Alice Madison shifted in the comfortable upholstered armchair and adjusted the holster that dug a little into her right side. She stole a glance out the wide window. Puget Sound shone in the pallid January light, its silver creased white in spots, and Mount Rainier rose from blue shadows in the distance.
She turned when she realized the silence had stretched longer than was polite. Dr. Robinson was watching her.
“Don’t worry. I know people come here for my sharp psychological insights but it’s the view they stay for,” he said.
He had made that joke the first time they’d met, a few weeks earlier. She smiled a little today as she had then, not entirely sure he was unaware he was repeating himself.
The sign in the lobby said STANLEY F. ROBINSON, PHD. The office on the fifteenth floor was smart, the colors muted.
The man was in his early fifties, with salt-and-pepper hair in a short cut and big brown eyes. A useful look for a psychologist who worked with cops: fairly unthreatening with bouts of inquisitiveness, she mused.
“How was your week?” he asked. Dr. Robinson’s desk was mercifully free of pads and pens. If he took notes, he did so after their sessions.
“Good,” Madison replied. “Paperwork from a few old cases to tidy up. A domestic incident that turned out to be nothing. Pretty standard stuff.”
“Did you think about the forest incident? I mean, longer than for a few seconds during your day.”
“Did you experience any unusual thoughts or have unusual reactions as you went about your business? I’ll let you tell me what’s unusual for you.”
“No, nothing unusual.”
“Any reaction to chloroform or other PTSD events?”
“Anything at all about the last week or in general that you’d like to talk about?”
Madison had the good grace to at least pretend she was pondering the question.
“Not really,” she said finally.
Dr. Robinson mulled over her reply for a few moments. He sat back in his chair.
“Detective, how many sessions have we had to date?”
“This is the third.”
“That’s right, and this is what I’ve learned: you are a homicide detective; you joined your squad last November. That’s—what?—about two and a half months ago, give or take. You have degrees in psychology and criminology from the University of Chicago—good school, great football team. Your record at the Seattle Police Department is impeccable. You play well in the sandbox, and there are no red flags in your private life. Not so much as a traffic violation. With me so far?”
“Good. Last December all hell breaks loose, and once the smoke clears, the PD sends you here to make sure you’re fit for work and ready to protect and to serve. You are very frank: you admit reacting badly to exposure to chloroform as a consequence of Harry Salinger’s attack on you and your partner, but that’s over. No panic attacks, no incidents of post-traumatic stress disorder. Nothing, after what happened in the forest. The boy, the rescue, the blood.”
He paused there, and Madison held his gaze.
“Do you know how long it took me to gain all this perceptive knowledge?” He didn’t wait for her to reply. “Seven minutes. The rest of the time what I got from you was ‘good’ and ‘pretty standard stuff’ and ‘nothing unusual.’”
“What do you want from me, Dr. Robinson?”
“Me? Nothing. I’m quite happy for you to come up here and just look at the view. You can do with the break, and I get paid either way. But here’s the thing: even though I will certify that you are, indeed, fit to work and ready to protect and to serve—because you are—it is simply unthinkable that those thirteen days in December left no trace on you. So, these observational goodies I’m giving you for free: you have occasional nightmares, possibly an exact memory of the event but more likely your own perception of the event and whatever troubles you about the nature of your own actions in it. And, most of all, I’m willing to bet you are careful never to be alone with your godson since you got him out of that forest. How am I doing?”
Madison didn’t reply.
“Good meeting you, Detective. Have a nice life.”
Dusk. Alice Madison parked her Honda Civic in her usual spot by Alki Beach. Her running gear was stashed in a gym bag in the trunk, but instead of retrieving it, she leaned against the hood and let the clean, salty air into her lungs. The Seattle–Bremerton ferry was going past, seagulls trailing in its wake. Bainbridge Island was a blue-green strip across the water, and downtown Seattle shimmered in the distance.