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Private Practices Excerpt

     Claire Draper's life was in danger. And she knew it. But the day the tall man showed up unannounced at my office, banging furiously on the back door, I didn't even know Claire Draper. And I didn't know the tall man had a gun.
     Outside the French doors a woman stood next to the tall man, shivering. She stared at me with stuporous eyes, looking as perplexed as if she had found me sitting in my office naked. She wore a medium-weight, pinstriped black wool suit over a gray blouse adorned with an embroidered collar. Despite the aching cold and the falling snow, she had no coat and was swaying on two-inch heels. Evidently, loitering in the yard behind my office in a snowstorm hadn't been one of her considerations when she'd dressed that morning.
     The tall man had edged his mouth to within an inch of the glass of the French doors, and his breath frosted the pane before I managed a good look at him. He raised a gloved hand to his brow to shadow the morning glare so he could try to peer inside. Getting up from my chair, I said, "Excuse me a moment, we appear to have visitors," to the young psychotherapist who was sitting opposite me and walked past him to talk to the uninvited pair outside. I twisted the gleaming brass knob on the dead bolt and cracked open one of the doors. The January air was bitter, and little snowflakes hurried to nest in my hair.
     "May I help you?" I said, much more annoyed than my voice betrayed.
     The man was thin and haggard. He leaned forward and looked over my shoulder. He didn't respond to my offer of assistance and looked so confused and distraught, I wondered momentarily if he spoke English. As he continued to ignore me and to focus all his considerable attention on the interior of the room, I began to feel a bit like a doorman at a members-only nightclub who was trying to find a polite way to coax the riffraff away from the door.
     I decided to try acting more authoritative. "Sir, the waiting room is around front. You can't stay back here. The front door is unlocked. Please go in and have a seat."
     "Where is she?" he screamed. The frozen woman next to him and I jumped in unison. She squeaked as well. I didn't. But close.
     "I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about," I said, employing a practiced voice, one trained to stay calm in the face of incipient lunacy.
     I heard faint sirens in the distance.
     So did the man at the door.
     His face contorted as he yelled, "Where the fuck is Claire?" The contortion fractured the unbroken ridge that bisected his face from the tip of his nose to his undulating hairline. His face was narrow, his convex cheeks ravaged by ancient acne. His sloping forehead and large nose conspired in a pitched descent to his shrieking mouth. His teeth were marvelous.
     I yanked my attention back into the room momentarily and saw the top of my supervisee's head over the back of his chair, which sat at a forty-five-degree angle to the doors that led to the yard. I thought it odd that Eric Petrosian hadn't turned to observe the drama. I'd only recently begun a temporary stint doing prelicensing supervision of his clinical work after his previous supervisor died in a freak skiing accident over the holidays. This was just my second supervision appointment with Dr. Petrosian; I didn't know him well enough to understand his apparent paralysis. "Call the police, Eric," I ordered him. "Now!" I barked the last word and watched with some relief as he finally hurried over to my desk.
     That's when I saw the gun. Actually that's when the tall man shoved it into my cheek.
     "Now, asshole, where the fuck is fucking Dr. Beaner, the little spic who's fuckin' with my wife's head?"
     "Dr.'Beaner,'" I quickly surmised, was my longtime partner, Diane Estevez, Ph.D.
     "Look for yourself, she's not here," I said loudly, hoping vainly Diane would somehow hear me through the ample soundproofing of the adjoining wall. I knew Diane was right next door. I thought, He's looking for you, my friend. I hope somehow you're managing to get the drift of this through the walls. And I hope you're getting the hell out of here.
     I cracked the door open a little wider so that the tall man could survey the perimeter of the office and reassure himself that Claire wasn't there. I turned with him as he leaned in to search the space and watched with some relief as Eric Petrosian, his back to us, crouched behind the desk and began whispering into the phone.
     As Eric made his call, the bitter bray of sirens wended through the neighborhood, louder, closer. And the red-faced man with the silver gun barged the rest of the way into the office. He shoved the woman in front of him harshly, momentarily oblivious of me and Eric. The woman's hair was capped with a veil of powdery snow, her face was blotched white and red from cold and terror. She whimpered and fought to maintain her precarious balance each time he jostled her farther into the room. When he had pushed her to the center of the office, he removed his arm from behind her and poked the barrel of the gun into the side of her neck. Slowly he rotated her 180 degrees and backed away toward the interior door that led from the office to the adjacent hallway.
     "Stay here or I'll kill her. Got it?" he said to me, ignoring Eric.
     I said, "Listen, I know you're very upset. Maybe it would help to—"
     "Got it?" he screamed, veins popping to the surface of his red face.
     Swallowing the words, I said, "I got it."
     He backed out the door into the hall and reached in front of his hostage to pull the door shut. Eric Petrosian was still cowering behind the desk. It seemed like as good a place as any for him.
     Dr. Diane Estevez's office was next to mine in the rear of the renovated 1890s Victorian house that housed the offices of our clinical psychology practices. My office was on the east side of the rear of the house and had French doors opening to the backyard. Diane's office was on the west side and had a single oak door leading to a small cedar deck at the corner of the house. Each office had an interior door that led to a narrow hallway that linked together all the rooms in the rear of the building. A locked door separated the office suite from the waiting room at the front of the house.
     After turning the dead bolt on the door, effectively locking the man with the gun out of the office, I yelled at Eric to stay put, bolted out the French doors, my loafers instantly filling with icy snow, and jumped up onto the tiny deck outside Diane's office, desperately hoping to warn her before this crazy man busted in on her.
     Too late. Through the beveled glass window I saw the man with the gun shove his hostage into Diane's office, watched as his prisoner stumbled to the rug, and registered the madness in the man's sharp face as he waved the pistol in an arc from woman to woman. He started the rotation with Diane and ended with Diane's psychotherapy patient.
     I guessed that she was Claire.
     Diane's patient was sitting in the corner of a deep burgundy sofa in the consultation area of Diane's psychotherapy office. Claire's right hand was covering her mouth, her left arm was curled around her abdomen in a pantomime of self-protection. Her long auburn hair swayed as she shook her head slowly from side to side. The look in her face was not pure terror. It was, instead, a mingling of fear and resignation. She looked doomed.
     I knew the face. It was the face a battered woman turns to a raised fist.
     Diane edged slowly between her patient and the man with the gun, saying, I imagined, some variation of the words I had vainly tried to use to calm him moments before. As I watched Diane's lips form the carefully chosen words, I willed her to step back out of the line of fire.
     This had to be a domestic dispute gone mad. The man with the gun had to be Claire's husband. Claire was Diane's patient. I had no idea who the woman in the suit was. Through the glass I watched Diane's lips continue to move, her appraising eyes locked on the frantic face of the man with the gun. I knew the calm, reassuring tone Diane would be trying to coerce into her voice.  I knew her voice would quiver anyway. Gently I tried the knob on the door. The cold, cold metal didn't budge.
     Shrill sirens from emergency vehicles pulsed once more in a deafening peal, and then suddenly the sirens and the cars stopped close by, maybe on the street right in front of the building. In an instant a police cruiser blasted, siren off, down the long driveway on the west side of the house and skidded at an angle toward the backyard. The front passenger door flew open on the side of the patrol car away from the house. Two patrolmen jumped out, guns drawn, barrels pointed skyward.
     "Get away from there," one hissed at me as I watched spellbound from the deck. I waved an arm to implore him to shut up and then raised a finger to my lips. "How many?" he whispered.
     I wondered, How many what?
     "How many hostages?" The sharp rasp in his voice told me that he wasn't pleased that it was I, not he, peeking through the window. I raised three fingers. "How many takers?"
     Takers? I raised one finger and then made a pistol shape out of my hand and pointed at it with my other hand.
     I returned my attention to Diane's office. The man with the gun wasn't talking to his hostages. That frightened me. He either wanted to take his wife somewhere, he wanted to talk to her, or he wanted to kill her. I couldn't imagine that he had any other intentions. It worried me that he wasn't leaving or talking. It suggested which option he had chosen.
     The "taker" seemed oblivious of the tactics of the rapidly mobilizing authorities. His current reality apparently stopped with his hostages. I feared, mostly, that he was unconcerned about escaping.
     I watched two more cops move into covered positions in the backyard, one each behind Diane's car and my old Subaru wagon. Then, without warning, an arm with the grabbing power of a Vise-Grip clamped over my bicep and yanked me off the deck. I scrambled to my feet, and then, while I was still crouched over, a cop tugged me toward the front of the house.
     "Who the hell are you?" asked the cop with the pincer grip as she yanked me around the corner of the front of the building.
     "This is my office. I'm Alan Gregory. That's my partner in there with that maniac." The cop finally turned to face me. She was a couple of inches shorter than I and carried a shotgun in the hand that wasn't pulling me around. The raised collar of her winter jacket hid bright blond hair.
     "You can let go now. I'm not gonna run." The hydraulic pressure on my arm relented. At her urging I preceded her through the carved oak front door of the old house. Two more Boulder officers were in the waiting room, discussing the merits of knocking down the locked door separating the waiting room from the office suite in back.
     I yelled, "Hey, hold it," dangling my keys. "You know there's a guy with a gun in there? And hostages? Maybe you wanna know the layout first?" Apparently even life-and-death situations failed to mute my sarcasm.
     The cop with the shotgun acted as though she were in charge. "Wait," she said sharply to the other officers. "Stay right here until SWAT arrives. And call in again and make triple sure they know this is a hostage situation and we need a negotiator. Make sure he's been called. Everybody should be here in a few minutes." She shook her head just a little and said, "I hope." Her voice softened with the last sentence. I guessed she was trying to calm everybody down.
     "Whatta we got so far, Charlie?" asked the smaller of the two sentries by the connecting door.
     Charlie was listening to something on her radio. Static caused the noise to sound like a chicken fight. After a final squawk she turned to her colleagues and told them what she knew. "The suspect grabbed the attorney in the hallway outside a courtroom at the Justice Center, threw her in his car, came over here, and broke into this office. The taker is armed—we think a small-caliber semi-automatic—and has three hostages. The attorney, a therapist, and an unidentified woman."
     "Claire," I volunteered, "her name is Claire. She's Dr. Estevez's patient. I'd guess she's the guy with the gun's wife."
     "Thanks for the guess," came the derisive response from the lady with the shotgun.
     "Damn," I said, "my supervisee is still in my office. It's the one with the French doors on the east side of the backyard. His name is Eric Petrosian." She used her radio to relay the information to somebody else.
     "So, you want to be helpful? You seem to want to be helpful," she asked me sarcastically.
     I nodded.
     "The floor plan? Draw it."
     After searching around the waiting room for paper and finding nothing but magazines, I grabbed the pencil she was offering and drew a diagram of the back of the house on the waiting room wall. "The doors are solid core with gaskets, brushes, and dead bolts. The walls are all double-channeled," I added. She looked perplexed. And annoyed.
     "Soundproofing," I explained.
     She was quiet, but I read her face to say "So why are you wasting my time telling me this?"
     I said, "Thought it might be important." It didn't seem to mollify her.
     Another oversight crept into my awareness.  "Wait, is Dana Beal upstairs? She's an architect, her office is up there." I nodded at the staircase.
     "It's been secured. We didn't find anybody." I wasn't too surprised at that.  It was only midmorning, a little early for Dana.
     "Is there a phone in there?" Charlie directed the question at me.
     "In Diane's office?" I asked.
     "No. In the garage."  She seemed to be considering the possibility that I had just wandered away from a sheltered workshop. "Of course I meant her office."
     I said, "Yeah," and gave her Diane's private line number.
     "Bring a cellular phone in here, too," she snapped into the transmitter.  I had been assuming that the tone she had been using with me was reserved for civilians. I was apparently wrong.
     I stood by my schematic and offered some tactics. "I think you could move into the interior hallway safely.  Somebody outback can look through the window and tell you if the interior door to Diane's office is open. If it's closed, he can't see this part of the house and he won't hear you moving in the hallway because of the soundproofing. It's excellent."
     From the glare she shot my way, I got the impression that she was tired of hearing about the soundproofing. "Give me the keys," she said.  I twisted the master off my key ring and held it out toward her.  She reached across her body with her right hand and belted the radio, then snatched the key from me.  The shotgun, however, remained in her left hand the whole time.
     She retrieved the radio from the carrier on her belt and mumbled into it. Listened.  Argued. And finally said to the two cops by the door, "Move into position in the hall outside this office"—she poked at the diagram on the wall with the antenna on her handset—"and wait for orders or to be relieved by the SWAT commander." She raised the radio to her lips. "Is the door clear?" she asked.  She listened to a reply and apparently understood it. She turned to the two patrolmen. "Go," she said flatly.
     They tried to go, but the door was still locked.  They looked at her expectantly.  She meandered over and unlocked it as though that had been her plan all along. As the cops hurried into position down the hall, I could see past them to Diane's office door, still closed.
     Charlie had reclipped the radio to her belt and had a cellular phone in her hand when I turned my attention back to the waiting room. "Suspect's not answering," she said to herself.  She probably wasn't eager to hear my supposition that Diane had turned off the bell of the phone to avoid being disturbed during her session, so I kept it to myself. After again exchanging the phone for the radio, Charlie repeated over the air that the suspect wasn't answering.
     Between radio squawks she ordered me to "get over there," indicating the farthest corner of the waiting room, using the shotgun as a pointer. She wanted me out of the way. "The hostage negotiator is on his way.  He'll take over in here any minute. I'm sure he'll want to talk with you. He'll be fascinated about the soundproofing." Fewer than thirty second later she said, "Detective," greeting the hostage negotiator as he entered the room.  I recognized his big gray overcoat before I recognized him.  The hostage negotiator was Detective Samuel Purdy, M.A.
     "Whatta we got, Charlie?" he said calmly.  Then he saw me. "Oh, shit, I shoulda known," he moaned in greeting.


Private Practices

Signet Paperback  ISBN: 0451404319

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