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Trouble in Mind: The Collected Stories - 3

Jeffery Deaver

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  I began writing fiction at the ripe young age of eleven. Sometimes I claim that that first effort was a novel, since I divided my opus into chapters (two) and included a jacket with cover art that I drew myself. But there's an expression I've heard down here in North Carolina: Just 'cause your cat has a litter in the laundry basket doesn't mean the kittens are socks.

  What I wrote back then, fifty years ago, was a short story, whatever I called it.

  I've always had an affection for reading short fiction and I've learned much about writing from the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, Conan Doyle and Ray Bradbury, among many others. I also thoroughly enjoy writing short stories. Now, it's my entrenched belief that all storytelling has as its most important goal emotionally engaging the audience as much as possible. I don't want to come away from reading a book or seeing a film and think, Well, wasn't that interesting? I want to think: OMG, I need to calm down, take a breath, allow the stitch in my side to ease from the uncontrolled laughter or let the tears subside... In short, I want to be captivated by art and entertainment.

  In novels this level of intensity is accomplished by creating multidimensional characters and throwing each into his or her own roller-coaster subplots that are rife with reversals and escalating levels of conflicts, which are ultimately resolved. (I hate ambiguous endings!) In short stories, an author doesn't have the time or space to follow this formula. But short fiction still needs to captivate, to enthrall. What's one to do?

  The answer is to go for the gut with a shocking twist, a surprise, the unexpected.

  An example: My novel version of Lassie would be to tell a multilayered story about Timmy, the collie, a broken home life for the kid and disreputable corporate interests digging wells where they shouldn't. We'd speed through these several intersecting subplots to a sweaty-palm ending where Timmy is, thank God, saved from the well and Lassie finds evidence to land the evil developers in prison.

  O joyous day!

  My short story version would be this: The boy's down the well. Cut to: Lassie running through the fields frantically. Cut back to: Timmy's about to drown. But then a paw reaches over the edge. The kid grabs it and is pulled out of the freezing water. Cut to: Lassie, a mile away, still chasing the squirrel she's been after for ten minutes. Back to: Timmy, outside the well, standing in front of the large wolf who just plucked him to safety and who's eyeing his main course hungrily.

  Sorry, kid.

  The stories in this anthology are typical of that approach. What you see isn't, I hope, what you think you're seeing.

  Six of the stories are new, one Lincoln Rhyme ("A Textbook Case"), one Kathryn Dance ("Fast"), one John Pellam ("Paradice") and three stand-alones ("Game," "The Competitors," and "Reconciliation"), though those familiar with my older work will note that "Game" was inspired by a short piece I did for Esquire magazine years ago on the Kenneth and Sante Kimes murder of New York socialite Irene Silverman. Similarly, "Paradice" had its roots in my story "Switchback," which appeared in the wonderful Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine about fifteen years ago. I'd be curious to know what any of you think of the twist that ends "Paradice" now; it's one of my all-time favorites.

  I should mention, too, that one thing I like about short stories is that they allow an author to step out of genre more easily than novels do. I believe in brand identification--a lofty corporate way of saying you must make sure your audience knows what they're getting when they buy your fiction. My readers enjoy my thrillers, so I'll continue to produce crime novels, rather than fantasy or science fiction.

  Short stories, though, involve a more modest commitment on the part of readers. So I can easily slip out of category briefly with a story or two, while assuring fans that my next novel will be filled with the murder and mayhem they've come to expect from me.

  Two stories in this collection, "The Therapist" and "Forever," are genre benders, bordering on the occult. (Or are they...?)

  Welcome to this, the third collection of my short fiction. The first two anthologies were entitled Twisted and More Twisted. In casting about for a name for this volume, I decided to move away from that theme (What was left, anyway: Excessively Twisted? Son of Twisted?). I opted for a similar yet fresh phrase--one that clearly describes many of the characters we meet in these pages--and, some would suggest, the author as well.

  I take that as a compliment.



  a Kathryn Dance story

  THEY WERE JUST ABOUT TO SEE the octopus when she received a text alerting her that two hundred people were going to die in two hours.

  Kathryn Dance rarely received texts marked with exclamation points--the law enforcement community tended not to punctuate with emotion--so she read it immediately. Then called her office, via speed dial three.

  "Boss," the young man's voice spilled from her iPhone.

  "Details, TJ?"

  Over their heads:

  "Will the ticket holders for the one-thirty exhibition make their way inside, please."

  "Mom!" The little girl's voice was urgent. "That's us."

  "Hold on a second, honey." Then into the phone: "Go on."

  TJ Scanlon said, "Sorry, Boss, this's bad. On the wire from up north."


  "Let me talk, Mags."

  "Long story short, Alameda was monitoring this domestic separatist outfit, planning an attack up there."

  "I know. Brothers of Liberty, based in Oakland, white supremacists, antigovernment. Osmond Carter, their leader, was arrested last week and they threatened retaliation if he's not released."

  "You knew that?"

  "You read the statewide dailies, TJ?"

  "Mean to."

  "...the Monterey Bay Aquarium is pleased to host the largest specimen of Enteroctopus dofleini on exhibit in the northern California area, weighing in at a hundred and twenty-one pounds! We know you're going to enjoy viewing our visiting guest in his specially created habitat."

  "Okay. What's the story?" Dance persisted into the phone as she and her children edged closer to the exhibit hall. They'd waited forty-five minutes. Who would have thought octopuses, octopi, would be such a big draw?

  TJ said, "Everybody believed they were going to hit somewhere up there, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Fran, but maybe there was too much heat. Oakland PD had a CI inside the group and he said two of their people came down here, set up something. And--"

  She interrupted. "'Set up something.' What does that mean?"

  "An attack of some kind. He doesn't know what exactly. Maybe an IED, maybe chemical. Probably not bio but could be. But the number of victims is for sure, what I texted you. Two hundred plus or minus. That's confirmed. And whatever it is, it's up and running; the perps set it and they were headed back. The CI said four p.m. is when the attack goes down."

  Two and a half hours. A little less. Lord...

  "No idea of the victims, location?"

  TJ Scanlon offered, "None."

  "But you said they 'were' headed back."

  "Right, we caught a break. There's a chance we can nail 'em. The CI gave us th
e make of the car--a 2000 Taurus, light blue. CHP spotted one in Marina and went after it. The driver took off. Probably them. They lost the pursuit on surface roads. Everybody's searching the area. Bureau's coming in from the field office. Hold on, Boss. I'm getting something."

  Dance happened to glance up and see her reflection in the glass panel on the other side of which elegant and eerie sea horses floated with sublime, careless ease. Dance noted her own still gaze looking back at her, in a narrow, Cate Blanchett face, hair in a ponytail, held taut by a black-and-green scrunchy installed that morning by her ten-year-old daughter, currently champing beside her. Her mop-headed son, Wes, twelve, was detached from mother and sister. He was less intrigued by cephalopods, however big, and more by an aloof fourteen-year-old in line, a girl who should have been a cheerleader if she wasn't.

  Dance was wearing jeans, a blue silk blouse and a tan quilted vest, comfortably warm. Sunny at the moment, the Monterey Peninsula could be quite fickle when it came to weather. Fog mostly.

  "Mom, they're calling us," Maggie said in her weegee voice, the high pitch that conveyed exasperation really well.

  "One minute, this's important."

  "First, it was a second. Now it's a minute. Jeez. One one-thousand, two one-thousand..."

  Wes was smiling toward, but not at, the cheerleader.

  The line inched forward, drawing them seductively closer to the Cephalopod of the Century.

  TJ came back on the line. "Boss, yep, it's them. The Taurus's registered to the Brothers of Liberty. CHP's in pursuit."



  Dance glanced around her at the dim concrete-and-glass aquarium. It was holiday break--ten days before Christmas--and the place was packed. And there were dozens of tourist attractions like this in the area, not to mention movie theaters, churches and offices. Some schools were closed but others not. Was the plan to leave a bomb in, say, that trash can out front? She said into the phone, "I'll be right in." Turning to the children, she grimaced at their disappointed faces. She had a theory--possibly unfounded--that her two children were more sensitive to disappointment than other kids their age because they were fatherless...and because Bill had died suddenly. There in the morning, and then never again. It was so very hard for her to say what she now had to: "Sorry, guys. It's a big problem at work."

  "Aw, Mom!" Maggie grumbled. "This is the last day! It's going to San Diego tomorrow." Wes, too, was disappointed, though part of this wasn't sea life but pretty cheerleaders.

  "Sorry, guys. Can't be helped. I'll make it up to you." Dance held the phone back to her ear and she said firmly to TJ, "And tell everybody: No shooting unless it's absolutely necessary. I don't want either of them killed."

  Which brought conversation around them in the octopus line to a complete stop. Everyone stared.

  Speaking to the wide-eyed blonde, Wes said reassuringly, "It's okay. She says that a lot."


  THE VENUE FOR THE PARTY was good. The Monterey Bay Seaside Motel was near the water, north of the city. And what was especially nice about this place was that unlike a lot of banquet rooms this one had large windows opening onto a stretch of beach.

  Right now, Carol Messner noted, the beach had that December afternoon look to it: bleached, dusty, though the haze was mostly mist with a bit of fog thrown in. Not so focused, but, hey, a beach view beat a Highway 1 view any day, provided the sun held.

  "Hal," she said to her associate. "You think we need more tables over there? It looks empty."

  Carol, president of the local branch of the California Central Coast Bankers' Association, was a woman in her sixties, a grandmother several times over. Although her employer was one of the larger chain banks that had misbehaved a bit a few years ago, she'd had no part of mortgage-backed securities; she firmly believed banks did good. She wouldn't have been in the business if she didn't think that. She was living proof of the beneficence of the world of finance. Carol and her husband had comfortable retirement funds thanks to banks, her daughter and son-in-law had expanded their graphic arts business and made it successful thanks to banks, her grandsons would be going to Stanford and UC-Davis next fall thanks to student loans.

  The earth revolved around money, but that was a good thing--far better than guns and battleships--and she was happy and proud to be a part of the process. The diminutive, white-haired woman wouldn't have been in the business for forty-six years if she'd felt otherwise.

  Hal Reskin, her second-in-command at the CCCBA, was a heavyset man with a still face, a lawyer specializing in commercial paper and banking law. He eyed the corner she pointed at and agreed. "Asymmetrical," he said. "Can't have that."

  Carol tried not to smile. Hal took everything he did quite seriously and was a far better i-dotter than she. "Asymmetrical" would be a sin, possibly mortal.

  She walked up to the two motel employees who were organizing the room for the Christmas party, which would last from three to five today, and asked that they move several of the round ten-tops to cover the bald spot on the banquet room floor. The men hefted the tables and rearranged them.

  Hal nodded.

  Carol said, "De-asymmetricalized."

  Her vice president laughed. Taking his tasks seriously didn't mean he was missing a sense of humor.

  Hal took the room in. "Looks good to me. Double-check the sound system. Then we'll get the decorations up."

  "The PA?" she asked. "I tried it yesterday. It was fine." But being the i-dotting banker that she was, Carol walked to the stage and flicked on the PA system.


  A few more flicks of the off-on toggle.

  As if that would do any good.

  "This could be a problem."

  Carol followed the cord but it disappeared below the stage.

  "Maybe those workers," Hal said, peering at the microphones.


  "Those two guys who were here a half hour ago. Maybe before you got here?"

  "No, I didn't see anybody. Jose and Miguel?" she asked, nodding at the men on the motel staff, now setting up chairs.

  "No, other ones. They asked if this is where the banking meeting was going to be. I told them yes and they said they had to make some repairs under the stage. They were under there for a few minutes, then they left."

  She asked the two motel workers in the corner, "Did you hear that there was a problem with the sound system?"

  "No, ma'am. Maria, Guest Services, she handle everything with the microphones and all that. She said it was fine this morning. But she off now."

  "Where are those other workers?" Carol asked. After receiving blank stares, she explained what Hal had told her.

  "I don't know who they'd be, ma'am. We're the ones, Jose and me, who set up the rooms."

  Walking toward the access door to the stage, Hal said, "I'll take a look."

  "You know electronics?" she asked.

  "Are you kidding? I set up my grandson's Kinect with his Xbox. All by my little ole lonesome."

  Carol had no idea what he was talking about but he said it with such pride she had to smile. She held open the access door as he descended beneath the stage. "Good luck."

  Three minutes later the PA system came on with a resonant click through the speakers.

  Carol applauded.

  Hal appeared and dusted off his hands. "Those guys earlier, they knocked the cord loose when they were under there. We'll have to keep an eye out, they don't do it again. I think they'll be back."


  "Maybe. They left a toolbox and some big bottles down there. Cleaner, I guess."

  "Okay. We'll keep an eye out." But the workmen were gone from Carol's mind. Decorations had to be set up, food had to be arranged. She wanted the room to be as nice as possible for the two hundred CCCBA members who'd been looking forward to the party for months.


  A STROKE OF LUCK...and good policing.

  The CHP had collared the Brothers of Liberty perps.
/>   Kathryn Dance, who'd dropped the disgruntled children off with her parents in Carmel, was standing in the weedy parking lot of an outlet mall only six miles from the California Bureau of Investigation's Monterey Office, where she worked. Michael O'Neil now approached. He looked like a character from a John Steinbeck novel, maybe Doc in Cannery Row. Although the uniform of the MCSO was typical county sheriff's khaki, Chief Detective O'Neil usually dressed soft--today in sports coat and tan slacks and blue dress shirt, no tie. His hair was salt-and-pepper and his brown eyes, beneath lids that dipped low, moved slowly as he explained the pursuit and collar. His physique was solid and his arms very strong--though not from working out in a gym (that was amusing to him) but from muscling salmon and other delicacies into his boat in Monterey Bay every chance he got.

  O'Neil was taciturn by design and his face registered little emotion, but with Dance he could usually be counted on to crack a wry joke or banter.

  Not now. He was all business.

  A fellow CBI agent, massive shaved-headed Albert Stemple, stalked up and O'Neil explained to him and Dance how the perps had been caught.

  The fastest way out of the area was on busy Highway 1 north, to 156, then to 101, which would take the suspected terrorists directly back to their nest in Oakland. That route was where the bulk of the searchers had been concentrating--without any success.

  But an inventive young Highway Patrol officer had asked himself how would he leave the area, if he knew his mission was compromised. He decided the smartest approach would be to take neighborhood and single-lane roads all the way to Highway 5, several hours away. And so he concentrated on small avenues like Jacks and Oil Well and--this was the luck part--he spotted the perps near this strip mall, which was close to Highway 68, the Monterey-Salinas Highway.

  The trooper had called in backup then lit 'em up.

  After a twenty-minute high-speed pursuit, the perps skidded into the mall, sped around back and vanished, but the trooper decided they were trying a feint. He didn't head in the same direction they were; instead, he squealed to a stop and waited beside a Tires Plus operation.

  After five excessively tense minutes, the Brothers of Liberty had apparently decided they'd misled the pursuit and sped out the way they'd come in, only to find the trooper had anticipated them. He floored the cruiser, equipped with ram bars, and totaled the Taurus. The perps bailed.