The Stranger in the Burning Building
It was her weekend, and yet she was scheduled for another therapy session thanks to Michaela. Those sessions were not something Lesly wished to undergo one more time, but Michaela would not take no for an answer. She even went as far as to ask Dr. Grove for a favor in order to get Lesly an appointment during the weekend when she noticed that Lesly was using her work as an excuse as to why she was too busy to go.
As usual, Michaela dropped by to pick Lesly up, drove her to her therapist’s office and waited outside like she normally did to make sure that Lesly took those sessions seriously. This tactic eventually got Lesly to talk to the middle-aged woman. However, although Lesly decided that the best way to handle those compulsory therapy sessions was to share her experience, there were details that she preferred to keep to herself.
Lesly spent the next forty-five minutes telling Mary Grove what she needed to know about the incident in that burning building five years ago and how it was related to what Lesly had to go through shortly afterwards. That year of her life was one big giant complicated mess, and waddling through it proved to be more emotionally taxing than she expected.
Mary listened patiently to all the details Lesly shared. She tried hard to put those fragmented stories together, but found it difficult to find a connection.
“I don’t understand, Miss Collins,” Mary finally said in response to Lesly’s story.
“I didn’t know who the injured man I was trying to help really was,” Lesly explained calmly.
“Would that have made any difference?”
“No, I think the end result would’ve been the same.”
“Then where’s the problem?”
Lesly struggled to explain the problem, not knowing exactly how to formulate it. His identity was not the issue. It was not the cause of her turmoil. What bothered her was how much that identity harmed him and her along with him. She could not imagine being in his shoes, suffering all sorts of misfortune because of who he was. He was a victim, just as much as her. No, she did not blame him for begging her for help and dragging her into the mess that ensued. It was obvious that he was terrified. She would have done the same thing.
Then why was she mad? Why did she always feel that there was this small part of her that wished she did not encounter him? Could it be that it was because he died shortly afterwards? Was it because she felt that she went through all that hell for nothing? She tried to save his life. She should be proud, and yet…
“Miss Collins?” asked Mary when she noticed that Lesly did not say anything.
Lesly stared at Dr. Grove and wondered if there was any way she would get her point across without dragging the poor woman through another labyrinth. She leaned forward in her seat and asked.
“Any interesting stories caught your attention on the news lately, Dr. Grove?”
“Nothing much,” Mary shrugged, “Everyone is still occupied with Stevenson’s case.”
“I take it you haven’t checked the Redlyn Chronicle and the Daily Echo?” Lesly asked.
“No, anything interesting?”
“The usual. They seem to be trying hard to divert attention away from the scandal by vilifying the usual suspect.”
“And who might that be?” Mary asked inquisitively.
“Victor Lang. Any time a scandal involving a high ranking official in Redlyn erupts, they would immediately zero in on Lang and target him as the possible mastermind behind the bustling mob activity in the city. I’m sure you’ve heard of him before.”
“I have, but I don’t know much about the man.”
“The old man is one of the richest tycoons in the city. He’s also something of a controversial figure. The controversy surrounding him, however, seems to mostly stem from certain media outlets’ capitalizing on every clash Lang had with the city council members. The clash would normally be interpreted along the clichéd lines of corporate greed versus general welfare. However, the matter is far more complex than that. It is definitely more political than economical,” Lesly explained.
“So you think that there is no truth to the claims regarding the connection between Lang and the mob?” Mary asked in an effort to see where Lesly was going with her argument.
“Dr. Grove, do you know who owns the Echo and the Chronicle?”
“I’m afraid I don’t.”
“Most people don’t. It should be obvious, however, where the editors’ political allegiance lies. They always try their hardest to guide public opinion in the direction that best serves the city officials. One way they can accomplish that is by directing attention away from any scandal that involves a high ranking official towards a scapegoat of their choosing. Lang happens to be one of the few perfect candidates for such a task.”
“And what do you think makes him the perfect candidate?”
“He’s filthy rich. That’s one reason why it’s easy to antagonize the man. There’s also the fact that he’s something of an enigma. No one knows much about him except the rumors that have been circulating for years. They’d say that the family has developed shady associations, a dark history and questionable dealings. They’d also tell you that Lang is in control of the eastern parts of the city which are often claimed to be a problematic zone. These factors made it easier for people to believe the claims that the family does indeed have something to do with the mob,” Lesly answered while still maintaining the same calm demeanor.
Mary paused for a moment and began tapping her pen against her notepad. She adjusted her glasses, took another look at her notes, and then asked, “What do you believe?”
“Well, Lang hadn’t exactly been making it difficult to believe such allegations.”
Lesly’s answer was vague and cryptic. Mary still could not figure out what the dark-haired woman in front of her was trying to say, so she decided to ask her directly.
“Miss Collins, what does all that have to do with our discussion about the identity of the injured man?”
Lesly looked at the middle aged woman for a minute, and then gave her the answer she was looking for.
“His name is Jacob, Jacob Lang. He’s Victor Lang’s only son and sole heir,” she finally answered.
“I found out later that he was held in captivity for two weeks in exchange for ransom, or so his father thought. Apparently, the only purpose behind kidnapping him was to mess with his father. The requests for ransom were just a cover-up. They never wanted the money. They wanted him dead, and in the most painful way imaginable. They tortured the hell out of him for two weeks and would have gone on torturing him if it hadn’t been for that fire. Can you imagine how painful that was?”
The situation was getting clearer and clearer to Mary now. She was growing more sympathetic with every passing minuet. Eager to get Lesly to talk about the real issue at hand, but worried she might get Lesly to shut down, she phrased her next question carefully.
“I’m sure it was painful for you, too. How many days were you held captive, Miss Collins? Four?”
“How severe were your injuries?”
“I was hospitalized for three weeks,” Lesly gave an indirect answer.
“What do you think made those people go after you?”
“Because I tried to save that man, Jacob. It was pay back. They told me to turn away and I didn’t. I barely survived those four days. The poor guy had to endure two weeks of that hell. Did you know that he died a couple of days after we got him to a hospital?”
Lesly still kept her calm demeanor while she answered those questions, but Mary could see that she was getting a bit agitated as she was talking about the injured man’s death.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Miss Collins,” Mary replied sympathetically. “How did that make you feel?”
“That it was all for nothing,” Lesly answered with a deep sigh of agitation. “I’ve been through hell for nothing.”
“Take a deep breath, dear.”
“I’m fine,” Lesly answered stubbornly.
“How were you rescued?”
“I don’t remember. I was heavily drugged most of the time and I could not quite tell hallucinations from reality. The only thing I remember from that particular episode is waking up in the hospital. The police were only involved after I was taken there.”
“Aren’t you curious to find out?” Mary inquired.
“No, I’m not curious at all,” she lied. Truth be told, Lesly was aware to some extent how that became possible, but she refused to share any of the details with Mary. Only one person knew the truth and that was Michaela.
Lesly watched Mary scribble down some notes again and was sure that the middle-aged woman’s frivolous notetaking was going to mark the end of the session, but then Mary asked a question that Lesly did not anticipate at all.
“Did Victor Lang try to contact you?”
“No, why would he?” Lesly answered while trying hard not to let her face or words betray the truth.
“I figured that since what happened to you happened because you tried to save his son, he would at the very least try…”
“His only son had just died, Dr. Grove,” Lesly interrupted. “I think he was too busy mourning him that he could not think of anything else. Any parent would go through a complete mental breakdown if they lost a son in that brutal way.”
Mary began tapping her pen against her notepad again as she examined the stubborn woman in front of her. She took a deep breath and began talking to Lesly again.
“Dr. Michaela Weaver mentioned that you’ve been struggling with insomnia, depression and anxiety attacks since the incident.”
“Have been sleeping well lately?”
“Yes,” she lied.
“What about those nightmares?”
“I haven’t had those in a while,” she lied again.
“Are we about done here, Doctor?” Lesly interrupted. “I think we’ve been here for longer than an hour.”
“Very well, Miss Collins,” Mary answered in defeat. “I’ll see you in two weeks.”
“Splendid,” Lesly responded before she grabbed her purse and left.
She encountered Michaela on her way out and told her that she would wait for her outside. Michaela followed her a bit later after she had said her goodbye to Grove. The two women got into Michaela’s car, and as usual, Lesly immediately busied herself with her phone to discourage Michaela from asking questions about how the session went. However, as successful as she was in keeping Michaela from asking, Lesly could not stop thinking about some of the questions that Dr. Grove asked her during the session.
One question in particular got her to think about what happened in the aftermath of the incident, and how Victor Lang showed her his gratitude in his own special way.