Improbable Cause

Chapter Four: The Doctor's Advice

"Doctor Freedman? There are some detectives here to see you. They're insisting it's urgent."

"All right, send them in." He had been planning to use the morning to catch up on some desk work, but if the police were coming to talk to him, it had to be serious. And the disconcerting thing was, he had no idea why the police would want to talk to him.

"Doctor Freedman, I'm sorry for the intrusion."

That voice... He looked up, recognizing one of the detectives. "Bobby Goren." He stood, shaking the man's hand warmly. "I was so sorry to hear about your mother."

"I appreciated the flowers you sent," he said softly. "I think - I think she would have appreciated them."

"I meant to come to the funeral. I had a last-second crisis with one of my patients."

"I understand."

"But I take it you didn't come all this way to talk about your mother."

"No. Doctor Sidney Freedman, my partner, Detective Alex Eames." He gave them a moment to shake hands, then picked up the explanation. "Actually, we're here about another friend of yours. Margaret Houlihan."

"How - you remember Margaret's name from an offhand mention in a conversation we had more than a year ago?"

"That's what he does, Doctor Freedman," Eames chimed in.

"She's Margaret Pierce now, has been for fifty-two years, and she's a little out of your jurisdiction."

"We know," Goren replied. "But we think she knows something about a case that is our jurisdiction. You've heard about that serial killer, the one who killed all those women?"

"Of course, every news station in the city is opening with it."

"The latest victim was a client of Ms. Houlihan's - I'm sorry, Mrs. Pierce's daughter," Eames explained.

"Lainie?" he replied. "I didn't know. I'm sorry to hear that, she takes her clients' welfare personally. But what does this have to do with Margaret?"

"We showed her a picture of our suspect." Goren took up the explanation again. "She identified him as her mother's ex-husband, Donald Penobscott, and told us he attempted to kill her mother in 1954."

"We pulled the file," Eames added. "It's a perfect match to the MO. Mrs. Pierce is the only person to survive one of his attacks. We know this isn't going to be easy on her by any stretch of the imagination, but we need to speak with her."

"You knew her," Goren finished. "You said you kept coming back to the unit where she was head nurse; you must have gotten to know her. We don't want to traumatize her any more than she already has been. We were hoping you could help us find a way to soften the blow of this as much as possible."

His expression grew very serious. "Sit down." He waited a moment until they did. "When you say it's not going to be easy on her - that may be the understatement of the century. I stayed close to Margaret and Hawkeye - that's her husband, Dr. Benjamin Pierce - after the war, and I visited her in the hospital while she was recovering from the gunshot wounds. She played strong, but she was horribly shaken by what had happened." He paused for a moment as if gathering his thoughts. "One thing I can tell you about Margaret, though - she is tough, and she hates the idea of doing nothing. She didn't get to be an Army Major by sitting around waiting for things to happen. Part of the reason it was so hard for her to deal with what happened to her was that she had no control over the situation."

"So you're saying we need to give her back her control," Goren surmised.

"Exactly. Don't frame this as her just helping you out, make this a chance for her to take back control from her ex. It will hurt anyway - but it will also help."

"Thank you, Doctor." Eames stood.

"One more thing. I'm going to call Margaret, let her know you're coming. I'll let you explain the case but it'll be better if she has a chance to brace herself beforehand."

"Okay." Goren nodded. "Eames, would you mind giving us a minute?"

She'd worked with him long enough not to question his every move, even when she didn't quite understand. "I'll be by the car."

"Something else, Detective?" the psychiatrist asked.

"Not about this case. About my mother. You - I think you were right."

Sidney only nodded, waiting for him to elaborate.

"Something bad did happen to her. I was - I was too young to remember. I know she wasn't able to deal with any more stress after they found out about the cancer, but I wish - I wish you had been able to keep working with her. Maybe she would have found some peace in those last months."

"So do I."

"I can - I can tell you about it sometime," he offered. "If you think it would help other cases."

"Only if you're all right with it. I know this sort of thing can be very difficult for the families. I hate the idea of forcing people to relive their own traumas, but it can be necessary for healing. Asking families to relive that - again, only if you're absolutely sure you're all right with it. Oh, and Detective?"

"Yes?"

"If someone has to go talk to Margaret about her trauma, I'm glad it's you."

xxxxxxxxx

"So he knew your mother?"

Goren nodded as he slid into the front passenger's seat. "He was a visiting doctor at Carmel Ridge. He was working with her before she got sick."

"And he offhandedly mentioned the name of our victim to you?"

"He knew her pretty well, you must have picked up on it. Actually, we were talking about someone else, a CID officer he knew and I'd heard of. Her name just came up. That's why he was so surprised I remembered."

"Whereas I'm used to it by now."

"Exactly." Pretty much every other partner he'd had before had been taken aback by that trait too. She had been at first, but she'd done what none of the others had - she'd stuck around long enough to get to know him.

"I called Ross while you were talking to Sidney. We're on the first flight to Portland out of LaGaurdia."

xxxxxxxxx

"You're sure you're okay with this?"

Margaret looked up at her husband and gave him a smile. A tiny smile, but a genuine one. "I'm sure."

"I know better than to try to talk you out of this," he said with a smile of his own. "I just don't like to see you hurt."

"Come here." She beckoned him close. "Yes, I'm scared. But you know what gives me the strength to do this?"

"I know. You want to show Donald you're stronger than he is, stronger than he gave you credit for."

"No," she replied. "I mean, I do, but that's not what I meant." She rested her forehead against his. "It's you, Hawkeye. I still remember how strong you were all those years ago when you took the stand against Monroe. That little speech you made while the defense attorney was trying to take you down - even scared as you were, you looked that man in the eyes and you called him out. You found that strength inside you. And remembering that, I can believe that I can find that strength in me too."

The memory of that experience hadn't really been a part of his life for a long time. He'd left it buried in a courtroom in Seoul, the courtroom where she'd been convicted and sentenced, rarely speaking of it and never again revealing it to someone who didn't already know. Even Trapper John and Radar O'Rielly, much as he trusted them, had never been told. But he would never forget, and niether would she. He leaned in even closer, clasping her hands in his. "All the strength I have is yours, Margaret. I give it to you."

She nodded tearfully and kissed him. As if on cue, the doorbell rang. He took her hand in his and together they went to answer it.

The two detectives that stood at the door were certainly a lopsided pair. The man was tall, taller than Hawkeye, possibly even taller than BJ Hunnicutt, and heavyset, imposing to say the least. He was probably twice the size of his petite partner, who barely stood at five-four even with heels.

She spoke first. "I'm Detective Eames, this is Detective Goren. Dr. Freedman told you we were coming?"

The older man nodded. "Come in."

"Maybe this would go more quickly if we interviewed each of you separately?" Goren suggested. "My partner can interview you," this he directed to Margaret, "and I could interview your husband."

Margaret nodded. "All right."

"Is there someplace we could talk in private?" Eames asked her.

Margaret led the detective into a side room, leaving the two men in the foyer. It was Hawkeye who spoke first. "I don't know how much I can help you. I only know what Margaret's told me, what she's probably telling your partner."

"I know."

"And I don't have a problem hearing about what happened to her. I mean, it hurts me, but I -"

"I know that too," Goren interrupted gently. "It wasn't you, it was me. I thought your wife might be uncomfortable talking to a strange man about this. What did Sidney tell you about the reason we're asking all these questions?"

"He told me about the serial killings, that you think Margaret's attack is connected to those murders."

Goren nodded. "It's the same MO exactly. Which has allowed us to pick up a few details that weren't in the file on Margaret." He watched the older man carefully, gauging his reaction to figure out what he was thinking. "We suspect she was raped. I'm sorry."

He swallowed. "I know," he said softly, though Goren didn't need the verbal confirmation to realize that. "She told me. Margaret and I don't have secrets from each other, certainly not of that caliber."

"She limps a little," Goren said softly, having observed the very slight unevenness in her gait as she crossed the room. "Is that from Donald?"

"Bullet shattered her hip," he said by way of an affirmative. "It doesn't show much, but it's there if you know to look for it - or if you're just unusually observant, which Sidney said you are. He put in a good word for you."

A portrait on the wall had caught his attention - a younger version of the couple with four girls around them. "You have a beautiful family," he commented. "The oldest girl, the one who looks about thirteen, that's Alaina?"

"How did you -"

"The woman I met has hazel eyes, like the oldest girl in the picture. All the other girls have blue eyes." He pointedly avoided mentioning that the parents also both had blue eyes or what that implied.

"Yes, Lainie's our firstborn. Then Betsy, Sarah, and Hannah. And three of them are at least two decades older than Margaret was when I met her, and Hannah will be there in a few years." He smiled a little. "Makes me feel old."

"Who painted it?" Goren asked. "It's good work. You hire a professional?"

"No, actually Margaret's and my old CO from Korea did it as an anniversary gift. He swore Alaina to secrecy and had her mail him a photo. It was one of the only color photos we had at the time and we both went a little crazy when we couldn't figure out what happened to it. Lainie's got a hell of a poker face, I never even suspected she knew anything." He smiled wider now at the memory.

"What about this one?" What he pointed to wasn't a painted portrait but a large print of a color photo that had to have at least thirty people in it. "Isn't that Sidney?"

"Yep, that was our 4077 25 year reunion in 1978."

"Your daughter looks pretty close with that blonde man," he observed, noticing that Alaina in this picture was leaning her head on the shoulder of the man in question.

"I should hope so," he replied with a smile. "That's Henry McIntyre, Alaina's husband. They'd been married for about two years by then."

"He looks like this man here," Goren observed. "Your daughter married the son of one of your Army colleagues?"

He nodded. "He wasn't just a colleague, he was my bunkmate. We stayed close and our kids kind of grew up together. Fun fact: Henry's mother is actually the sister of one of my other bunkmates from Korea, but those two bunkmates were never in Korea at the same time. They met by complete coincidence."

"You all must have been very close, to be able to get everyone together after so long."

"Oh, the stories I could tell you..."

"I think your wife and my partner will be busy for awhile, I'd be happy to hear one. Sidney was telling me about your tangles with Colonel Flagg, and I got the sense you had a lot of interesting stories."

"Oh, you want a Flagg story? You should hear what Charles Winchester did to him..."

xxxxxxxxx

"You know," were the first words out of Margaret's mouth as she closed the door. "You know what I didn't tell the cops back when."

Eames nodded. This woman wanted to be talked to straight-up, without sugarcoating. Alex could respect that; she was much the same way. "The five murders in New York appear to be a direct match to the MO he used when he tried to kill you. It's allowed us to...fill in a few of the blanks."

"You know that - that he raped me," she said softly. "That's why your partner sent you off with me while he stayed back to talk to my husband."

"That or he just thought you were uncomfortable with having him around. My partner has an uncanny knack for knowing what people are thinking. You never told the police that?"

"Off the record, detective?"

"Sure."

The woman was silent for a long moment, and when she began to speak, she didn't look at Eames. "I was gang-raped when I was seventeen. I reported it and pretty much right off the bat wished I hadn't. I couldn't go through that again. I was married to him - I don't blame myself, but that's plenty of fodder for the 'she was asking for it' comments. When I first came to in the hospital, Hawkeye told me the police were looking at charges of kidnapping, assault, and attempted murder. I decided that was good enough and it would save me having to go through that."

Eames didn't press. "Tell me about Donald. How did you meet him?"

So Margaret told her the story, beginning with the party in Tokyo and the out-of-the-blue proposal. "I don't know why I accepted," she admitted, "except that I liked the fact that he was interested enough to propose. I'd been with a lot of guys after - after what happened to me, and for most of them, I was good enough for a fling, but not good enough for anything that involved commitment. I dated one man for awhile, but he was married, which of course he didn't tell me until after I'd fallen for him. He kept saying he would leave her, except - take your pick on 'except', it was always something. I was still coming off that relationship when Donald proposed. What I didn't realize at the time was that he wanted - I guess the easiest way to say it is that he wanted to be like the lords of old times. A wife to parade on his arm and bear his children and every woman he could ever want for sex. I found out pretty quickly that he was cheating, and I found out shortly after that that he didn't have any intention of stopping."

"When did he start abusing you?"

"Third day of our honeymoon," she said softly. "I'd been hanging out with an old friend - a male friend - and he got jealous. But instead of coming to talk to me like most humans would, he just started beating me. He never even told me why he was mad; I had to run it by some of the guys at the 4077th - I just told them he stopped speaking to me - before I realized what I'd done to make him angry."

"And after that?" Eames prompted.

"Every time I saw him, he'd find something to get him angry. I tried standing up for myself, that just made him angrier. I tried submitting, that just encouraged him. Sometimes I felt like there was no way out." She swallowed. "But every time one of my 'vacations' ended and I went back to the 4077th, I was reminded that there was more to my life than being his punching bag. We never lived together, and after we divorced and I got a chance to look things over in the cold light of day, I thanked God for that. I think that's a huge part of why I was able to leave him."

"Which brings us to 1954."

Margaret nodded and told Eames what had happened in the parking lot, the moment when she had realized who was holding a gun to her head, and the days of hell that had followed. "Then one time, instead of beating me, he stands up and he says 'It's been fun, Margaret, but we can't go on like this forever. And I'm not leaving you around to fall into bed with the next man who comes along.' And then he raised the gun."

"How did you survive?"

"I played him. I pretended to beg for my life which gave me an excuse to roll on my side and curl up; I tucked my arm under my body while I did. He bought the pleading, and while his guard was down, I used my arm to push myself up and then I just ran. He shot after me, but it was dark and it's always harder to hit a moving target anyway. He shot me and I fell, but he only hit me in the side and the leg, nothing fatal. He came over to check if I was dead - if he'd actually checked my pulse, there would have been nothing I could do, but he wasn't a doctor, he just kicked me, and when I didn't react, he assumed I was dead and walked away. I waited until I was sure he was gone, and then I crawled to the side of the road and flagged down a car." She paused, swallowed. "Does this help?"

"It might. Up to this point, everything we thought we knew about what happens between the abduction and the murder was conjecture and speculation. My partner's unusually good at that kind of thing, but the most educated guess in the world is still a guess."

"Is there any chance -" she stopped and then started over, as if afraid to hear the answer she expected. "I know he can't be tried anymore for what he did to me, but if you catch him, is there a chance I could testify against him anyway?"

Eames was momentarily stunned into silence. Even with everything Sidney had told them, she hadn't expected this. Testifying could be brutal, most victims went out of their way to avoid it, but the statute of limitations had absolved this woman of that responsibility and here she was, asking to do it anyway. "Are you aware of what that might entail?"

"Yes, I am. But I want him to look at me and know that, in the end, I'm coming out ahead."

*~*~*~*

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