Violet McCune had dragged herself into my therapy office almost three months ago covered in angry bruises. I’d been listening to her sob her guts out for almost an hour. Fifty minutes to be exact. It was the same old story, but with a nasty twist: tan ex-husband who arrived in the middle of the night, broke down the door, and beat the woman senseless because he’d heard from his buddies down at the station that she’d started dating again. And, oh yeah, he was a member of the LAPD.
I stupidly advised her to file a police report and get a restraining order. What I couldn’t get her to even consider was what I then believed was by far her best option, going to a temporary woman’s shelter with her children.
“He’ll find me. He always finds me.” She dropped the shelter’s business card in my wastebasket and left without paying me for the session. I’d offered to see her again for free, but she’d refused to make a follow-up appointment. “You don’t get it, do you?” she said on her way out. “He’s an LA cop. He can do anything to me he wants.”
Now Violet was dead, shot in the face last night in a convenience store parking lot not three blocks from my office in Playa Del Rey. The snarling and barely disguised male voice that greeted me on my answering machine first thing the next morning was less than comforting.
“Hey, do you watch the news? You probably read the LA Times, right? Bad things seem to be happening to mouthy women in your neighborhood. Well, guess what, bitch? You could be next.”
“No, I don’t think so,” I said out loud to the voice on the machine. “You can go to hell.” The little red light on the answering device was still beeping, showing that there were two other unanswered calls. I deleted the robo-call from a carpet cleaning company, and decided to ignore the request for an initial consultation from a nasal-sounding woman named Marge who’d gotten my name from the online Yellow Pages. Sorry, Marge Whoever-You-Are. Not going to happen. I yanked the plug from the wall socket and shoved the annoying gizmo into my briefcase.
It was at that precise moment that I discovered that I wasn’t as committed to my psychotherapy practice as I thought I was, or my cozy apartment on the beach, for that matter, and that there were very few things about LA worth dying for. I had no idea whether or not there was a written record anywhere other than my own session notes to prove that Violet McCune had indeed visited me at all. Had she entered my office number on her cell phone or written our meeting down in her diary? It seemed likely that she’d mentioned this visit to her ex-husband, possibly in a moment of rage, perhaps even repeating verbatim what I’d said about a man who would beat a woman to a pulp. It was just as possible that she’d told him whatever I’d suggested she do for her own and her children’s protection, enraging him further.
Why, oh why, do people taunt their abusers, people they already know possess a huge capacity for violence? Talk about Freud’s “death wish” theory. It’s the equivalent of the soon-to-be victim in every bad horror movie confronting the serial murderer and telling him that she knows everything he’s done and is about to go to the police. Is that supposed to stop him in his tracks, or just make him want to kill her sooner? I couldn’t stop wondering if our session was the last thing Violet McCune ever talked about before her enraged ex-husband pulled the trigger. It was something I’d he obsessing over for a very long time.
Since I didn’t take insurance, hadn’t been paid by Violet for the session, and rarely took notes, preferring to keep everything in my head, I thought that it was unlikely that I’d be subpoenaed to testify, but it was still a nagging possibility that all therapists have to face in moments like these, that despite our oaths of confidentiality, we could still be dragged into court and harangued by the local district attorney. What mattered at this moment wasn’t the actuality of a subpoena as much as Violet’s husband’s fear of my possible testimony. Not only was he facing a murder rap. The custody of his children was involved. This often becomes a powerful motivation for violence against anyone who stands between a man and his children, one that sometimes overrides the threat of incarceration or the death penalty. I’d observed over the years that things often turn out badly for murder witnesses and those who are called upon to present hearsay evidence against truly determined criminals. Any doubts I may have had about the extent of Officer Bruce McCune ‘s intentions toward me had been erased by the sheer brutality of the crime committed against his former wife, and by the threatening phone message in my office. The report of Violet’s murder in the paper had still allowed for some doubt in my mind concerning the identity of her killer, but that subsequent phone message removed it. I was sure that it would only be a matter of time before Bruce McCune realized the same thing, and understood how rash he’d been, given all the current voice identification technology, to leave such an incriminating verbal calling card.
By the next evening I’d broken several leases, referred out twenty clients, rented a storage unit, and prepared to head north with my dog Winston and a hefty cashier’s check from my bank made out to Dr. I. Raye Collier. The “I” stands for Imogene, but everybody calls me Raye, or Dr. Collier if they’re my patients. Sometimes I wonder just what my parents could possibly have been thinking forty years ago, naming a defenseless child Imogene. I’d ask them, but they’ve both been gone since I was in my early twenties.
My ten years in practice as a clinical psychologist had given me plenty of insight into the mind of a man, especially a cop, who’d shoot the mother of his children in the face and threaten her shrink. Actually, it didn’t take much more than common sense to appreciate that the safest place to be at the moment was somewhere far away, and the sooner the better. I loaded up my Camry with a few wardrobe essentials, my trusty cosmetics bag, a huge bag of Winston’s favorite dog food, and soon Winston and I were heading up the coast. I’d planned to see patients right through the summer, but now it looked as if, along with every other therapist in America these days, I’d be taking a vacation in August after all.
Both of my older sisters were married and living in the small town of Bennisford, the farm valley of Western Washington in which we’d grown up. I’d never been close with my sisters, partially because of the difference in our ages, but we talked on the phone occasionally and sent Christmas cards. They couldn’t very well throw their baby sister to the wolves in her time of need, could they? I sincerely hoped not. Robert Frost had written that, “Home is where, if you have to go there, they have to take you in.” I was hoping that he knew what he was talking about. I planned to find my own place as soon as possible, but what I needed at the moment was a day or two to catch my breath and feel relatively safe. Besides, my motto has always been, “When in doubt, go north.” Have you noticed that nothing good ever happens on the south side of anywhere?