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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Stevens Trudges Forward

Detective Paul Stevens disliked the guy immediately. During his 18 years on the force, Stevens had gleaned considerable skill in sizing people up at a glance and these days, people rarely surprised him. As the he sat next to his wife on the plush leather sofa, Stevens knew that the skinny marriage counselor sitting across from them in the tailored grey suit with the red suspenders and platinum tie pin would prove no exception.

As was obvious from the elaborately decorated office, business was booming in the troubled marriage trade. The seventh floor office was lavishly carpeted and extravagantly decorated with fragile antiques. The room contained nearly a dozen large paintings; Stevens assumed that all of them were ridiculously expensive, for he couldn’t think of any other reason for them to be so brazenly abstract, ugly and stupid.

If this guy gave even half a shit about the couples that came to him for help, Stevens thought, he’d at least have the decency to stick his golf-ball-sized gold Piaget in his desk drawer before his clients walked in the door.

The dark grey clouds outside matched Stevens’ mood as he stared out the window while the counselor droned on. “As I tell all my clients, the path to a healthy, nurturing relationship and a fruitful marriage is paved with open and honest communication. Neither of you should ever feel ashamed to express your true feelings to each other.”

The grizzled detective chuckled at the statement’s inadvertent irony. The reason they were sitting here, after all, was because his wife Eileen had chosen to “express” her true feelings by systematically packing up her key belongings and moving in with her sister on the other side of the city. The timing couldn’t have been worse. This Jocasta Smith thing was plaguing him. In all his years as a cop Stevens had never seen a case like it.

On the surface the case was a straightforward rape -- Leo the middle-aged landscaper gets a sudden hard-on for some mature woman action and plies old lady Smith with a batch of Seconal. The party ends a few days later with Stevens taking statements and trudging through ankle-deep dirt, moss and muck in forest in Stanley Park, searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

But for Stevens, too many things didn’t add up. First, the timing was all wrong. Smith was missing for more than three weeks. She couldn’t possibly have survived that long drugged and passed out in the forest without succumbing to exposure. So where had the woman been all this time?

The second problem rested with the case’s only suspect, Leo Oliver. So far Stevens could find no specific motive, nor any physical evidence connecting the man to the assault. The rape kit results at the hospital were inconclusive; furthermore, Leo himself kept repeating the same vague story and swearing that he couldn't remember anything else. Stevens hadn’t pushed for a polygraph yet, but regardless the veteran cop sensed some truth in the man’s statement. When the uniforms picked him up, Oliver’s physical condition was nearly as bad as his alleged victim’s. And he had been genuinely scared.

Then there was the “thing” Smith kept rambling about. She was sure that it raped her, but it definitely wasn’t Leo. It was sort of like a bear, but sort of not. Sort of like a man, but sort of not. Sort of floating, but sort of not. Stevens just couldn’t put the all the different pieces together. Yet.

Now, on top of the increasing pressure for answers from Smith’s daughter -- not to mention that fucking reporter MacIntosh -- Stevens had to sit here and deal with a wife who felt angry and ignored and some pencil-necked psychotherapist who loved to listen to the sound of his own voice at $185 an hour. Stevens turned his attention to one of the paintings near the window. To the cop, the painting looked like the purple tail of a seahorse sticking out of the mouth of a dancing green-and-white hippopotamus outlined by skewers of vegetables amidst a cloudy aquamarine sky. But he supposed it could have been something entirely different.

“Paul?”

Stevens snapped his gaze away from the painting. “Pardon?”

“I said,” continued the counselor, “did you want to address that statement?”

“Sorry, which statement was that exactly?”

Eileen glared. “The one where I said I was tired of you not fucking listening to me.”

His wife didn’t give him a chance to respond before turning back to the counselor. “You see what I mean? I’ve been patient. I’ve been understanding. But I’m tired of being the mistress that comes second to your goddamn job.”

“So the job is the problem?” Stevens said.

“Stop being an ass. You’re the problem.”

“I’ve been a cop for as long as we’ve been married, Eileen. How come now it’s suddenly such a big deal?”

“It became a big deal the moment you started obsessing over your cases. You never used to be this bad. You used to leave all that drama at work, where it’s supposed to be. Now you come home all irritable and lost in thought. God help me whenever I try to ask you what’s wrong. Lord knows how you refuse to actually talk about anything.”

“You know I don’t discuss my cases. Why do I have to keep telling you that?”

“Since when does police work revolve around ghosts hiding inside bears and shapeshifting shamans and things? The few hours a day you come home, you either fall asleep on the couch or you bury your nose in one of your precious animation books.”

“It’s not animation, Eileen. It’s animism. It’s a completely different thing.”

Eileen made a disgusted sound and waved her hand in the air. “I don’t care what it is. I have to put up with a hell of a lot being a policeman’s wife. I shouldn’t have to deal with all this hocus-pocus spirit malarkey.”

The counselor leaned forward. “Is that what’s bothering you inside, Paul? Are you perplexed about the supernatural?”

“Look, it’s just a fucking case, all right? I thought we were here to discuss our relationship. That’s the thing that happens to be perplexing me at the moment.”

“Well Paul, as I tell all my clients, sometimes in order to isolate the problems in a relationship we have to take a few unexpected detours.”

Stevens held his breath for a moment as he clenched and unclenched a massive fist. He finally said quietly, “Is the hour up yet?”

“That’s right,” sniffed Eileen. “Bury it all away. Keep it inside. Typical.”

“I’ll tell you what’s typical...,” said Stevens. His sentence was interrupted by the shrill ring of his cell. Stevens fumbled to dig out the phone from his jacket pocket.

“You’re kidding me, right?” said Eileen. “This is a joke, right? You’re not possibly thinking of actually taking this call.”

“I believe there’s a sign in my waiting area, Paul, that suggests turning off all cell phones and pagers for the duration of our sessions. As I tell all my clients…”

But Stevens was no longer listening. He quickly scanned the number on the call display. Finally, he thought. This is exactly the call I’ve been waiting for.

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