Every cop knows the taste and the odor that assault the senses when tenderness collides with evil. It's a baby coddled in a bassinet in a fume-filled meth shack. It's the fractured face of someone's
grandma after a purse-snatcher has done his thing. It's a pregnant woman bloodied and dead on the floor.
I'd been a cop a long time. I knew the aroma. And I knew the taste.
It may sound goofy, but I also believed that on good days I could smell the spark before I smelled the fire and I could taste the poison before it
reached my lips. On good days I could stand firm between tenderness and evil. On good days I could make a difference.
What the heck is it about a woman sleeping? Okay, a woman who isn't your wife of double-digit years.
A woman was sleeping right beside me, no more than half a foot away. The spice of
her perfume tickled the back of my throat, and the fire from inside her radiated right through my clothes. Yeah, I was paying attention to a thousand things I should have been ignoring. The intimacy of her
breathing. The edginess of her eyes darting below their lids. The pure power of the rise and fall of her chest. The vulnerability of her slightly parted legs. They were all way too distracting to
Guilt about it all? A little maybe. Not that much. Not given what had happened already.
Still, I should have been looking in the other direction, out the
window. I should have been watching for signs of the inevitable collision—for the arrival of the evil—because I knew that it was coming. I did. I could taste it in one tiny spot on the back of my tongue.
Left side, all the way back where an oral surgeon having a very bad day had once hacked out one of my wisdom teeth.
I allowed myself a last greedy inhale of her tenderness—just one
more taste—before I forced my attention outside. Had I missed something? Didn't look like it, no. But when I cracked open the window, I instantly detected tenderness in the air out there, too. Outside
right on in, the tenderness was being swept along on the glorious aroma of a roasting Thanksgiving turkey.
I even thought I knew the bird. It was a big tom, twenty-two pounds. Traditional
stuffing like my mom used to make.
Tenderness in here. Tenderness out there.
So where was the evil?
I could taste the turkey as though it were already on my lips, and I could taste her spice as though her sleepy head were resting on my chest. But I could also taste that tiny spot
of evil on the back of my tongue.
She moaned just a little.
Inside, I did, too.
Nine-fifteen on Monday morning. My second patient of the day.
Gibbs Storey hadn't changed much in the ten years since I'd last seen her. If anything, she appeared to be even more
of a model of physical perfection than she'd been in the mid-nineties. I guessed yoga, maybe Pilates. Her impeccable complexion hadn't suddenly become pocked with acne or ravaged by psoriasis, nor had her
high cheekbones dropped to mortal levels. Her blond hair was shorter but no less radiant, and her eyes were the same sky blue I remembered. The absence of any wrinkles radiating around them caused me to wonder about
a recent Botox poke, but I quickly surmised that Gibbs's fair skin would probably never be susceptible to the tracks of age. She'd be in possession of some magic gene, and she'd be
She'd always had beauty karma. Along with popularity karma. And the ever-elusive charm karma. She didn't have marriage karma, though.
first met Gibbs and her husband, Sterling, when they came to see my clinical psychology partner, Diane Estevez, and me for therapy for their troubled relationship. Diane and I saw them conjointly—a quaint,
almost anachronistic therapeutic modality that involved pairing a couple of patients with a couple of therapists in the same room at the same time—for only three sessions. Ironically, with therapy fees being
what they are and managed care being what it is, Diane and I hadn't done a conjoint case together since that final session with Gibbs and Sterling Storey.
After they'd abruptly
canceled their fourth session and departed Boulder—"Dr. Gregory, Sterling got that job he wanted in L.A.! Isn't
that wonderful!" Gibbs informed me breathlessly in the voice mail she'd left
along with her profound thanks for how helpful we'd been—neither Diane nor I had heard a word from either of them. That was true, at least, until Gibbs called, said she was back in town, and asked me for
an individual appointment.
Gibbs's call requesting the individual appointment had come ten days before, on a Friday. My few free slots the following week didn't meet any of her needs,
so we'd settled on the Monday morning time. At the time she had accepted the week-and-a-half delay graciously.
In the interim between her call and her first appointment, I'd pulled
her thin file from a box in the storage area that was stuffed with the records of old, inactive cases, and examined my sparse notes. The few lines of intake and progress reports that I'd scrawled after the
conjoint sessions told me less than did my memory, but I didn't need copious notes to remind me that Diane and I hadn't been all that helpful to Gibbs and Sterling.
Couples therapy is
not individual therapy with two people. It is a whole different animal, more closely akin to group therapy with a radioactive dyad. Issues within couples aren't subjected to the simple arithmetic of doubling;
problems seem to be susceptible to the more severe forces of logarithmic multiplication. Therapeutic resistance in couples work, especially conjoint couples work, isn't just the familiar dance between therapist and
patient. Instead, a well-choreographed routine between husband and wife takes place alongside every interaction between either client and either therapist. Each marital partner knows his or her steps like an
experienced member of a ballroom dancing pair. She retreats as he aggresses. He surely demurs as she swoons.
A couples therapist needs to learn everyone's moves before he or she can be
My memory of the Storeys' conjoint treatment was that Diane and I had only just begun to recognize their peculiar tango when they terminated the therapy and moved to
The first conjoint session had been a typical "what brings you in for help" introductory. "Communication" was the buzzword of the day in the care and
feeding of relationships, and that's the culprit the Storeys identified as the reason they had entered into our care. Each maintained that they desired assistance "communicating" more effectively with
the other. He was, perhaps, a little less certain than she of his motivation.
Neither Diane nor I had believed either of them. No, we didn't entertain the possibility that they were
out-and-out lying to us—at least I didn't; I could never be a hundred percent certain about Diane—but rather we were waiting for them to approach the revelation that they might be lying to themselves, or
to each other, about their reason for being in our offices. "Communication problems" was a socially acceptable entree to treatment—an acceptable thing to tell their
But Diane and I weren't at all convinced at the time that it was the reason we were seeing the Storeys.
"Hi, Dr. Gregory," Gibbs said as she settled on the chair in my office for her first individual appointment. Her greeting wasn't coy exactly, but it wasn't not-coy exactly either. "Long time,"
Her fine hair was pulled back into a petite ponytail. She smiled in a way that almost dared me not to notice how together she looked.
noncommittally. My practiced chin dip could have been measured in millimeters.
"I'm sure you're wondering why I'm here," she said. Another microscopic nod on my
part. Most days while doing my work as a psychologist, if I were paid by the word, I'd go home a pauper. But Gibbs was right, I was wondering why she'd come back to see me after so many years. I had a
guess—I was wagering that she'd divorced Sterling and had moved back to Boulder to start a new life. It was a scary journey for most people. Me? I was going to be the tour guide.
That was my guess.
"You remember Sterling? My husband?"
Husband? Okay, I was wrong. The Storeys were separated then, not
I spoke, although it being Monday morning, I failed to assemble a complete sentence. "Yes, of course," I said.
Gibbs raised her
fingertips to her lips and leaned forward as though she were whispering a profanity and was afraid her grandmother would overhear. She said, "I think he murdered a friend of ours in Laguna
Okay, I was wrong twice.
(C) 2003 Stephen White