excerpt three



     Scott threw himself out of the line of fire so violently when he woke, he was always surprised he had not jumped off his shrink's couch. He knew from experience he only made a small lurch. He woke from the enhanced regression the same way each time, jumping from the dream state of his memory as the big man raised the AK-47. Scott took careful, deep breaths, and tried to slow his thundering heart.
     Goodman's voice came from across the dim room. Charles Goodman, M.D. Psychiatrist. Goodman did contract work with the Los Angeles Police Department, but was not an LAPD employee.
     "Deep breaths, Scott. You feel okay?"
     "I'm okay."
     His heart pounded, his hands trembled, and cold sweat covered his chest, but as with the violent lunge that Goodman saw as only a tiny lurch, Scott was good at downplaying his feelings.
     Goodman was an overweight man in his forties with a pointy beard, a ponytail, sandals, and toenail fungus. His small office was on the second floor of a two-story stucco building in Studio City next to the LA River channel. Scott's first shrink had a much nicer office in Chinatown at the LAPD's Behavioral Science Services, but Scott didn't like her. She reminded him of Stephanie.
     "Would you like some water?"
     "No. No, I'm fine."
     Scott swung his feet off the couch, and grimaced at the tightness in his shoulder and side. He grew stiff when he sat for too long, so standing and moving helped ease the pain. He also needed a few seconds to adjust when he left the hypnotic state, like stepping from a sun-bright street into a dark bar. This was his fifth enhanced regression into the events of that night, but something about this regression left him confused and uncertain. Then he remembered, and looked at his shrink.
     Goodman opened a notebook, ready to write. Goodman constantly wrote.
     "The man driving the getaway car. He had white sideburns. These bushy white sideburns."
     Goodman made a quick note in his book, then riffled back through the pages.
     "You haven't described sideburns before?"
     Scott strained to remember. Had he? Had he recalled the sideburns, but simply not mentioned them? He questioned himself, but already knew the answer.
     "I didn't remember them before. Not until now. I remember them now."
     Goodman scribbled furiously, but all the fast writing made Scott feel more doubtful.
     "You think I really saw them, or am I imagining this?"
     Goodman held up a hand to finish his note before speaking.
     "Let's not go there yet. I want you to tell me what you remember. Don't second-guess yourself. Just tell me what you recall."
     The memory of what he saw was clear.
     "When I heard the sirens, he turned toward the shooters. He pulled up his mask when he turned."
     "He was wearing the same mask?"
     Scott had always described the five shooters in exactly the same way.
     "Yeah, the black knit ski mask. He pulled it up partway, and I saw the sideburns. They were long, here below the lobe. Might have been gray, like silver."
     Scott touched the side of his face by his ear, trying to see the image even more clearly--a faraway face in bad light, but there was the flash of white.
     "Describe what you saw."
     "I only saw part of his jaw. He had these white sideburns."
     "Skin tone?"
     "I don't know. White, maybe, or Latin or a light-skinned black guy."
     "Don't guess. Only describe what you clearly remember."
     "I can't say."
     "Can you see his ear?"
     "I saw part of his ear, but it was so far away."
     "Only the sideburns. He only raised the mask partway, but it was enough to see the sideburns. Jesus, I remember them so clearly now. Am I making this up?"
     Scott had read extensively about manufactured memories, and memories recovered while under hypnosis. Such memories were viewed with suspicion, and were never used by L. A. County prosecutors. They were too easily attacked, and created reasonable doubt.
     Goodman closed his notebook on the pen.
     "Making this up as in imagining you saw something you didn't?"
     "You tell me. Why would you?"
     Scott hated when Goodman went all psychiatrist on him, asking Scott to supply his own answers, but Scott had been seeing the man for seven months, so he grudgingly accepted the drill.
     Scott had awakened two days after the shooting with a vivid memory of the events that night. During three weeks of intensive questioning by the Homicide Special detectives in charge of the investigation, Scott described the five shooters as best he could, but was unable to provide any more identifying detail than if the men had been featureless silhouettes. All five had been masked, gloved, and clothed from head to foot. None limped or had missing limbs. Scott had heard no voices, and could not provide eye, hair, or skin color, or such identifying information as visible tattoos, jewelry, scars, or affectations. No fingerprints or usable DNA had been found on the cartridge casings, in the Kenworth, or in the Ford Gran Torino found abandoned only eight blocks away. Despite the case being handled by an elite team of detectives from the LAPD's Homicide Special detail, no suspects had been identified, all leads were exhausted, and the investigation had ground to an inevitable, glacial halt.
     Nine months and sixteen days after Scott James was shot, the five men who shot him and murdered Stephanie Anders remained free.
     They were still out there.
     The five men who murdered Stephanie.
     The killers.
     Scott glanced at Goodman, and felt himself flush.
     "Because I want to help. Because I want to feel like I'm doing something to catch these bastards, so I'm making up bullshit descriptions."
     Because I'm alive and Stephanie's dead.
     Scott was relieved when Goodman wrote none of this down. Instead, Goodman smiled.
     "I find this encouraging."
     "That I'm manufacturing memories?"
     "There's no reason to believe you've manufactured anything. You've described the large elements of that night consistently since the beginning, from your conversation with Stephanie, to the makes and models of the vehicles, to where the shooters were standing when they fired their weapons. Everything you described that could be confirmed has been confirmed, but so much was happening so quickly that night, and under such incredible stress, it's the tiny things we tend to lose."
     Goodman always got into it when he described memory. Memory was his thing. He leaned forward, and pinched his thumb and forefinger together to show Scott what he meant by "tiny."
     "Don't forget, you remembered the cartridge casings in our first regression. You didn't remember hearing the Kenworth's engine before you saw the truck until our fourth regression."
     Our regressions. As if Goodman had been there with him, getting shot to pieces while Stephanie died. Regardless, Scott had to admit Goodman had a point. It wasn't until Scott's first regression that he recalled the spent casings twinkling like a brass rainbow as they arced from the big man's rifle, and he hadn't recalled hearing the Kenworth rev its engine until the fourth regression.
     Goodman leaned so far forward, Scott thought he might fall from his chair. He was totally into it now.
     "When the little details begin coming back--the tiny memories forgotten in the stress of the moment--the research suggests you may begin remembering more and more, as each new memory leads to another, the way water trickles through a crack in a damn, faster and faster until the damn breaks, and the water floods through."
     Scott frowned.
     "Meaning, my brain is falling apart?"
     Goodman returned Scott's frown with a smile, and opened his notebook again.
     "Meaning, you should feel encouraged. You wanted to examine what happened that night. This is what we're doing."
     Scott did not respond. He used to believe he wanted to explore that night, but more and more he wanted to forget, though forgetting seemed beyond him. He relived it, reviewed it, and obsessed about it constantly, hating that night but unable to leave it.
     Scott glanced at the time, saw they only had ten minutes remaining, and stood.
     "Let's bag it for today, okay? I want to think about this."
     Goodman made no move to close his notebook. He cleared his throat, instead, which was his way of changing the subject.
     "We still have a few minutes. I want to check in with you about a few things."
     Check in. Shrink jargon for asking more questions about things Scott didn't want to talk about. Scott hated the jargon, but reluctantly sat.
     "Sure. About what?"
     "Whether the regressions are helping."
     "I remembered the sideburns. You just told me they're helping."
     "Not in what you remember, but in helping you cope. Are you having fewer nightmares?"
     Nightmares had shattered his sleep four or five times a week since his fourth day in the hospital. Most were like short clips cut from a longer film of that night's events--the big man shooting at him, the big man raising his rifle, Scott slipping in Stephanie's blood, and impact of bullets punching into his body. But more and more were paranoid nightmares where the masked men were hunting him. They jumped from his closet or hid under his bed or appeared in the back seat of his car. His most recent nightmare had been last night.
     Scott said, "A lot less. I haven't had a nightmare in two or three weeks."
     Goodman made note in his book.
     "You attribute this to the regressions?"
     "What else?"
     Goodman made a satisfied nod, along with another note.
     "How's your social life?"
     "Social life is fine if you mean grabbing a beer with the guys. I'm not seeing anyone."
     "Are you looking?"
     "Is mindless small talk a requirement of mental health?"
     "No. Not at all."
     "I just want someone I can relate to, you know? Someone who understands what it's like to be me."
     Goodman made an encouraging smile.
     "In the fullness of time, you'll meet someone. Few things are more healing than falling in love."
     Few things would be more healing than forgetting, or catching the bastards who did this, but neither seemed to be in the cards.
     Scott glanced at the clock, and was irritated to see they still had six minutes.
     "Can we bag it for today? I'm tapped out, and I have to get to work."
     "One more thing. Let's touch base about the new job."
     Scott glanced at the time again, and his impatience increased.
     "What about it?"
     "Have you gotten your dog? Last session, you said the dogs were on their way."
     "Got here last week. The chief trainer checks them out before he accepts them. He finished yesterday, and says we're good to go. I get my dog this afternoon."
     "And then you're back on the street."
     Scott knew where this was going and didn't like it. They had been through this before.
     "After we're certified, yeah. That's where K-9 officers do their job."
     "Face-to-face with the bad guys."
     "That's kinda the point."
     "You almost died. Are you concerned this might happen again?"
     Scott hesitated, but knew better than to pretend he had no fear. Scott had not wanted to be in a patrol car again, or sit behind a desk, but when he learned two slots were opening in the Metro K-9 Unit, he had lobbied hard for the job. He had completed the K-9 dog handler training course nine days ago.
     "I think about it, sure, but all officers think about it. This is one of the reasons I want to stay on the job."
     "Not all officers are shot three times and lose their partner on the same night."
     Scott didn't respond. Since the day he woke in the hospital, Scott had thought about leaving the job a thousand times. Most of his officer friends told him he was crazy not to take the medical, and the LAPD Personnel Division told him, because of the extent of his injuries, he would never be cleared to return, yet Scott pushed to stay on the job. Pushed his physical therapy. Pushed his commanding officers. Pushed his Metro boss hard to let him work with a dog. Scott would lay awake in the middle of the night, making up reasons for all the pushing: Maybe he didn't know what else to do, maybe he had nothing else in his life, maybe he was trying to convince himself and everyone else he was still the same man he was before the shooting. Meaningless words to fill the empty darkness, like the lies and half-truths he told to Goodman and everyone else, because saying unreal things were easier than saying real things. His unspoken, dead-of-night truth was that he felt as if he had died on the street beside Stephanie, and was now only a ghost pretending to be a man. Even his choice of being a K-9 officer was a pretense--that he could be a cop without a partner.
     Scott realized the silence was dragging on, and found Goodman waiting.
     Scott said, "If I walk away, the assholes who killed Stephanie win."
     "Why are you still seeing me?"
     "To make peace with being alive."
     "I believe that's true. But not the whole truth."
     "Then you tell me."
     Goodman glanced at the time again, and finally closed the notebook.
     "Looks like we're a few minutes over. This was a good session, Scott. Same time next week?"
     Scott stood, hiding the stitch in his side that came with the sudden movement.
     "Same time next week."
     Scott was opening the door when Goodman spoke again.
     "I'm glad the regressions are helping. I hope you remember enough to find peace and closure."
     Scott hesitated, then walked out and down to the parking lot before he spoke again.
     "I hope I remember enough to forget."
     Stephanie came to him every night, and it was his memories of her that tortured him--Stephanie slipping from his bloody grip, Stephanie begging him not to leave.
     Don't leave me!
     Scotty, don't leave!
     Come back!

     In his nightmares, it was her eyes and her pleading voice that filled him with anguish.
     Stephanie Anders died believing he had abandoned her, and nothing he did now or in the future could change her final thoughts. She had died believing he had left her to save himself.
     I'm here, Steph.
     I didn't leave you.
     I was trying to save you.

     Scott told her these things every night when she came to him, but Stephanie was dead and could not hear. He knew he would never be able to convince her, but he told her anyway, each time she came to him, trying to convince himself.

2012 by Robert Crais 


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