Authors: Robert Ward
“He wanted it badly, but I outbid him for it and he’s been toying with me ever since.”
“Toying?” Bob said. “How do you mean?”
Emile flashed his big brown eyes.
“You’ll think I’m paranoid.”
Another long silence. Bob waited, trying hard not to let Emile feel his own desperation. Finally, the trim little man spoke.
“Okay. For example, he sends people around to my town house to watch me. And I get phone calls all the time. Even in the middle of the night. He doesn’t say a word. Then hangs up. He’s seriously fucking with me.”
“The thing I don’t understand is,” Bob said, “if he wants to steal the mask, why would he put you on guard like that?”
“Because that’s how he is,” Bardan said, “It’s personal with him. It’s not enough for him to simply steal the mask and sell it. He’s got to break me down in the process.”
“Totally,” Emile said. “The most sadistic bastard you’d ever want to meet.”
Suddenly, unexpectedly, Emile began to weep. Bob waited for him to use the Kleenex box, which was sitting on the little end table by his chair.
“Have you called the police, Emile?”
“Of course. But you know what they say. ‘Sorry, we can’t do a thing until a crime is actually committed.’ Meanwhile, I can’t sleep, can’t think. Colin’s watching me, waiting for me to slip up, and then he’ll grab the mask.”
“I take it you have it well guarded,” Bob said. “Locked in a safe.”
“Of course,” Emile Bardan said. “But this war of nerves, it’s really getting to me. I think what I really need is some sleeping pills. When I can’t sleep I get nuts. And I’m afraid I’ll make a mistake. Think you can write me a prescription?”
Bob bit his lower lip and felt a twinge of anxiety. Since he wasn’t an MD he couldn’t write prescriptions, but instead had to refer his patients to a psychiatrist who could give them the pills they invariably wanted. The problem was once they’d met a Dr. Feelgood, many of them jumped ship. Why spend their lives talking to Bob when the pills changed their mood in a matter of hours?
“I could refer you to someone,” Bob said. “But let’s try to work on this without medication. You don’t want to add addiction to your other problems.”
Emile Bardan only shrugged and picked at his pink socks.
“I know what you think,” he said.
“What’s that?” Bob said.
“You think I’m making the whole thing up.”
“Not at all,” Bob said. “But now that you mention it, are you sure he’s really got people watching you?”
“Of course,” Emile said. “They were on my roof the other night.”
“Edwards and his men? You saw them?”
Emile shut his eyes and massaged his temples with his thumb and forefingers.
“Heard them,” Bardan said. “I got my pistol and headed up the fire escape. By the time I got up there, the helicopter was already in the sky.”
“And you’re sure this … helicopter had taken off from your roof?”
Bardan’s thin and elegant face squeezed into a frown.
“See? That’s what I’m talking about. You don’t believe me. I’m telling you, the guy is after me. He’s driving me crazy.”
Bardan’s eyes were wide with terror and it took Bob a full fifteen minutes to calm him down. At the session’s end, they’d agreed to meet twice a week for the next few months, during which Emile Bardan’s stories had become even wilder. He was sure his phones were tapped, he was certain Edwards had hidden cameras in his living room and office. He lived in fear that one day when he went to check on the mask, it would be gone and there would be nothing he could do.
In the beginning Bob had believed him, but as the stories grew more elaborate he began to wonder how much of it could possibly be true. Perhaps all of it was a mere projection, some kind of neurotic persecution fantasy that caused Emile to fixate and obsess on Colin Edwards.
Bob wasn’t sure where the truth actually lay, but his instinct told him that there was something else going on in Bardan’s heart, some terrible secret that perhaps made him feel that he
to have the mask stolen from him. Sometimes, when Bardan talked about Edwards stealing it, there was almost relief in his voice, as though he wished Edwards
steal it so the whole torturous ordeal could finally be over with.
Emile Bardan seemed to be suffering from some terrible guilt, a guilt that could only be expiated by losing the mask. But whenever Bob tried to broach the subject, Emile would get uncommunicative, cross and recross his thin legs, and stare moodily down at Bob’s frayed Indian rug.
They had reached an impasse, not unusual in therapy, of course, but before Bob could work through it, Emile announced he had to go to London for a time to check on some possible acquisitions for his gallery.
Bob asked him what he would do about the mask when he was gone. Emile frowned and said he’d hired two guards.
“Expensive guards,” he said, as he left the room that day. “The kind that will shoot to kill, if necessary.”
“Let’s hope it never comes to that,” Bob said, using his best optimistic voice.
“I’ll see you when I get back,” Emile said.
As Emile left that day, Bob smiled and wished him a good trip, but the truth was he hated to wait for two whole weeks. Given the tenuous nature of their relationship, two weeks could set them back two months, maybe longer. God, what rotten luck. He finally gets an interesting paying patient and the guy leaves. Maybe forever.
Meanwhile, what was he supposed to do about his overdue credit card bills, his late mortgage payment? Bill collectors were starting to hassle him. At first they were polite, but after a few calls they had threatened to come pay him a visit. He had to think, come up with something. What he needed, he found himself saying as he climbed into bed at night, was inspiration. In the old days, in his youth, inspiration could come from anywhere. He’d be walking down the street and he’d see two people talking, maybe they’d just be waiting for a bus, but the way they were huddled together would make him think of one of his patients, and he’d suddenly
what that patient’s problems were all about. Because his antennae were out, because he was fully alive.
That was what it was all about, he thought. Becoming alive again.
Dressed in his old Hopkins sweatshirt and his father’s watch cap, Bob ran through Patterson Park. Sometimes, he thought, as he moved his legs in long, loping strides, sometimes when he was a kid, running would give him ideas, too.
Now he jogged by the dilapidated Chinese pagoda, which had been there ever since he was a child. He remembered when the People’s Republic of China had sent it to Baltimore. There had been a ribbon cutting, pictures in the paper and on television. But now the pagoda was rotting, and on late-night jogs he’d once seen a dozen rats running out of it. Kids used it for sex, and junkies to shoot drugs.
Like everything else in his life, Bob thought, the pagoda was past its prime.
Bob ran harder and watched the steam come from his mouth. He could still run. He wasn’t a hopeless case, yet. He just needed to work harder. Find a reason to keep moving. Hey, he’d be okay. Of course he would. It was just a matter of time, wasn’t it? Something would happen. And boom, he’d be on top again.
Running, like this, with the endorphins flowing, he could nearly believe it.
But even the run had its perilous side.
At least once a week, an unmarked beige Crown Victoria would pull up beside him, somewhere near Linwood Avenue or at the east end of Baltimore Street.
Inside, Homicide Detective Bud Garrett would be sitting behind the wheel. Garrett’s eyes sagged down to his lips, and he’d lost most of his once-thick brown hair. He sported a lame comb-over, three or four lost strands that looked like broken feelers on an insect. Beside him in the passenger seat was his fat, brutal partner, Ed Geiger. Geiger had a gut, and a big, untrimmed mustache. When Bob looked at him he always thought of Hitler.
The Crown Vic was there again today.
“Hey, hey, look at the jock,” Geiger said.
“Yeah,” Garrett said. “Dr. Bobby’s gonna get himself on
They both brayed at that one. Bob said nothing but kept running as the police car kept pace. As he tried to cross the street at Linwood, the two detectives pulled in front of him, blocking his path.
“What the fuck?” Bob said.
“Oooh, you shouldn’t curse,” Garrett said, getting out of the car.
“What the hell do you guys want?” Bob said.
“You got any drugs on you?” Geiger said. “I think you better let us look and see.”
“Yeah,” Garrett said. “Assume the position, Bob.”
“This is bullshit,” Bob said. But he didn’t resist. He wasn’t in the mood for a beating today. He spread his legs and leaned on the roof of the car, as Geiger roughly patted him down.
“Nothing here today,” Geiger said as he finished. “The hero is clean.”
“Save anybody from mental illness today, Bob?” Garrett said.
“No,” Bob said. “But I did teach a class in how to avoid police harassment.”
“Whoaaaa,” Geiger said. “Score one for Dr. Bobby.”
Bob gave them a quick little smile like they weren’t getting to him and, suddenly, had a mental image of himself punching Garrett’s nose in a street demonstration thirty years ago. Yeah, those were the days … the whole hood out fighting city hall, and Garrett trying to shove Bob off the street with his baton. Bob had surprised him with a short left hook, right in the snout.
A glorious, terrific shot …
An impulsive shot that had earned him fame in the hood, and the enmity of the cops for the rest of his life.
“Hey, Dr. Bobby,” Garrett said. “I see that old pal of yours, the Jew boy, Rudy? I hear he’s got his own radio show.”
Bob said nothing.
“Hey, that’s not all he’s got,” Geiger said. “I hear he’s got Bobby’s ex-wife … the gorgeous Miss Meredith.”
Bob glowered at them.
“Ohhh, I think he’s getting mad,” Garrett said.
“I’m getting scared,” Geiger said.
“Fuck you both, officers.”
“No, but Bobby,” Garrett said, “how come you ain’t got a show? I think you should have one. Could be called
You could dispense advice to the coloreds and the immigrants around here about how to achieve sainthood.”
“First, you gotta lose all your money gambling,” Geiger said. “That way you remain pure as the driven snow.”
That one hit Bob hard. How the fuck did they know about that? Ah Christ, what was he thinking, around here,
“Then you gotta live in a shithole house, ‘cause saints can’t have nice pads,” Garrett said.
“And no nookie,” Geiger said. “You gotta get no nookie at all.”
“You guys done with your comedy routine?” Bob said.
“Sure, Dr. Bobby,” Geiger said. “For now. Have a nice jog.”
They headed back to their car, laughing as they shut the doors. Bob turned away from the street and ran slowly across the frozen baseball diamond, into the park. As he ran he began to feel a pain in the pit of his stomach. In the old days, when he was a respected member of the community, the cops wouldn’t have hassled him like that. Why? Because his old pals at Hopkins, and in the radical community, wouldn’t let them get away with it.
But that was another world. Now they knew he was alone, weakened. They could do anything they wanted to him. And who was going to back him? No one. He was an animal cut out of the pack.
It was almost as if he were a criminal, he thought. Some street punk … but in a way it was worse because a criminal, like Ray Wade, for example, had his own crew, his own network. The cops didn’t mess with Ray like they did him. Why? Because they had more respect for a criminal than they did an idealistic loser, like Bob. It was true. After all these years on the job, he had less power than a common street criminal. The idea was perverse, but instead of depressing him it made him laugh.
Maybe, he thought, he’d be better off if he actually
He laughed again and dismissed the idea. When you were desperate, hell, you were likely to think of some very weird shit.
Thursday night was the only time he still felt alive. That was the night Bob played with his band, the Rockaholics, at the funky artists’ bar called the Lodge. Up on the small bandstand, Bob wailed away on lead guitar, doing the old blues and rockabilly tunes he’d loved since he was young. The group was made up of a middle-aged black drummer, Curtis Frayne, a fashionably bald, young bass player named Eddie Richardson, and a really good thirty-five-year-old Chinese organist/sculptor named Ling Ha. The Rockaholics played all the old tunes from the rockabilly catalog: “Be Bop a Lula,” “Woman Love,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Honey Don’t.” They usually attracted a decent crowd and while he was up there on the stage at the end of the bar, riffing on his old Les Paul, Bob was transformed. The aches in his knees disappeared. The pain in his neck, which seemed to get sharper every day, didn’t bother him at all. These were the last good times, Bob thought, just about the only thing that pulled him from the depression and bitterness that strangled his mind.
But even this pleasure was imperiled. The problem with the Rockaholics was that nobody in the band really sang that well. A few years back, Bob had done a fair imitation of the old-time stars, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, and Eddie Cochran. But he couldn’t hit the high notes anymore and nobody else in the band was even half as good. Lately, there had been some complaints from the hip younger artists, and bikers, who drank and danced at the Lodge that the band’s limited song list had become too predictable. There was even some talk of getting a new and younger group, the Fliptones, as the house band. When Bob heard this mutinous idea, he felt panic rise in his chest. Losing the gig was unthinkable. Something had to be done about finding a real singer. So for the next three weeks the band tried out prospective leads. They were a motley crew, starting with a huge truck driver named Jerry Jim Marx, whose act consisted of screaming streams of obscenities into the mike (“Fuck me, eat me!!”). Next was a skinny little punkette of a woman named Dukey Thorn who was covered in tattoos. She looked cool, like many of the artists themselves, and for a minute Bob was hopeful. But then she sang. Any relationship between Dukey’s caterwauling voice and the song’s melody was purely coincidental. Finally, there was a big black woman, a computer techie who worked at the ESPN Zone, named Dee Dee Wallingham. She claimed to love “old-time” rock, but sang every song like Celine Dion, her chubby fist tightened over her heart. Her voice was a high-pitched wail, and she managed to turn even “Knock on Wood” into a ballad.