The voice belongs to a woman, but Dr. Alex Delaware remembers a little girl. It is eleven years since seven-year-old Melissa Dickinson dialed the hospital help line for comfort—and found it in therapy with Alex Delaware. Now the lovely young heiress is desperately calling for the psychologist’s help once more. Only this time it looks like Melissa’s deepest childhood nightmare is really coming true.
“A page-turner from beginning to end.”—Los Angeles Times
Twenty years ago, Gina Dickinson, Melissa’s mother, suffered a grisly assault that left the budding actress irreparably scarred and emotionally crippled. Now her acid-wielding assailant is out of prison and back in L.A.—and Melissa is terrified that the monster has returned to hurt Gina again. But before Alex Delaware can even begin to soothe his former patient’s fears, Gina, a recluse for twenty years, disappears. And now, unless Delaware turns crack detective to uncover the truth, Gina Dickinson will be just one more victim of a cold fury that has already spawned madness . . . and murder.
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About the Author
Hometown:Beverly Hills, California
Date of Birth:August 9, 1949
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:B.A. in psychology, University of California-Los Angeles; Ph.D., University of Southern California, 1974
Read an Excerpt
A therapist’s work is never over.
Which isn’t to say that patients don’t get better.
But the bond forged during locked-door three-quarter hoursthe relationship that develops when private eyes peek into private livescan achieve a certain immortality.
Some patients do leave and never return. Some never leave. A good many occupy an ambiguous space in the middlethrowing out occasional tendrils of reattachment during periods of pride or sorrow.
Predicting who’ll fall into which group is an iffy business, no more rational than Vegas or the stock market. After a few years in practice I stopped trying.
So I really wasn’t surprised when I came home after a July night-run and learned that Melissa Dickinson had left a message with my service.
First time I’d heard from her in . . . what? It had to be nearly a decade since she’d stopped coming to the office I once maintained in a cold-blooded high-rise on the east end of Beverly Hills.
One of my long-termers.
That alone would have made her stand out in my memory, but there had been so much more. . . .
Child psychology’s an ideal job for those who like to feel heroic. Children tend to get better relatively quickly and to need less treatment than adults. Even at the height of my practice it was rare to schedule a patient for more than one session a week. But I started Melissa at three. Because of the extent of her problems. Her unique situation. After eight months we tapered to twice; at year’s anniversary, were down to one.
Finally, a month shy of two years, termination.
She left therapy a changed little girl; I allowed myself a bit of self-congratulation but knew better than to wallow in it. Because the family structure that had nurtured her problems had never been altered. Its surface hadn’t even been scratched.
Despite that, there’d been no reason to keep her in treatment against her will.
I’m nine years old, Dr. Delaware. I’m ready to handle things on my own.
I sent her out into the world, expecting to hear from her soon. Didn’t for several weeks, phoned her and was informed, in polite but firm nine-year-old tones, that she was just fine, thank you, would call me if she needed me.
Now she had.
A long time to be on hold.
Ten years would make her nineteen. Empty the memory banks and be prepared for a stranger.
I glanced at the phone number she’d left with the service.
An 818 area code. San Labrador exchange.
I went into the library, dug into my closed files for a while, and finally found her chart.
Same prefix as her original home number, but the last four digits were different.
Change of number or had she left home? If she had, she hadn’t gone very far.
I checked the date of her last session. Nine years ago. A birth date in June. She’d turned eighteen a month ago.
I wondered what had changed about her. What was the same.
Wondered why I hadn’t heard from her sooner.
The phone was picked up after two rings.
“Hello?” Voice of a stranger, young, female.
“This is Dr. Alex Delaware.”
“Oh. Hi! I didn’t . . . Thanks so much for calling back, Dr. Delaware. I wasn’t expecting to hear from you until tomorrow. I didn’t even know if you’d call back.”
“Your listing in the phone boo Excuse me. Hold on for one second, please.”
Hand over the phone. Muffled conversation.
A moment later she came back on. “There’s no office address for you in the phone book. No address at all. Just your name, no degreeI wasn’t even sure it was the same A. Delaware. So I didn’t know if you were still in practice. The answering service said you were but that you worked mostly with lawyers and judges.”
“That’s basically true”
“Oh. Then I guess”
“But I’m always available to former patients. And I’m glad you called. How are things, Melissa?”
“Things are good,” she said quickly. Clipped laugh. “Having said that, the logical question is why am I calling you after all these years, right? And the answer is that it’s not about me, Dr. Delaware. It’s Mother.”
“Not that anything terrible’s Oh, darn, hold on.” Hand over the phone again. More background conversation. “I’m really sorry. Dr. Delaware, this just isn’t a good time to talk. Do you think I could come and . . . see you?”
“Sure. What’s a good time for you?”
“The sooner the better. I’m pretty freeschool’s out. I graduated.”
“Thanks. It feels good to be out.”
“Bet it does.” I checked my book. “How about tomorrow at noon?”
“Noon would be great. I really appreciate this, Dr. Delaware.”
I gave her directions to my house. She thanked me and hung up before I could complete my goodbye.
Having learned much less than I usually do during a preappointment call.
A bright young woman. Articulate, tense. Holding back something?
Remembering the child she’d been, I found none of that surprising.
That opened up a realm of possibilities.
The most likely: She’d finally come to grips with her mother’s pathologywhat it meant to her. Needed to put her feelings in focus, maybe get a referral for her mother.
So tomorrow’s visit would probably be a one-shot deal. And that would be it. For another nine years.
I closed the chart, comfortable with my powers of prediction.
I might as well have been playing the slots in Vegas. Or buying penny stocks on Wall Street.
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