Improbable Cause

Chapter Three: The Doctor Is In

Carmel Ridge Long-Term Care Center, 2006

The facility staff all looked up and smiled. Anyone who worked at Carmel Ridge for any period of time got to know this man. Most residents were lucky if their families visited on Christmas and their birthdays; this man drove up faithfully every week.

The man fixed his eyes on one person in particular. "Dr. Shimo."

"Bobby! You look like you're doing well."

"How's my mother doing?" He'd always been concerned with her welfare, but after she'd been terrorized by one of Judge Garrett's minions, his worry had tripled.

"Actually, very well. I think she's finally moving past what happened last year. There's a visiting doctor who's been working with her and some of the other patients."

"How's she taking that?"

"Surprisingly well, actually. I think she likes him. He's in with her now; you can see for yourself."

Bobby slowly pushed the door open, rather tentatively all the same, and was greeted with a sound it took him several moments to recognize. His mother was laughing.

So was the man sitting across from her. He was an older man, probably about her age, with graying curly hair. He looked up when the door opened. She clearly noticed, because her eyes followed his, and her face lit up when she saw who was there. "Bobby!"

"Hi, mom." He reached out and hugged her. She kissed him on the top of the head; for a few moments, he could almost pretend that the mother-son relationship between them was normal. "Who's your friend?"

"Bobby, this is Doctor Freedman. Wouldn't you know, he's lived practically his whole life in New York, just like you, and like me before I came here. We've been having quite a chat about the old times."

"Frances, your son drove all the way up here to see you," Freedman said gently. "Why don't you two spend some time together? I'll be around plenty."


Bobby walked into the cafeteria, intending to grab a cup of coffee before hitting the road, and was surprised to see the unfamiliar doctor who his mother had taken to sitting there. "I didn't expect you to still be here."

"I didn't expect me to still be here," he replied ruefully. "My car broke down."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" he offered, a little shyly.

"I've already called a tow truck," he replied, "and my son is coming up here to give me a ride back to the city. All I'm doing now is waiting. But I appreciate the offer."

"I could wait with you," he offered.

"I know how long of a drive you have," the older man replied. "I don't want to keep you."

"I don't mind," he replied. "I'm curious about you, Doctor Freedman."

"Sidney. And I admit, I'm curious about you too."

"How's that?"

He smiled, a little abashed. "When your mother said her son was coming to visit, I honestly thought it was some kind of delusion. So many people in her condition don't have anyone."

"She likes you," Bobby replied softly. "She usually doesn't like strange doctors. But you - you made her think of you as her friend first."

He shrugged a shoulder. "Sometimes it works that way, Bobby. I'm sorry," he added quickly. "I'm sure your mother is the only person who still calls you that."

"No, actually, most people call me that, I don't mind if you do." He laughed a little but quickly grew serious. "Do you mind if I ask you - what, exactly, do you think you can do for my mother? It's not that I don't appreciate your efforts," he rushed to assure the other man, "but her condition's fairly advanced, and I -"

"You're wondering what I think I'm going to pick up on that other doctors haven't already tried."

"In so many words, yes."

"Don't be ashamed to ask, I like that you're taking an interest and I don't have a problem with the question. It's actually a theory I've been working on for awhile now. I think it's possible that the onset of her condition was triggered by a real experience."

"Really?" the detective asked, intrigued.

"I'm not saying I can cure her condition," the man hastened to explain. "I don't want to get your hopes up. Unless they discover some miracle cure, she'll always be schizophrenic. But in some cases, someone who's already predisposed to mental illness can get a bit of a push from something that happens to them, something that's so traumatic that they push it out of their conscious memory, but it's still there, informing the subconscious. After talking with your mother and her doctors, I think that may be the case for her."

"If you're right, what next?" Bobby asked. "What changes?"

"A lot of your mother's delusions are based on the idea that someone is coming to hurt her. I think it's possible, and not even improbable, that at some point in her past, someone did hurt her. In order to treat her -" he paused, sighing deeply. "I know this may be hard to comprehend, but I would have to force the memory of the trauma back into her conscious mind. In the short term, I'm sorry, but it is going to be painful. But once she's aware of exactly what happened to her and when, she can get the help she needs to deal with her trauma and move on. And by solidifying exactly what it is she's afraid of, we may be able to help her be less afraid that every stranger she comes into contact with will hurt her."

"You sound like you've done this before," Bobby commented.

"Not this exactly, but something similar. I've spent a large portion of my life working with combat veterans. Without going into specifics, I've seen soldiers who blocked their entire memories of their lives, or who subconsciously convinced themselves they were other people, but I've also seen cases - there's one in particular I always think of when I think of this - where they repressed specific horrors they'd seen, only for the subconscious memory of those horrors to create a ripple effect that causes bizarre and apparently inexplicable behavior. In recent years, I realized I could use some of that to help people in other situations suffering from the same set of symptoms."

"Can I - can I ask a personal question?" At Sidney's nod, he continued. "What got you interested in working with veterans? It seems like an especially difficult specialty."

"It is," Sidney replied, "but the reason for that is that those soldiers have often seen things other patients can't imagine. I admit, my interest was grudging at first - I was drafted by the US Army to work as a psychiatrist with their soldiers, and I didn't want to be there at all. But after the war, I came home and tried to pick up my private practice, and so much of what I was seeing seemed so trivial compared to what I saw over there. I know, of course, that it's significant to each person, and I don't mean to dismiss that in any way, but I realized that anyone could help these people, and not just anyone could help the kinds of people I'd treated in Korea."

"You were in Korea?" Bobby asked, the mention piquing his interest despite its offhandedness. "Where?"

"All over, really. I did a lot of field work with different units. I did seem to keep coming back to a particular unit in Uijeongbu - you probably have no idea where that is," he quickly added. "It's not exactly a place that makes national news."

"No, I know it," he replied. "I think I was there once or twice."

"You've been to Korea?" Sidney repeated. "Mind if I ask why?"

"Actually, same reason as you, minus the draft part - they weren't drafting soldiers anymore by the time I turned eighteen. The Army still has a presence in Korea, as I'm sure you know. CID sent me there."

"You were Army Intelligence?"

The younger man nodded. "I didn't expect to be. I enlisted right out of high school because I wanted to do something with my life and I didn't have a whole lot of options. I couldn't even afford community college since any money I had had to support my mom as well as me. I expected to be doing grunt work. But my trainers in basic saw something in me and they fast-tracked me into Intelligence." He noticed, then, the expression on Sidney's face. "What? You look like you're trying not to laugh."

"Don't take this personally, it's just something someone said, a doctor from that unit I mentioned. He seemed to think 'Military Intelligence' was an oxymoron."

"No offense taken. Honestly, I can start to understand that position, at least with respect to some officers I dealt with in CID. Problem Number One was the intelligence guys who assumed they knew everything just because of where they worked, that they didn't need to learn or to question their own assumptions. There was one officer, I never met him personally, just read his notes, but he had tried to write them down in Korean - to show how smart he was, I guess. At any rate, I knew more Korean than most of the enlisted men, and the officers didn't want to deal with them, so they asked me to translate and analyze them in relation to a case, and let me tell you, this officer didn't know half as much Korean as he thought he did."

"How bad?" Sidney asked, clearly interested and amused.

"Well, all the words were technically correct, but his syntax was a mess. I basically had to translate it twice; first into intelligible Korean, then into English. And then once I could finally sit down and actually read it for content, he was incredibly paranoid - and that's not a word I use lightly. He assumed every unanticipated twitch was a sign of bad intent and every person he disliked or had ever argued with was a potential spy and traitor. I couldn't separate out what was a real concern and what was only a threat in his own mind. The notes were useless."

The older man was smiling. "This man's name didn't happen to be Colonel Flagg, did it?"

Bobby nearly dropped the coffee cup. "How -?"

Sidney looked stunned, then burst out laughing. "Wait, really? I was joking. It just sounded so much like him."

"Was he that bad in person?"

"Worse, possibly. He almost got me into a mess of trouble once. If Hawkeye and BJ hadn't figured out how to use his own paranoia against him -"

"What imaginary offense did you commit?" Bobby asked, now smiling too.

"I forgot to sign my loyalty oath," he admitted. "I swear, it was a mistake! But Flagg wanted to blow the whistle on me for it."

"So this Hawkeye and BJ..."

"Doctors at the 4077th MASH - the Uijeongbu unit I was talking about. Well, both of them had been drafted too, and were understandably unhappy where they were, which Flagg knew. So they immediately congratulated me on coming up with such a smart way to get out of the service - of course, the consequences if he'd actually busted me would have been a lot more serious, but he was a reactive type, didn't stop to think everything through. So he didn't report me, certain he'd foiled my plan, never realizing 'The Wind' had just been played like a violin."

"The wind?"

Sidney laughed again. "Sorry, that's what we started calling him after the Margaret Houlihan case." At Bobby's blank look, he quickly realized his mistake. "Sorry, I got so caught up in talking about the old days that I forgot for a minute you don't have any of the context I have. Major Margaret Houlihan was the head nurse at the 4077. One morning, the company clerk went looking for her to ask her a question about a chart, and a minor situation turned into a less minor panic when no one could find her."

"And Flagg showed up," Bobby surmised.

"Among other things, and he went full-on - well, full on Flagg, for lack of a better descriptor. He was just putting the final touches on his plan to bomb all of North Korea when Major Houlihan walked into the office wondering what all the fuss was about."

"Where had she been?"

"In the village, helping to deliver a baby. She told the sentry on duty but he'd been on night watch for a few days straight and when they first asked if he knew where she was, he was too tired to give a coherent reply. In the chaos, no one thought to ask him again once he'd actually gotten some sleep."

"So where does the wind come in?"

"Flagg liked to talk in a sort of flowery, flourished way. At one point, he referred to himself as 'the wind.' After Margaret was found, he insisted they all close their eyes so he could leave - they gave in because he refused to leave until they did. Upon which he threw himself through a window - as Hawkeye put it, 'The Wind' had just broken his leg. The 4077th called him 'The Wind' amongst themselves from then on, and since I was kind of an honorary member of the team -"

"Doctor Freedman?" An orderly walked up to them. "Your son is here."

"That's my cue." He stood. "It was nice to meet you, Bobby. I hope I see you around again soon."

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