The Whisperers | Chapter 42 of 60

Author: John Connolly | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 6099 Views | Add a Review

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28
Geagan and Stunden rose to their feet and prepared to leave.
‘Looks like I’m shit out of luck. Again,’ said Geagan. ‘Beg pardon, miss,’ he added.
‘No apology necessary,’ said Saunders. ‘And this is professional, not personal.’
‘Does that mean I still have a chance?’ asked Geagan.
‘No.’
Geagan gave an exaggerated sigh. Stunden patted him on the back.
‘Come on, let’s leave them to it. I’m sure I got a bottle somewhere at home that could help you with your troubles.’
‘Whiskey?’ said Geagan.
‘No,’ said Stunden. ‘Ethyl alcohol. You might need to cut it with something, though. . . .’
They made their excuses and left, although not before Geagan cast a final lingering glance in Saunders’s direction. The guy had clearly spent too long in the woods: if he didn’t get some action soon, even moose would be in danger from him.
‘Your fan club?’ asked Saunders, once the waitress had brought her a Mich Ultra.
‘Some of it.’
‘It’s bigger than I expected.’
‘I like to think of it as small but stable, unlike your patient base, which seems to be dwindling by the day. Maybe you should consider an alternative profession, or cut a deal with a mortuary.’
She scowled. Score one for the guy with the chip on his shoulder.
‘Harold Proctor wasn’t one of my patients. It looks like a local physician was prescribing his meds. I contacted him in an effort to have him participate in my study, but he didn’t want to cooperate, and he didn’t ask for my professional help. And I don’t appreciate your flippant attitude toward what I do, or toward the former servicemen who’ve died.’
‘Get off your soapbox, Dr. Saunders. You were in no hurry to offer me help the last time we met, when I was under the misguided impression that we wanted the same thing.’
‘Which was?’
‘To find out why a small group of men, all of whom knew one another, were dying by their own hands. Instead, I got the party line and some cheap analysis.’
‘That wasn’t what you wanted to find out.’
‘No? They teach you telepathy at head school too, or is that something you’ve been working on when you get tired of being supercilious?’
She gave me the hard stare. ‘Anything else?’
‘Yeah, why don’t you order a real drink? You’re embarrassing me.’
She broke. She had a nice smile, but she’d fallen out of the habit of using it.
‘A real drink: like a glass of red wine?’ she said. ‘This isn’t a church social. I’m surprised the bartender didn’t take you outside and beat you with a stick.’
I sat back and raised a hand in surrender. She put the Mich aside and signaled the waitress. ‘I’ll have what he’s having.’
‘It’ll look like we’re on a date,’ I said.
‘Only to a blind man, and then he’d probably have to be deaf as well.’
Saunders was certainly a looker, but anyone seriously considering engaging with her on an intimate level would need to wear body armor to counter the spikes. Her wine arrived. She sipped it, didn’t appear to actively disapprove, and sipped again.
‘How did you find me?’ I asked.
‘The cops told me that you were in Rangeley. One of them, Detective Walsh, even described your car for me. He told me that I should slash your tires when I found it, just to make sure you stayed put. Oh, and for the sake of it.’
‘The decision to stay was kind of forced upon me.’
‘By the cops? They must really love you.’
‘It’s tentative, but mutual. How did you find out about Harold Proctor?’ I asked.
‘The cops found my card in his cabin, and it seems that his physician is on vacation in the Bahamas.’
‘It’s a long way to drive for a man that you didn’t know well.’
‘He was a soldier, and another suicide. This is my work. The cops thought I might be able to shed some light on the circumstances of his death.’
‘And could you?’
‘Only what I could tell from my sole visit to his home before tonight. He lived alone, drank too much, smoked some pot, judging by the smell in his cabin, and he had little or no support structure.’
‘So he was a prime candidate for suicide?’
‘He was vulnerable, that’s all.’
‘Why now, though? He’d been out of the military for fifteen years or more. You told me that post-traumatic stress could take as long as a decade to undo, but fifteen years seems like a long time for it to begin in the first place.’
‘That I can’t explain.’
‘How did you come to find him?’
‘As I interviewed former soldiers, I asked them to suggest others who might be willing to participate, or those whom they felt were vulnerable and could use an informal approach. Someone suggested Harold.’
‘Do you remember who it was?’
‘No. I’d have to check my notes. It might have been Damien Patchett, but I couldn’t say for sure.’
‘It wouldn’t have been Joel Tobias, would it?’
She scowled. ‘Joel Tobias doesn’t hold with psychiatrists.’
‘So you tried?’
‘He conducted the last of his physical therapy at Togus, but there was a psychological component as well. He was assigned to me, but our progress was limited.’ She examined me steadily over the lip of her glass. ‘You don’t like him, do you?’
‘I’ve barely met him, but I don’t like what I’ve found out about him so far. Joel Tobias drives a big rig with a bigger trailer. There’s a lot of space to hide something in a box that size.’
Her eyes didn’t even flicker.
‘You seem very convinced that there is something to hide.’
‘The day after I began looking into Joel Tobias, I was worked over very professionally: no bones broken, no visible marks.’
‘It might not have been connected to Tobias,’ she interrupted.
‘Listen, I appreciate that there may be people out there who don’t like me, but most of them aren’t very smart, and if they arranged a beating for me they’d be sure to claim a little credit. They’re not the anonymous donor type. These guys used water, and a sack. It was made clear that I should stay out of Joel Tobias’s business and, by extension, theirs.’
‘From what I hear, most of the people who might have had real difficulties with you are no longer in a position to arrange beatings, not unless they can contract out from the grave.’
I looked away. ‘You’d be surprised,’ I said, but she didn’t seem to hear. She was lost in her own thoughts.
‘The reason why I declined to help you when we first met was because I didn’t believe that you wanted what I wanted. My role is to help these men and women where I can. Some of them, like Harold Proctor and Joel Tobias, don’t want my help. They may need it, but they consider it a sign of weakness to confess their fears to a shrink, even an ex-army shrink who spent time in the same dustbowl that they did. There’s been a lot written in the newspapers about suicide rates among military personnel, about how physically and psychologically damaged men and women have been abandoned by their government, about how they may even be a threat to national security. They’ve been fighting an unpopular war, and, okay, it’s not quite Vietnam, either in terms of casualties over there or in the animosity toward veterans back home, but you can’t blame the military for being defensive. When you came along, I thought you might just be another jackass trying to prove a point.’
‘And now?’
‘I still think you’re a jackass, and that detective out at the Proctor place clearly concurs, but maybe our ultimate aims aren’t so different. We both want to find out why these men are dying at their own hands.’
She took another sip of wine. It stained her teeth, tipping them with red, like an animal that had fed recently on raw meat. ‘Look, I take this seriously. That’s why I’m engaged in this research. My study is part of a joint initiative with the National Institute of Mental Health to try to come up with some answers, and some solutions. We’re looking at the role that combat, and multiple deployments, play in suicide. We know that two thirds of suicides take place during or after a deployment: that’s fifteen months in a war zone, with barely enough time to decompress afterward before exhausted men and women are sent back into the field again.
‘It’s clear that our soldiers need help, but they’re afraid to ask for it in case it’s recorded and the jacket follows them. But the military also needs to change its attitude toward its troops: mental health screening is poor, and commanders are reluctant to allow military personnel to gain access to civilian therapists. They’re hiring more general practitioners, which is a start, and more mental health care providers, but the focus is on troops in combat. What happens when they come home? Of the sixty soldiers who killed themselves between January and August 2008, thirty-nine of them did so after they returned to this country. We’re letting these men and women down. They’re wounded, but the wounds don’t show in some cases until it’s too late. Something has to be done for them. Someone has to take responsibility.’
She sat back. Some of the hardness fell away from her, and she just looked tired. Tired, and somehow younger than she was, as though her distress at the deaths was both professional yet also almost childlike in its purity.
‘Do you understand now why I was wary when a private investigator, and one, with respect, whose reputation for violence precedes him, began asking about the deaths of veterans by their own hands?’
It was a rhetorical question or, if it wasn’t, then I chose to consider it as such. I signaled for another round. We didn’t speak again until it arrived, and she had poured the remainder of her first glass into her second.
‘And you?’ I asked. ‘How does it affect you?’
‘I don’t understand the question,’ she said.
‘I mean that it must be hard, listening to all of those stories of pain and injury and death, seeing those damaged men and women week after week. It must take its toll.’
She pushed her glass around the table, watching the patterns that it formed: circles upon circles, like Venn diagrams.
‘That’s why I left the military and became a civilian consultant,’ she said. ‘I still experience guilt about it, but over there I sometimes felt like King Canute, trying to hold back the tide alone. In Iraq, I could still be overruled by a commander who needed soldiers in the field. The needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few, and for the most part all I could do was offer tips on how to cope, as if that could help soldiers who had already gone far beyond the possibility of coping. In Togus, I feel like I’m part of a strategy, an attempt to see the bigger picture, even if the bigger picture is thirty-five thousand soldiers already diagnosed with PTSD, and more to come.’
‘That isn’t answering the question,’ I said.
‘No, it isn’t, is it? The name for what you’re implying is secondary trauma, or “contact distress”: the more deeply therapists involve themselves with victims, the more likely they are to experience some of their trauma. At the moment, mental health evaluations of therapists are practically non-existent. It’s self-evaluation, and nothing more. You know you’re broken only when you break.’
She drank half of her wine.
‘Now, tell me about Harold Proctor, and what you saw out there,’ she said.
I told her most of it, leaving out only a little of what Edward Geagan had revealed, and the money that was discovered in Proctor’s cabin. When I was finished, she didn’t speak, but maintained eye contact. If it was some kind of psychiatric trick designed to wear me down and blurt out everything that I’d kept hidden since childhood, it wasn’t working. I’d already given away more than I wanted about myself to her, and I wasn’t about to do it again. I had a vision of myself closing a stable door while a horse disappeared over the horizon.
‘What about the money?’ she said. ‘Or did you just forget to mention it?’
Clearly, the state cops were more susceptible to her wiles than I was. When next we met, I’d have a word with Walsh about maintaining some backbone and not coming over all giggly when a good-looking woman patted his arm and complimented him on his weapon.
‘I haven’t figured that part out yet,’ I said.
‘You’re not dumb, Mr. Parker, so don’t assume that I am. Let me suggest what conclusions I think you may have come to, and you can disagree with me when I’m done. You believe that Proctor was storing items in his motel, possibly, even probably, drugs. You believe that the cash in his cabin was a payment for his services. You believe that some, or all, of the men who have died might also have been involved in this same operation. Joel Tobias makes runs in his truck back and forth across the Canadian border, so you believe that he’s the likeliest transport link. Am I wrong?’
I didn’t respond, so she continued talking.
‘And yet I don’t think you’ve told the police all of this. I wonder why. Is it because you feel some loyalty to Bennett Patchett, and you don’t want to besmirch his son’s reputation unless you absolutely have to do so? I think that may be part of it. You’re a romantic, Mr. Parker, but sometimes, like all romantics, you confuse it with sentimentality. That explains why you’re cynical about the motives of others.
‘But you’re also a crusader, and that fits in with your romantic streak. That crusading impulse is essentially selfish: you’re a crusader because it gives you a sense of purpose, not because it serves the larger requirements of justice or society. In fact, when your own needs and the greater collective need have come into conflict, I suspect that you’ve usually chosen the former over the latter. That doesn’t make you a bad person, just an unreliable one. So, how’d I do?’
‘Close on Proctor and Tobias. I can’t comment on the second bout of free analysis.’
‘It’s not free. You’re going to pay for my drinks. What have I missed about Proctor and Tobias?’
‘I don’t think it’s drugs.’
‘Why not?’
‘I talked to someone who’d know if there was an attempt to increase the local supply, or to use the state as a staging post. It would involve squaring things with the Dominicans, and probably the Mexicans too. The gentleman to whom I spoke would also look for his cut.’
‘And if the new players just decided to dispense with the niceties?’
‘Then some men with guns might be tempted to dispense with them. There’s also the question of supply. Unless they’re growing bud themselves across the border, or are importing heroin straight from the source in Asia, they’d have to deal with the current suppliers somewhere along the line. It’s hard to keep those kinds of negotiations quiet, especially when they might threaten the status quo.’
‘If not drugs, then what?’
‘There might be something in their military records,’ I said, avoiding the question.
‘I’ve looked into the records of the deceased. There’s nothing.’
‘Look closer.’
‘I’ll ask you again: what are they smuggling? I think you know.’
‘I’ll tell you when I’m sure. Go back to the records. There must be something. If you’re concerned about the reputation of the military, then having the cops uncover a smuggling operation involving veterans isn’t going to help. It would be better if the military could be the instigators of any action against them.’
‘And in the meantime, what are you going to do?’
‘There’s always a weak link. I’m going to find it.’
I paid the tab, on the assumption that I could run it past the IRS as a justifiable expense if I claimed not to have enjoyed myself, which was largely true.
‘Are you driving back to Augusta tonight?’ I asked Saunders.
‘No, I’m staying in the same place that you are,’ she said.
I walked with her across the road to the motel.
‘Where’d you park?’
‘On the street,’ she said. ‘I’d ask you in for a nightcap, but I have no booze. Oh, and I don’t want to. There’s that too.’
‘I won’t take it personally.’
‘I really wish that you would,’ she said, and then she was gone.
Back in my room, I checked my cell phone. There was one message: it was from Louis, giving me the number of a motel, and the room in which he was staying. I used the room phone to call him. The main building was locked up for the night, and I wasn’t worried about anyone listening in. Nevertheless, we kept the conversation as circumspect as possible, just in case.
‘We had company,’ he said after Angel passed him the phone. ‘Two for dinner.’
‘They make it to the main course?’
‘Didn’t even last until the appetizers.’
‘And after?’
‘They went swimming.’
‘Well, at least they did it on an empty stomach.’
‘Yeah, can’t be too careful. Now it’s just the four of us.’
‘Four?’
‘Seems like you have a new career in relationship counseling.’
‘I’m not sure my skills are up to helping you with yours.’
‘We find ourselves in that much trouble, we’ll make a suicide pact first. In the meantime, you need to get over here. Our friend has turned out to be quite the conversationalist.’
‘I promised the state cops I’d hang around until morning.’
‘Well, they’ll miss you, but I think you need to hear this more.’
I told him it would take me a few hours to get there, and he said that they weren’t planning on going anywhere. As I drove out of the lot, a light still burned in Carrie Saunders’s room, but I didn’t think that it burned for me.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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