Seated at a horseshoe-shaped greeter desk, an older woman wearing a giant fuzzy scarf consulted a monitor on behalf of a visitor. Off to the side, a uniformed security attendant stood relaxed with his hands clasped behind his back, lazily scanning visitors who pushed through the revolving doors. He wore a bored look born of inaction. Too many hours of sleep-inducing building music had sapped his energy. Unless a dishevelled homeless person or a noisy troupe of children entered the doors, this guy would not notice anything out of the ordinary. Security personnel, which included bouncers, were generally useless against anything but the obvious. Military training and my prison experience programmed me to distinguish threats from weaknesses. I never entered a room without first planning an exit strategy. Each person who came under my roving gaze was assessed and catalogued for potential threat. That habit had kept me alive. There was no reason to alter a successful habit. Over the years, I had developed a technique of using my peripheral vision to note movement and to observe others. This technique reduced the likelihood that anyone would notice that I was noticing them. Another person’s ignorance provided an edge. Sleepy-eyed building security guy was no threat at all.
Twin banks of chromed elevators transported people into the tower’s upper sanctum. Halfway to the eighth floor, my palms grew slick. Wooden gallows popped into my head. A noose swung gently in the absence of a breeze. My shirt collar felt suddenly tight. Eight steps led to the top of gallows. One step for each of the seven appeal judges. The eighth for God. A bell dinged. The elevator jerked to a halt. Stainless-steel doors opened. Dr. Brinkman’s office waited down the hallway behind a door that no sane man needed enter. Raised, shiny gold letters spelled out his name, followed by alphabet soup proclaiming his degrees.
The door clicked shut behind us.
Separated by an architectural archway, the adjoining waiting room held a leather sofa capped by end tables with lamps, matching armchairs and a smoked brass and glass coffee table. A magazine rack filled with periodicals rested in the corner. Two calm-inspiring paintings, one of a farmhouse, another that portrayed the ocean merging with the sunset, decorated the walls. Seated behind an opaque, glass-topped desk, the receptionist lifted her head from her paperback novel, which revealed chestnut hair gone silver, but only in one small area around her widow’s peak. Rather than colour it out, she wore it parted to emphasize the rogue silver lock. A long and narrow face adorned with warm brown eyes with deeply etched laugh lines riding above prominent cheekbones, greeted us. The lady’s beige sundress, belted to accentuate a slim waist, hung well on her trim figure.
“Hello, Odera. I see you’ve brought a guest.”
“Hi, Sue. This is Bruce Garland. He’ll be joining me this afternoon.”
“Everyone calls me Sue. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Garland. You’re just gonna love it here. Dr. Brinkman’s a wonderful therapist. Don’t you just love coming to a doctor’s office where there isn’t a lineup and today’s newspapers are intact?”
“It’s just Bruce.”
Sue was one bubbly lady. Brinkman must have hired her to keep manic-depressives at bay because she did not appear to type often. Her long fingernails showed no evidence of cracks or chipping and the computer screen was in screensaver mode. Cracked open and turned facedown, her paperback novel rested to one side. Beside it, a Tupperware container held salad remnants.
“Since this is your first visit,” Susan told me picking up a shiny leather folder that looked like a restaurant menu, “you’ll find a doctor/patient confidentiality agreement inside. You’ll need to fill this out. Return it prior to your session. Please make sure that you check all the little ticky boxes. You can sit over there. May I bring either of you guys a coffee or tea? There are cookies and snacks. We stock low-fat digestives. Ulcer friendly.” We declined. “I’m right here if you need anything. Toodles.”
I accepted the pen and leather folder from Sue. Odera pulled me toward the sofa while Sue notified Dr. Brinkman his next appointment had arrived. When I looked up several minutes later, Sue had her nose buried in her novel. The form was short. Sue smiled warmly, checked that I had signed the bottom, double-checked the tick boxes, and filed the form before smiling appreciatively. I seated myself beside Odera and rubbed my palms over my knees.
“You look nervous. You don’t have to do this.”
“I’m happy, well, not happy, but certainly honoured that you asked and...I want to do this.”
Rewarded with a quick hand squeeze, Sue wedded my words, “Dr. Brinkman will see you now.”
On cue, a man garbed in a tweed jacket, wearing a scholar’s regal disposition, filled the office doorway. Standing average height, short black hair peppered with flecks of silver capped a set of rounded shoulders mounted above a thick waist and stocky legs. Intelligent brown eyes regarded me from behind thick, wire-rimmed glasses while a medium-long nose creased at the top rested above a narrow mouth and a strong chin with a hint of a five o’clock shadow. A relaxed demeanour encompassed him, as though nothing in the world, no matter how outlandish, would fluster him or provoke his judgement. There was a quality about Dr. Brinkman that put one instantly at ease. The guy was a walking Zantac.
“Good afternoon Odera,” he greeted clasping her hand with professional warmth before turning to me. “And this must be Mr. Garland,” he said imparting a firm handshake. “Please come in and make yourself comfortable.”
Not bloody likely, I told myself while he motioned to his office with one hand. With the other, Dr. Brinkman slid his glasses up the bridge of his aquiline nose, summing me up with a high-powered, analytical gaze.
“Thank you.” I catalogued his innocuous style. A warm greeting for Odera, a non-judgmental message for me. “Call me Bruce.”
“May I offer you coffee, tea, or a soda?” At the shake of our heads, he asked, “How about a blindfold and a cigarette?” after which he laughed, as did I, while Odera smiled politely. “Right O’, won’t you both find a seat.”I stepped into Dr. Brinkman’s office thinking about the gallows, wondering when the trapdoor would drop out beneath me.