereas his office colleagues had decorated their walls with pictures, posters, patient's doodlings, Al's walls were bare.  While his colleagues had attempted to enliven the institutional barrenness of their offices by displaying all manner of plants and shrubs, other than Al and a spider and it's web tucked into the corner of the window, no living creature was to be found in his office.  And I'm not so sure about me.

Al thought about Janet.  Now here's a woman, that's what, sixty if a day, still enthusiastic, vital, a pain in the ass, true, but still spunky and commanding.  She's beginning to look like a prune, but that's because she squeezes every drop of life out of her life.  That and low estrogen.  If her energy now approximates a stealth bomber, what must it have been thirty years ago?  Little Big Man dropped on Hiroshima sounds about right.  Of course she's fucked up, but would I pay that price to get this Gibraltar off my back?  Right now, yes.

"I'm back," Janet said flinging open the door, bringing Al back to life.  "And I brought some friends." Close behind Janet were several of the other therapists in the clinic who trooped into Al's office for their disposition meeting.

"Okay," Janet began, "first we have the Gold's.  Brenda, it's your case.  How are they doing?"

Brenda then began a presentation of the Gold’s, which included every possible detail of the lives of anyone who might have come into contact with the Gold's and that included their mailman. Brenda, unfortunately, had no concept of degree of relevance.  Therefore, she included whatever information she might have gleaned for the case record.  Al was used to Brenda's approach.  Because the wealth of detail, the fact laden on fact, was of such volume, Al trained his eyes to fall at half-mast, his brain to approach hibernation, within the first ten minutes of Brenda's presentation.  After working with Brenda for five years, it wouldn't matter of she was treating Sigmund Freud, her presentation would be boring until death.  Add that to her having the insight and introspection of a sea anemone and Al decided that one of them was in the wrong profession. 

Al began to stare out of the window. He watched a pair of crows circling over the trees that stood not far from his window. There they circle, he thought, going nowhere.  What's the point?

"Al, do you have anything to offer?" Janet's voice brought him out of his reverie.

"No, I think Brenda has the situation under control.  It might be helpful, though, if you were not as sexually available as you appear to be in your treatment with Mr. Gold.  He ain't as old as he looks."

"Oh, I know," Brenda answered. "I don't mean to be provocative here, it's just that Myron, I mean Mr. Gold, is so charming. And I think he has a thing for me.  What can I say?" Brenda, the paragon of therapeutic acumen, seemed to blush.  

Before he could shut his mouth and just wait for the situation to change, Al jumped in. "So that when you keep focusing on his non-existent sex life with Mrs. Gold, it's because he's so charming and he has a 'thing for you.' It has nothing to do with your hormones. What can you say?  How about saying nothing?" He realized too late that his mouth and mood would be costly.

"I always have trouble with you.  Most everyone else just listens, you feel you have to attack.  No matter what I do you're always critical.  You're just like my father.  I can't ever please him, either.  And now he's in a nursing home and I have to pay all the bills.  But you don't care. I've been working with Myron, the Golds, for two years and they have made significant progress (here Brenda raised her arms and used the first two fingers of each hand to indicate quotes around "significant progress").  If you could do any better," she nearly sobbed, but controlled herself, biting her upper lip, with admirable dramatic effect, "maybe you should take over the case.  I serious doubt Mrs. Gold would develop anything for you."

Refraining from sneering "Oh, yeah," at Brenda, Al turned back to the birds.  Maybe I'll become a bird watcher.  Do bird watchers make a living from watching birds?  What the hell do bird watchers do anyway?  What is this thing about spying on birds?  Bird voyeur. Why don't people just leave the goddamn birds alone? I wonder how come all those birds can fly in a flock, weave in and out, and never bang into each other, never even touch?  Pretty neat.

"...was just trying to be helpful.  Weren't you, Al?"

"I think I have to leave now," Al said, as he packed his brief case, being careful not to crush his turkey sandwich.


Before heading to his own office, Al drove to Marty the mentor's office.  Marty was Al’s supervisor, known in the business as his "control."  When Al had a difficult problem, either with his own life or with a patient, Al called Marty and Marty "controlled."  Marty was to Al, as Al was to Mrs. Anderson.  So when I get my shock therapy, Marty will be the guy to press the button. Marty performed this same function for many of the therapists in the area.  A shrink’s shrink. Al wondered about Fleming's use of "control" in his Bond's books.  As near as Al could see, his wasn't Bond, and Marty certainly wasn't "Control."

Large, fleshy, thinning gray hair, with an ashen complexion, Marty had been a successful lawyer before becoming a psychologist.  What made him so successful as a lawyer was what helped him be supporting and comforting now.  Like all good lawyers Marty was able to take a position, clearly marshal his facts, deliver them forcefully and with great assurance and thereby present what appeared to be an unassailable argument.  And it was because he was so sure of himself in time of need and doubt that Marty was a comfort.  In time it occurred to Al that it really didn't matter whether or not Marty was right in any of his assessments or his advise.  What was right was his presentation. 

"So, in other words, he's a used care salesman, or could sell stainless steel knives on television," Linda had said when Al first described Marty to her several years ago.  Al was crushed by Linda's appraisal; crushed because as usual she was more astute than he was, and because he had come to rely on Marty for the strength of his convictions.

It's true, he is style over substance, but so what.  It's my judgment that needs shoring up, not her's.  I know what's right.  I just need someone to tell me I'm doing right.  And he's there when I need him.

"You still look depressed," Marty said as Al walked through the door.

Before answering Al removed his jacket and sat on the couch opposite Marty.  This is how a therapist's office should be, Al thought.  It's warm, cozy, conducive to open and soul bearing work.  I've got to  make my office more like this.  

"Can't put anything passed you, Marty.  Did you used to be a spy?"

"You're in worse shape than I thought.  Sarcasm was never your strong suit, Al.  What happened today?"

"More of the same.  Only more so.  It's amazing," Al said.  "Only ten years in the business and I'm already burned out.  Ten more years and I'll be ashes.  And I'll still only be fifty.  It's great looking ahead, right Marty?"

"Anything specific today?" Marty asked, knowing that Al's current episode of depression was simply one of hundreds over the years, so today was nothing to get too worked up about.  Marty yawned.

"Keeping you up, Marty?  I realize that you've heard all this before, but try and stay awake."

"Sorry, just ate lunch and my sugar's dropping."

"So I'd better talk fast, that it? Look, I think the only thing I'm going to get out of this session is angry.  I'd better go."

"Wait.  Just tell me what pissed you off today.  Aside from me."

"Linda, the kids, the clinic, the economy."  Al sat looking at Marty for a while then added, "that about covers it.  Can I go now?"

"And me?"

"Yes, and you, oh, mighty one.  I feel like shit, come here looking for some support and you nearly fall asleep on me."

"Is that like me?  I mean, is this the way I usually am with you?"

"No," said Al with some reluctance, waiting for the tag line.

Marty leaned forward in his seat and with great intensity and earnestness said, "Haven't I always been there for you?  When you needed more money, did I help get you the clinic job?  When you and Linda were having those rocky times, did I spend all that time on the phone with you?  When you call do I make sure that you have an appointment accommodating your schedule? So if one time I don't cut the mustard, I'm down the toilet and you want to cut out.  Does that sound reasonable to you?"

"You're right," Al said with sincere contrition.  "This is just more of my 'let's throw in the towel,' or 'let's see how much sand can we kick into Al's face.'  Maybe some Prozac, Marty, what do ya say?  For old time sake, for a guy who is sinking like a stone.  One little upper, how about it, Marty."

"What else is on your mind Al?"

"Leaving, Marty, I was just leaving."

When Al left, Marty picked up the phone.

"It's me.  I think I have someone for you.  He's right where I was when you got me. But the deal is, you forget you know me."

"Who is it?" the voice on the phone asked.

"Do we have a deal?" Marty was firm.  He knew whom he had on the line.


"It'll be in the mail," Marty said curtly and hung up. 

After getting the machinery going, Marty pushed his tongue into his cheek, feeling the place that once held the barbed hook and realized that finally it was gone.  Then he thought about his bank account in Zurich.  Then he smiled.

"Gladys," he called to his wife, "is lunch ready?"

Chapter 4

Al sat in his car feeling worse now than when he left home.  Of course Marty was right, he thought, I am unreasonable.  Linda is right to feel I'm away too much, the kids are right to watch their stupid cartoons, Brenda is right, I shouldn't pick on her even if she is a slug, and Marty is right that I expect too much and don't acknowledge past performance.  But I'm right, too, because I am going nowhere and I ain't getting any younger. 

Al set off for his office to begin what he considered his real work, his private practice.  It wasn’t that he worked any harder or was more conscientious in his private work than in the clinic, it’s just that it paid better.  That kind of made it more worthwhile.  “I give as much of myself to the clinic patient as I do to my private patient,” Al told himself and anyone else who might have wondered.

On the drive to his office Al reflected on his constant search for more money.  I have to find a way of not just making money one hour at a time, Al thought.   I need to find a way to make money outside my own efforts.  The money is okay, but how many hours can I work at this. And all this competition.  Social workers, nurses, psychiatrists, priests, rabbis, shoe salesmen, optometrists, McDonald's and whoever else decides that it's 'neat' to muck around in the lives of total strangers are opening offices as fast than they can be built.  It’s not going so good.  

And in truth, Al's practice had declined over the years.  Hours opened up and whereas in the past they might be filled in a matter of days, now they might not be filled for weeks.  Al found himself driving faster than he wanted to, so he slowed the car just as he passed a police radar trap.  Well, I guess life ain't all bad.

Over the past five or so years Al had considered numerous schemes to improve his life and his financial picture.  Joining the Amway pyramid, renting video games to hospitals and clinics, urging Linda to market her considerable baking skills (she made an excellent cheese cake), talking to other psychotherapists about starting their own clinics, going on a lecture circuit, all were given a try and abandoned as unrewarding either financially or professionally.  Truly, Al was rapidly approaching a dead end.

But it was on this day, the day that Al later referred to as the “George Bailey on the Bridge Day”, the day that he didn’t jump, the day that his guardian angel (later to be seen as Lilith) entered his life.  It was on this day that he began treatment with a new patient, Marie Ann Cohen.

It began as it did with all new patients, with a telephone call.

“Doctor, there’s a call for you on line one,” the voice of the receptionist at the nurse’s station boomed from the telephone intercom.  It startled Al nearly out of his chair.  He had been on the verge of sleep, his feet up on the desk, a boring book in his lap, waiting out the two hours until his next patient arrived.

“Hello,” Al said, as he picked up the phone, hearing the fuzziness in his voice, the remnants of his near doze.

“Doctor I got your name from the Yellow Pages and I’d like to make an appointment.”  It was a woman’s voice, at once rapid and breathless.  Marilyn Monroe after doing wind sprints.  Hard to judge her age, he thought.  These Yellow Page patients never work out.  I’ll be lucky if she shows up.

“I have an opening tonight at nine,” Al said, trying not to sound too eager.  It was after his last patient.  If 'Yellow Pages' didn’t show, Al could go home with no regrets.

“I’ll be there,” the voice said, and hung up the phone. 

I didn’t get her name or number.  I’ll wait ten minutes for her and then leave if she doesn’t show, he thought with a hint of indifference which even Al noticed.  Was it possible he really didn't care if she showed up, if he started with a new patient, filled an open hour, made more money? Al now knew he was fighting a wish to vegetate, to keep his feet up on his desk for the rest of his life.  And it came in the guise of indifference. He felt frightened by this revelation.  He was frightened because indifference at its extreme equals starvation.

It was some fifteen minutes into Mrs. Braun's session, Al's last of the day, that he thought again about Miss Yellow Pages.  Having his mind wander after sitting with Mrs. Braun was not particularly surprising.  What did surprise Al was that he was still awake.  Eight forty-five and still ticking.

While Mrs. Braun was rambling about her next-door neighbor and her anger at her neighbor's loud and raucous behavior, Al could not keep from staring at Mrs. Braun's upper lip.  Her's, he decided after months of staring at this lip, was the only such human upper lip extant. Mrs. Braun had the ability to pull her upper lip toward her nose, much as would a dog, without wrinkling her nose.  It was as if she was about to growl and was simply baring her teeth.  Al concentrated on this anatomical marvel until Mrs. Braun commented on possibly buying a gun and using the yellow pages to find a gun dealer.  Ah, yes, Yellow Pages.  The Breathless One.  Maybe she'll wear a yellow dress and we'll both go down the yellow brick road.  Maybe I'll just go home and crawl under the covers.

As Al was escorting Mrs. Braun to the waiting room after her session he saw that no one else was waiting.  Yellow Pages hadn't shown.  Al wasn’t surprised.  He returned to his office and started to pack up his notes and books when he heard the front door open and then almost silently close.  He headed for the waiting room.

Chapter 5

She stood in the center of the waiting room wearing a nearly floor length white fur coat, its hood still over her head framing her jet black hair which in turn framed her pale, nearly ashen, face.  Her face had an ageless quality, as if made of marble, its only color from a small black mole on her right cheek and her heavily massacred eyes.  There was the slightest hint of a shadow on her upper lip.

“I called earlier,” she said in that same breathless style, but without the same sense of urgency.

“Yes, come in, please,” Al said as he turned and led the way back to his office.  He stopped at the door to allow her to enter first.  As she passed, Al noted that she was older than she appeared at first glance.  Her mouth had an odd twisted appearance as if she were in a constant pucker.  Later on Al would come to think of her as “La Giaconda  Sucking a Lemon.”

She remained standing in the center of the office.  Al motioned her to the couch.  “My name is Marie Ann Cohen,” she said.  She stared searchingly into Al’s eyes.  Since this had no particular meaning to Al he simply smiled and sat in his chair facing Mrs. Cohen.  She continued to stand, scanning the room with her eyes, then finally turning to sit on the couch.  She had not removed her coat. 

Sitting on the edge of the couch, Mrs. Cohen kept her body twisted so that she presented herself to Al at a forty-five degree angle.  She folded and unfolded her hands in her lap, her legs pressed tightly together, as she glanced furtively at Al.  Al waited.

Mrs. Cohen sat in silence for several minutes.   Finally Al said, “Perhaps you can tell me why you called.”  With this Mrs. Cohen smiled, stood and removed her coat beneath which she wore a white knitted dress that Al suspected was at least two sizes too small, and which he was willing to attest presented Mrs. Cohen to her best advantage.  To round out her outfit Mrs. Cohen came to her first therapy session in spectacularly high heeled black shoes, a heavy gold necklace and white leather gloves that she spent the next fifteen minutes removing.  That is, as she haltingly explained the reason she called for an appointment, Mrs. Cohen excruciatingly and hypnotically removed first one, then the second, leather glove. Al was enthralled. He knew he was in the presence of an artist and in the process of losing control of the session, but he didn’t care.

“Before I begin I must ask if you know who I am, or have heard of me,” she said with a gravity that suggested a Forties espionage film.  Al shook his head no.

“Alright then.  I am here because I am not happy.  I know that you hear that from everyone, but it is different for me.”

“In what way is it different for you?”  Al asked solicitously.

“I can’t tell you yet.  You just have to trust me on this.  Anyway, the important thing is that I’m unhappy.  I’m not happy with my life, my marriage, my kids, everything.  Can you help me Doctor?”  Al saw what seemed to be a moistening of Mrs. Cohen’s eyes.   She’s very effective, he thought.

“ ‘Everything,’ ” certainly seems like a lot.  Maybe we can get some other information first.  For example, address, telephone number, age, that kind of stuff.”

“Well, there’s part of the problem, Doctor.  You see, my husband doesn’t know I’m coming here so I’d better not give you my address and telephone number.  And let’s just say that I’m over thirty.  Okay?”  With this Mrs. Cohen pursed her lips and ran her thumb and forefinger along the sides of her mouth as if wiping them clean.  Al considered this as a way of saying "Case Closed."

“Anything said here remains confidential, of course, Mrs. Cohen,” Al said trying to get her to develop some trust.  Not a chance.  Her eyes hardened like marbles and she stared at Al as if looking at a prosecuting attorney. 

Okay, I can wait, he thought.

“Let’s begin with my son.  I have a big problem with my son.  The problem is he wants to be like his father.”


“My husband is a scumbag,” Mrs. Cohen said in voice soft enough to have been emitted from a baby.  Yet Al couldn’t ignore the venom her heard in her voice; killing venom.

“In what way?”

“That’s not important.  What is important is the fact that my son wants to follow in his father’s footsteps.  And this is bad.  Very bad.  My son looks up to his father and he is making a big mistake.  My husband is not a good example for anybody.  He’s a scumbag.  My son must be stopped.” 

Throughout, Mrs. Cohen spoke in a whisper, monotone and sweet.   Ah, but there is the venom, again, Al thought.  This woman is dangerous.  She looks angelic, speaks in a voice one would expect of an angel, yet is, in fact, pit bull tough.  What was that flower that attracted by its beauty only to prove to be a killer of all it attracted?  I must look that up tonight.   “It would help if you could be more specific," Al said encouragingly.


About me

I am a playwright, published (Samuel French, Inc.) and internationally produced. My submission is one of six novels which join my dozen published short stories in being ignored. I have a Phd in Psychology and an MFA in playwrighting. I have been married 55 years, am 79. and fading fast.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
My Inspiration was "fear" after learning that my psychology practice office was in Genovese family territory, that at some point I might have treated a family member, and that would not have been healthy.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Finishing it.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
Those who get published.

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Literature & Fiction
The Enemy at Home
Jack's Fight has Just Begun
Saints and Sinners
How would you feel if it happened to you?
Nina's Nebulosity
In full darkness, a ray of light brings hope.