The last place in the world Eliot Kane ever thought he’d end up was a shrink’s office, but, he reflected grimly, after Kay Palmer turned up dead the night he dreamed about killing her, he really had no choice.
When he entered Dr. Leanne Warner’s fourth floor office in North Dallas, he strode purposefully across the room, as if he were still in complete control of his life, and offered his hand.
The doctor rose from behind her polished wooden desk to greet him, extending her own long, slender hand, and for an instant he considered canceling the whole thing.
You can’t trust her! Leave now.
The thought was his, yet it seemed to come from someone else. The voice that sometimes whispered in his mind in moments of great stress was just another reason he had to trust this woman, had to find a way to stop what was happening to him.
He focused on blocking the voice, ignoring the angry, fearful feelings that came with it.
Spilling his guts wasn’t going to be easy, and the fact that she was a woman intimidated him further, made him want to protect her from the sort of things he was going to tell her. But he was desperate, and she was the only psychiatrist who’d agreed to see him immediately.
Even so, he’d expected an older, substantial type with gray hair and glasses. This woman was young and slim with soft blue eyes and shiny brown hair that swung casually about her slender neck. The severe lines of her dark blue pinstripe suit were relieved by a peach-colored silk blouse and by the gentle curves of her body. She looked like someone he’d want to take to dinner, but not someone he’d trust with his sanity.
“Mr. Kane,” she said, smiling easily. “I’m Leanne Warner. Please have a seat.”
Her hand was smooth and cool in his, her grip firm but not aggressively so. Her voice was the same—smooth, cool and firm. That quality made it a little easier to think of her as a doctor, not as a woman.
He handed her the form her secretary had requested he complete, took the seat she indicated in an over-sized gray leather recliner and attempted to appear calm. Her office was spacious, but the curtains were drawn over the wall of windows, closing them in, calling forth his claustrophobia.
A dark blue sofa rested across from his chair, flanking the other side of the door through which he’d come. In the far corner of the room was another door, the private door through which all patients left, he assumed. The office breathed quiet, slightly detached, professionalism. Other than the closed curtains, the atmosphere was conducive to tranquility.
“I’ve been having memory lapses for the past month,” he told her, going directly to the point.
She nodded, studying the three-page form that told her his name, address, social security number and other equally inconsequential information. She flipped the last page over, laid it down and reached across her desk to switch on a small recorder. “Do you mind?” she asked.
He hesitated. It wasn’t going to be easy to talk about his problem. He wasn’t sure he wanted a permanent record of it.
“No one has access to your file or your recordings except me,” she assured him.
He studied her silently for a long moment. “All right,” he finally agreed.
“If at any point you want me to turn it off, just let me know.” He nodded. “Now, can you give me some examples of your memory lapses?”
He sat erect, crossed his arms over his chest then realized she was probably reading his body language, thinking he was shutting her out from something—which he certainly had every intention of doing. He leaned back, rested his hands on the chair arms and shrugged—casually, he hoped.
“Inconsequential things for the most part,” he replied, trying to sound as if forgetting one’s actions, no matter how small, could ever be inconsequential. “The first one was picking up my dry cleaning. When I went by, the owner, a man I’ve done business with for years, told me I’d already taken it. I didn’t believe him, but when I got home, the clothes were in my closet.”
Leanne—Dr. Warner—nodded, waiting silently for him to continue. Her expression showed concern and caring. It’s her job, he reminded himself.
“I find food in the refrigerator that I don’t remember buying,” he continued. “I think I have half a bottle of after-shave, but it disappears. I get up in the morning and find my car on the street when I distinctly recall putting it in the underground parking garage of my condo complex, and I don’t remember going out again.”
Still she waited, and he no longer thought her eyes were a soft, languorous blue. They were intense, brilliant sapphires, gem-sharp, aware. He felt as if she could read his thoughts, could see what he wasn’t telling her.
His palms against the leather were becoming damp, but he didn’t move them. She’d be sure to notice. “And some things of more consequence,” he continued, looking away from her, toward the curtained wall of windows on the far side of the room. He could imagine his own thoughts hiding in the folds and shadows of those curtains.
“I’m an investment banker, an occupation that requires stability and reliability. Recently I called a client to change an appointment then forgot about doing it. I went to meet him at the originally scheduled time, phoned him when he didn’t show up. If that kind of behavior continues, I won’t have many clients.”
He turned his gaze back to her, erecting a mental shield. That was all she needed to know. Surely she’d be able to do something based on that much information.
“Are you on any medication?” she asked.
“Nothing. I don’t even take aspirin.”
She raised one eyebrow. “What do you do when you have a headache?”
“I don’t get headaches.” Until a week ago. Until he’d become afraid to go to sleep at night for fear he’d see himself murdering another woman then wake to find her picture in the morning newspaper.
“After you discover one of these memory lapses—finding your dry cleaning in your closet, for example—do you then recall the event, or does it remain a total blank?”
He shook his head. “Completely blank.”
Did she? He’d like to think so, but he doubted it.
“Recently I dreamed about doing something,” he said, and realized the words had come out in a monotone, so great was his effort to keep any emotion from his voice. “The next day I found out it really happened.” It really happened, he’d said. He couldn’t bring himself to say, I did it. He couldn’t have done it. He was no murderer.
He knew that was true.
He prayed that was true.
“What did you dream?” she asked.
He wanted to take his handkerchief and blot the perspiration forming on his upper lip and forehead, but he knew she’d correctly interpret the sign as nervousness.
“The event isn’t important. The fact that it happened is the problem.”
She said nothing for several infinite seconds, merely sat there toying with a pencil, studying him. An involuntary tic started under his left eye. He had no doubt she’d notice with those piercing, searching eyes of hers, but, try as he might, he couldn’t seem to make it stop.
“I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that everything you tell me is privileged information,” she finally said. “If you want me to help you, you’re going to have to trust me. If you’re not willing to tell me your problem, we’re both wasting our time.”
He knew she was right. Still he hedged. “What do you think about the possibility that I could have another personality, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Sybil?”
She gave him a small, comforting smile. “Certainly that’s a possibility, but it’s much rarer than television and the movies would have us believe.”
It was his turn, and he knew what she wanted to hear. His jaw muscles clenched tightly. Damn it, he had told her his problem. She didn’t need to know all the specifics. Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to come here after all.
He lowered his gaze, sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. Exhaustion suddenly overwhelmed him. He was going to have to give it up. Much as he hated it, she was right. He couldn’t ask her to solve the puzzle if he didn’t give her all the pieces.
The office seemed to close in around him, suffocating him. He needed to take a deep breath but couldn’t seem to pull air into his lungs.
“Do you mind if I open the drapes?” he asked.
“Not at all.” She rose from her desk. “I prefer them open myself.” She strode to the window and tugged on the cord, opening up the room, and his breathing came easier.
“Better?” she asked, resuming her seat.
“I have an aversion to closed spaces.” He might as well admit to his phobia. She was sharp enough to have already picked up on it, and it was certainly the least of his problems.
“Why do you think that is?”
“I don’t know, and right now I really don’t care.” She lifted one eyebrow, and he realized he’d snapped at her. Damn! He really had lost control. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. It’s just that I’ve been claustrophobic all my life, and it hasn’t interfered with anything. I can deal with it. This other problem, I don’t know how to deal with it.”
“Very well,” she acquiesced, “I believe we were discussing your fear that you have multiple personality disorder.”
“Sometimes—” He paused, wanting to formulate the words in just the right manner. “Sometimes during the last couple of months my thoughts seem out of character, as if they’re coming from another source besides my own brain. I can be in a good mood, and suddenly I feel anger, or a thought crosses my mind that seems to come from someone else. It’s almost like I have another person inside my head, talking to me, feeling emotions separate from mine.”
“What does this voice say to you?” Was there a subtle shift in her tone? Had he crossed the line with his last confession so that she now regarded him as insane?
“Nothing of any significance. Odd thoughts such as—” He hesitated then forced himself to continue. “When I came in here, the idea came to me that I shouldn’t trust you.”
“What do you do when these thoughts come to you?”
“I ignore them, try to block them.”
She nodded slowly, studying him intently. “What else?”
“Can we turn the damned recorder off?” Maybe he had to tell her—probably he had to tell her—but he didn’t want his admission recorded.
With no change in expression, she complied.
“I dreamed I killed a woman.” He expelled the words in a rush, anxious to get them out of his mouth, away from him.
“That’s not an uncommon dream, particularly in times of stress. Is there something in your life that’s causing you an undue amount of stress right now?”
He grinned wryly. “Yeah. These blasted memory lapses.” He watched her closely as he continued, suddenly uncertain if he feared more that she’d think him crazy or sane when she heard the rest. “More than once I dreamed about killing that same woman. The first time it was vague, kind of hazy, like a dream of a dream. Then with every repetition it got a little clearer, changed a little, gained more details, until the last time was like watching a movie.”
“Did you know the woman?”
“No. I seemed to know her in the dream, but when I woke up...” He shook his head. “She seemed kind of familiar, probably because I’d seen her in the dream. No,” he said firmly—more firmly than he felt. “I don’t—didn’t know her.”
“How did you feel in the dreams? Were you upset about the murder? Happy?”
He hadn’t wanted to get into that part, the really bad part. “Excited,” he said quietly. “In the dreams one part of me felt ecstatic, powerful...like I could fly. At the same time, the part of me watching it happen felt sick.” He studied her closely to see how she would react, but she gave no outward sign of her feelings.
“So you’re two people in the dream? One of you performing the actions and one of you watching?”
He considered that. “I only see one of me in the dreams. That’s the person who enjoys the killing. I, as the dreamer, am disgusted at my own actions.”
“And you’re certain you’ve never seen this woman outside of your dreams?”
“Not that I recall.” He sucked in a deep breath and prepared to make the total commitment. “The day after the movie-vivid dream, I saw her picture on the news—murdered—strangled, just like I dreamed. Her name is Kay Palmer. Maybe you saw the story.”
He had to give her credit. She didn’t flinch. Her expression didn’t change. “You’re sure you never met her?”
“Believe me, I’ve searched my memory, and I don’t know anyone by that name.”
“But you’re concerned that you know her in another personality, that you killed her as another personality?” she asked, putting into words the fear he hadn’t dared verbalize, even to himself.
“Is that possible?” He waited for her answer as if she were judge and jury, deciding his fate.
“Of course it’s possible, but there are other explanations that are more probable.”
He shot up out of the chair, unable to sit still any longer. “Like what?” he demanded, leaning over her desk “How can you explain my seeing a murder? Seeing myself commit it?”
She tented her fingers and returned his stare calmly. “Perhaps you went to sleep with the television on, woke up just enough to see a late night newscast of the murder, then incorporated it into a dream.”
“The television wasn’t on when I went to sleep or when I woke up.”
“You just told me you’ve been forgetting things. Maybe you forgot turning it on then off.”
“This wasn’t the first time I dreamed about her.”
“Maybe it was. By your own admission, the other dreams were unclear. Perhaps your dream woman had features similar to the murdered woman, and your subconscious did the rest. That would explain why she seemed familiar.”
He felt himself begin to relax for the first time since he’d entered her office—for the first time since he’d seen that news report a week ago. Encroaching senility was preferable to murder.
“As for your thoughts that seem to come from somewhere else, that’s a fairly common phenomenon in times of stress.” She tapped her pencil against the desk, watching him speculatively. “Let’s go back to your dislike of enclosed spaces. Where do you think that originates?”
“I have no idea,” he said, irritation rising again. “When I’m under a lot of pressure, I get feelings of claustrophobia. The only way that issue relates to the problem I’m having now is that the stress makes it worse.”
She nodded, and he knew she would probably waste valuable time in the future pursuing that avenue. He’d never be able to convince her it wasn’t related to his present trouble.
A timer on her desk gave a soft ding.
“I see our time is up for today. When would you like to come back?”
The hour was over, and he didn’t feel they’d accomplished a thing. Damn! He had to get this matter taken care of. “Would tomorrow be possible?”
“Certainly. Tomorrow at five again,” she agreed.
“Thanks,” he said. “I know this is past your regular schedule, and I do appreciate it.”
She smiled then, a soft, caring smile, and he felt himself draw back mentally. He liked her better as a detached doctor than as a real person. He couldn’t deal with a real person right now, didn’t want a real person to know about his problems.
As she drove home, Leanne rolled down her car window and let the warm September air flow around her and reclaim her after her unusually long day spent inside the confines of her office. One benefit of working late was that the major part of the rush traffic was gone.
However, that wasn’t the only benefit. She was glad she’d given Eliot Kane the after-hours appointment. He was obviously a very tightly controlled man whose problems likely sprang from that control. In spite of his concerns, she didn’t see that he had any major worries right now. His mind was just screaming for help before things got bad.
Being the one to offer that help was always a gratifying feeling. Though there was never a guarantee with mental problems, Eliot Kane was a strong candidate for the category of those who could be helped.
As she approached her neighborhood in east Dallas, she felt soothed and welcomed by the quaint old homes and large trees, a major contrast to the stark newness of the area where her office was located. She turned onto her street, her gaze automatically going to the house across from hers, to the small, white-haired man sitting in the porch swing beside the large black doberman.
She waved out the open car window. “Hi, Thurman, Dixie.”
Thurman Powers smiled and waved back. Dixie’s ears perked, though she would never move without Thurman’s permission.
Leanne pulled into her driveway, hit the garage door opener and settled her car inside for the night. Thurman worried about her. If the weather was too bad for Dixie and him to sit on the front porch and watch for her return, they’d sit inside, looking out the window.
He was the closest thing she had to a father, and she was his only family. His wife had died ten years before, and they’d never had children. Leanne and Thurman had bonded the first day she walked into his office as a very green intern. Through the years of practicing together, their friendship had grown, and she’d bought the house across the street from him when it came up for sale. Now that he was retired and she’d taken over the practice, they still maintained daily contact.
While he might be a strictly cerebral retired psychiatrist, Dixie was his personal one hundred forty pound loaded weapon...and they were both determined to take care of her, a woman alone. That made it a lot easier for her to take care of him. The rare occasions he wasn’t sitting on the porch or watching through the window, she went over immediately. Usually she’d find that he’d been upstairs working on a paper for a psychiatric journal, the time completely forgotten. Then she could go home with her mind at ease.
When she crossed her yard from the garage to the front door of her hundred-year old home, she noted that Thurman and Dixie had gone inside.
She opened her own door, and a small black dog less than one-tenth Dixie’s size gave an excited “yip” then scurried onto the porch on legs too short for her long body, one ear drooping and one erect, brown eyes wide and sparkling.
Leanne stooped to pet the manic animal. “Hi, Greta! Are you starved, sweetheart? If it’s any consolation, I’m late for a worthy reason. I stayed to help a nice man.”
She straightened and went into the house with Greta at her heels, through the house to the back door where she let Greta into the fenced yard.
As her small dog scurried about the yard, sniffing diligently under every tree, every bush, every plant, for evidence of intruders into her territory, Leanne leaned against the door frame, thinking about the appointment that had made her late.
Beneath Eliot Kane’s conservatively tailored charcoal suit lived a very real, very complicated human being. He was an attractive man. The well-tailored suit disguised but didn’t hide his large arms, wide chest and muscular thighs. His dark blond hair, at first immaculately styled, then tousled from his nervous gestures, was the perfect frame for his golden brown eyes. His jaw was square, stubborn and challenging, his lips thin and determined but somehow sensual.
And that, she thought, reaching down to pet Greta as the little dog trotted over, pretty well summarized Eliot Kane. He had a determination that was almost super human, and a quality of vulnerability that was totally human. He was dynamic and appealing and very much in charge, and he had mental problems that led him to ask for her help. It was an intriguing combination.
She scratched behind Greta’s ear then rose. “Come on, girl, let’s get you some dinner.”
Later that night she climbed the stairs to her second floor bedroom. Greta moved up the polished wooden steps beside her like a slinky toy.
When they reached the landing, Greta scurried ahead to the bedroom and dove into her doggie bed in the corner. Leanne followed then bent down to scratch behind one ear. “Good night, little one.”
She went into the bathroom to change to her gown. The silk flowed over her naked skin like a lover’s fingers, evoking an image of Eliot Kane’s fingers when he’d taken her hand.
She flinched. That was not acceptable. She stood with her hand poised on the bathroom light switch, forcing herself to adhere to the same honesty she expected from her patients.
She’d already admitted that she found Eliot attractive, but he certainly wasn’t the first patient she’d found attractive, and she’d never before had inappropriate feelings, never felt the slightest inclination to breach the doctor/patient relationship.
She had no problem adhering to the prohibition against becoming involved with patients. The possibility of losing her license wasn’t nearly as potent a deterrent as the other possible consequences of such an action. Involvement did not help and could hinder the process of healing.
She could admire Eliot’s courage, his strength, his obstinacy, and she could allow herself to feel sympathy for the confusion and helplessness he was apparently feeling at his sudden loss of control. She could even admire his wide chest and tumbled hair the way she might admire the good looks of an actor in a movie. And that was all.
Lifting her chin, she switched off the light and crossed the plush, smoky blue carpet of her bedroom to the window to draw the drapes.
Across the street Eliot Kane, still wearing his conservative suit, leaned against a tree, watching her house.