The Naked Face
CAROL ROBERTS heard the sounds of the reception door opening and closing and the men walking in, and before she even looked up, she could smell what they were. There were two of them. One was in his middle forties. He was a big mother, about six foot three, and all muscle. He had a massive head with deep-set steely blue eyes and a weary, humorless mouth. The second man was younger. His features were clean-cut, sensitive. His eyes were brown and alert. The two men looked completely different and yet, as far as Carol was concerned, they could have been identical twins.
They were fuzz. That was what she had smelled. As they moved toward her desk she could feel the drops of perspiration begin to trickle down her armpits through the shield of anti-perspirant. Frantically her mind darted over all the treacherous areas of vulnerability. Chick? Christ, he had kept out of trouble for over six months. Since that night in his apartment when he had asked her to marry him and had promised to quit the gang.
Sammy? He was overseas in the Air Force, and if anything had happened to her brother, they would not have sent these two mothers to break the news. No, they were here to bust her. She was carrying grass in her purse, and some loudmouthed prick had rapped about it. But why two of them? Carol tried to tell herself that they could not touch her. She was no longer some dumb black hooker from Harlem that they could push around. Not any more. She was the receptionist for one of the biggest psychoanalysts in the country. But as the two men moved toward her, Carol's panic increased. There was the feral memory of too many years of hiding in stinking, overcrowded tenement apartments while the white Law broke down doors and hauled away a father, or a sister, or a cousin.
But nothing of the turmoil in her mind showed on her face. At first glance the two detectives saw only a young and nubile, tawny-skinned Negress in a smartly tailored beige dress. Her voice was cool and impersonal. "May I help you?" she asked.
Then Lt. Andrew McGreavy, the older detective, spotted the spreading perspiration stain under the armpit of her dress. He automatically filed it away as an interesting piece of information for future use. The doctor's receptionist was up-tight. McGreavy pulled out a wallet with a worn badge pinned onto the cracked imitation leather. "Lieutenant McGreavy, Nineteenth Precinct." He indicated his partner. "Detective Angeli. We're from the Homicide Division."
Homicide? A muscle in Carol's arm twitched involuntarily. Chick! He had killed someone. He had broken his promise to her and gone back to the gang. He had pulled a robbery and had shot someone, or - was he shot? Dead? Is that what they had come to tell her? She felt the perspiration stain begin to widen. Carol suddenly became conscious of it. McGreavy was looking at her face, but she knew that he had noticed it. She and the McGreavys of the world needed no words. They recognized each other on sight. They had known each other for hundreds of years.
"We'd like to see Dr. Judd Stevens," said the younger detective. His voice was gentle and polite, and went with his appearance. She noticed for the first time that he carried a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and held together with string.
It took an instant for his words to sink in. So it wasn't Chick. Or Sammy. Or the grass.
"I'm sorry," she said, barely hiding her relief. "Dr. Stevens is with a patient."
"This will only take a few minutes," McGreavy said. "We want to ask him some questions." He paused. "We can either do it here, or at Police Headquarters."
She looked at the two of them a moment, puzzled. What the hell could two Homicide detectives want with Dr. Stevens? Whatever the police might think, the doctor had not done anything wrong. She knew him too well. How long had it been? Four years. It had started in night court...
It was three A.M. and the overhead lights in the courtroom bathed everyone in an unhealthy pallor. The room was old and tired and uncaring, saturated with the stale smell of fear that had accumulated over the years like layers of flaked paint.
It was Carol's lousy luck that Judge Murphy was sitting on the bench again. She had been up before him only two weeks before and had gotten off with probation. First offense. Meaning it was the first time the bastards had caught her. This time she knew the judge was going to throw the book at her.
The case on the docket ahead of hers was almost over. A tall, quiet-looking man standing before the judge was saying something about his client, a fat man in handcuffs who trembled all over. She figured the quiet-looking man must be a mouthpiece. There was a look about him, an air of easy confidence, that made her feel the fat man was lucky to have him. She didn't have anyone.
The men moved away from the bench and Carol heard her name called. She stood up, pressing her knees together to keep them from trembling. The bailiff gave her a gentle push toward the bench. The court clerk handed the charge sheet to the judge.
Judge Murphy looked at Carol, then at the sheet of paper in front of him.
" 'Carol Roberts. Soliciting on the streets, vagrancy, possession of marijuana, and resisting arrest.'"
The last was a lot of shit. The policeman had shoved her and she had kicked him in the balls. After all, she was an American citizen.
"You were in here a few weeks ago, weren't you, Carol?" She made her voice sound uncertain. "I believe I was, Your Honor."
"And I gave you probation."
"How old are you?"
She should have known they would ask. "Sixteen. Today's my sixteenth birthday. Happy birthday to me," she said. And she burst into tears, huge sobs that wracked her body.
The tall, quiet man had been standing at a table at the side gathering up some papers and putting them in a leather attache case. As Carol stood there sobbing, he looked up and watched her for a moment. Then he spoke to Judge Murphy.
The judge called a recess and the two men disappeared into the judge's chambers. Fifteen minutes later, the bailiff escorted Carol into the judge's chambers, where the quiet man was earnestly talking to the judge.
"You're a lucky girl, Carol," Judge Murphy said. "You're going to get another chance. The Court is remanding you to the personal custody of Dr. Stevens."
So the tall mother wasn't a mouthpiece - he was a quack. She wouldn't have cared if he was Jack the Ripper. All she wanted was to get out of that stinking courtroom before they found out it wasn't her birthday.
The doctor drove her to his apartment, making small talk that did not require any answers, giving Carol a chance to pull herself together and think things out. He stopped the car in front of a modern apartment building on Seventy-first Street overlooking the East River. The building had a doorman and an elevator operator, and from the calm way they greeted him, you would think he came home every morning at three A.M. with a sixteen-year-old black hooker.
Carol had never seen an apartment like the doctor's. The living room was done in white with two long, low couches covered in oatmeal tweed. Between the couches was an enormous square coffee table with a thick glass top. On it was a large chessboard with carved Venetian figures. Modern paintings hung on the wall. In the foyer was a closed-circuit television monitor that showed the entrance to the lobby. In one corner of the living room was a smoked glass bar with shelves of crystal glasses and decanters. Looking out the window, Carol could see tiny boats, far below, tossing their way along the East River.
"Courts always make me hungry," Judd said. "Why don't I whip up a little birthday supper?" And he took her into the kitchen where she watched him skillfully put together a Mexican omelette, French-fried potatoes, toasted English muffins, a salad, and coffee. "That's one of the advantages of being a bachelor," he said. "I can cook when I feel like it."
So he was a bachelor without any home pussy. If she played her cards right, this could turn out to be a bonanza. When she had finished devouring the meal, he had taken her into the guest bedroom. The bedroom was done in blue, dominated by a large double bed with a blue checked bedspread. There was a low Spanish dresser of dark wood with brass fittings.
"You can spend the night here," he said. "I'll rustle up a pair of pajamas for you."
As Carol looked around the tastefully decorated room she thought, Carol, baby! You've hit the jackpot! This mother's looking for a piece of jailbait black ass. And you're the baby who is gonna give it to him.
She undressed and spent the next half hour in the shower. When she came out, a towel wrapped around her shining, voluptuous body, she saw that the motherfucking ofay had placed a pair of his pajamas on the bed. She laughed knowingly and left them there. She threw the towel down and strolled into the living room. He was not there. She looked through the door leading into a den. He was sitting at a large, comfortable desk with an old-fashioned desk lamp hanging over it. The den was crammed with books from floor to ceiling. She walked up behind him and kissed him on the neck. "Let's get started, baby," she whispered. "You got me so horny I can't stand it." She pressed closer to him. "What are we waitin' for, big daddy? If you don't ball me quick, I'll go out of my cotton-pickin' mind."
He regarded her for a second with thoughtful dark gray eyes. "Haven't you got enough trouble?" he asked mildly. "You can't help being born a Negro, but who told you you had to be a black dropout pot-smoking sixteen-year-old whore?"
She stared at him, baffled, wondering what she had said wrong. Maybe he had to get himself worked up and whip her first to get his kicks. Or maybe it was the Reverend Davidson bit. He was going to pray over her black ass, reform her, and then lay her. She tried again. She reached between his legs and stroked him, whispering, "Go, baby. Sock it to me."
He gently disengaged himself and sat her in an armchair. She had never been so puzzled. He didn't look like a fag, but these days you never knew. "What's your bag, baby? Tell me how you like to freak out and I'll give it to you."
"All right," he said. "Let's rap."
"You mean - talk?"
And they talked. All night long. It was the strangest night that Carol had ever spent. Dr. Stevens kept leaping from one subject to another, exploring, testing her. He asked her opinion about Vietnam, ghettos, and college riots. Every time Carol thought she had figured out what he was really after, he switched to another subject. They talked of things she had never heard of, and about subjects in which she considered herself the world's greatest living expert. Months afterward she used to lie awake, trying to recall the word, the idea, the magic phrase that had changed her. She had never been able to because she finally realized there had been no magic word. What Dr. Stevens had done was simple. He had talked to her. Really talked to her. No one had ever done that before. He had treated her like a human being, an equal, whose opinions and feelings he cared about.
Somewhere during the course of the night she suddenly became aware of her nakedness and went in and put on his pajamas. He came in and sat on the edge of the bed and they talked some more. They talked about Mao Tse-tung and hula hoops and the Pill. And having a mother and father who had never been married. Carol told him things she had never told anybody in her life. Things that had been long buried deep in her subconscious. And when she had finally fallen asleep, she had felt totally empty. It was as though she had had a major operation, and a river of poison had been drained out of her.
In the morning, after breakfast, he handed her a hundred dollars.
She hesitated, then finally said, "I lied. It's not my birthday."
"I know." He grinned. "But we won't tell the judge." His tone changed. "You can take this money and walk out of here and no one will bother you until the next time you get caught by the police." He paused. "I need a receptionist. I think you'd be marvelous at the job."
She looked at him unbelievingly. "You're putting me on. I can't take shorthand or type."
"You could if you went back to school."
Carol looked at him a moment and then said enthusiastically, "I never thought of that. That sounds groovy." She couldn't wait to get the hell out of the apartment with his hundred dollars and flash it at the boys and girls at Fishman's Drug Store in Harlem, where the gang hung out. She could buy enough kicks with this money to last a week.
When she walked into Fishman's Drug Store, it was as though she had never been away. She saw the same bitter faces and heard the same hip, defeated chatter. She was home. She kept thinking of the doctor's apartment. It wasn't the furniture that made the big difference. It was so - clean. And quiet. It was like a little island somewhere in another world. And he had offered her a passport to it. What was there to lose? She could try it for laughs, to show the doctor that he was wrong, that she couldn't make it.
To her own great surprise, Carol enrolled in night school. She left her furnished room with the rust-stained washbasin and broken toilet and the torn green window shade and the lumpy iron cot where she would turn tricks and act out plays. She was a beautiful heiress in Paris or London or Rome, and the man pumping away on top of her was a wealthy, handsome prince, dying to marry her. And as each man had his orgasm and crawled off her, her dream died. Until the next time.
She left the room and all her princes without a backward glance and moved back in with her parents. Dr. Stevens gave her an allowance while she was studying. She finished high school with top grades. The doctor was there on graduation day, his gray eyes bright with pride. Someone believed in her. She was somebody. She took a day job at Nedick's and took a secretarial course at night. The day after she finished, she went to work for Dr. Stevens and could afford her own apartment.
In the four years that had passed, Dr. Stevens had always treated her with the same grave courtesy he had shown her the first night. At first she had waited for him to make some reference to what she had been, and what she had become. But she had finally come to the realization that he had always seen her as what she was now. All he had done was to help her fulfill herself. Whenever she had a problem, he always found time to discuss it with her. Recently she had been meaning to tell him about what had happened with her and Chick and ask him whether she should tell Chick, but she kept putting it off. She wanted her Dr. Stevens to be proud of her. She would have done anything for him. She would have slept with him, killed for him...
And now here were these two mothers from the Homicide Squad wanting to see him.
McGreavy was getting impatient. "How about it, miss?" he asked.
"I have orders never to disturb him when he's with a patient," said Carol. She saw the expression that came into McGreavy's eyes. "I'll ring him." She picked up the phone and pressed the intercom buzzer. After thirty seconds of silence, Dr. Stevens' voice came over the phone. "Yes?"
"There are two detectives here to see you, Doctor. They're from the Homicide Division."
She listened for a change in his voice...nervousness...fear. There was nothing. "They'll have to wait," he said. He went off the line.
A surge of pride flared through her. Maybe they could panic her, but they could never get her doctor to lose his cool. She looked up defiantly. "You heard him," she said.
"How long will his patient be in there?" asked Angeli, the younger man.
She glanced at the clock on the desk. "Another twenty-five minutes. It's his last patient for the day."
The two men exchanged a look.
"We'll wait," sighed McGreavy.
They took chairs. McGreavy was studying her. "You look familiar," he said.
She wasn't deceived. The mother was on a fishing expedition. "You know what they say," replied Carol. "We all look alike."
Exactly twenty-five minutes later, Carol heard the click of the side door that led from the doctor's private office directly to the corridor. A few moments later, the door to the doctor's office opened and Dr. Judd Stevens stepped out. He hesitated as he saw McGreavy. "We've met before," he said. He could not remember where.
McGreavy nodded impassively. "Yeah...Lieutenant McGreavy." He indicated Angeli. "Detective Frank Angeli."
Judd and Angeli shook hands. "Come in."
The men walked into Judd's private office and the door closed. Carol looked after them, trying to piece it together. The big detective had seemed antagonistic toward Dr. Stevens. But maybe that was just his natural charm. Carol was sure of only one thing. Her dress would have to go to the cleaner's.
Judd's office was furnished like a French country living room. There was no working desk. Instead, comfortable easy chairs and end tables with authentic antique lamps were scattered about the room. At the far end of the office a private door led out to the corridor. On the floor was an exquisitely patterned Edward Fields area rug, and in a corner was a comfortable damask-covered contour couch. McGreavy noted that there were no diplomas on the walls. But he had checked before coming here. If Dr. Stevens had wanted to, he could have covered his walls with diplomas and certificates.
"This is the first psychiatrist's office I've ever been in," Angeli said, openly impressed. "I wish my house looked like this."
"It relaxes my patients," Judd said easily. "And by the way, I'm a psychoanalyst."
"Sorry," Angeli said. "What's the difference?"
"About fifty dollars an hour," McGreavy said. "My partner doesn't get around much."
Partner. And Judd suddenly remembered. McGreavy's partner had been shot and killed and McGreavy had been wounded during the holdup of a liquor store four - or was it five? - years ago. A petty hoodlum named Amos Ziffren had been arrested for the crime. Ziffren's attorney had pleaded his client not guilty by reason of insanity. Judd had been called in as an expert for the defense and asked to examine Ziffren. He had found that he was hopelessly insane with advanced paresis. On Judd's testimony, Ziffren had escaped the death penalty and had been sent to a mental institution.
"I remember you now," Judd said. "The Ziffren case. You had three bullets in you; your partner was killed."
"And I remember you," McGreavy said. "You got the killer off."
"What can I do for you?"
"We need some information, Doctor," McGreavy said. He nodded to Angeli. Angeli began fumbling at the string on the package he carried.
"We'd like you to identify something for us," McGreavy said. His voice was careful, giving nothing away.
Angeli had the package open. He held up a yellow oilskin rain slicker. "Have you ever seen this before?"
"It looks like mine," Judd said in surprise.
"It is yours. At least your name is stenciled inside."
"Where did you find it?"
"Where do you think we found it?" The two men were no longer casual. A subtle change had taken place in their faces.
Judd studied McGreavy a moment, then picked up a pipe from a rack on a long, low table and began to fill it with tobacco from a jar. "I think you'd better tell me what this is all about," he said quietly.
"It's about this raincoat, Dr. Stevens," said McGreavy. "If it's yours, we want to know how it got out of your possession."
"There's no mystery about it. It was drizzling when I came in this morning. My raincoat was at the cleaners, so I wore the yellow slicker. I keep it for fishing trips. One of my patients hadn't brought a raincoat. It was beginning to snow pretty heavily, so I let him borrow the slicker." He stopped, suddenly worried. "What's happened to him?"
"Happened to who?" McGreavy asked.
"My patient - John Hanson."
"Check," Angeli said gently. "You hit the bull's-eye. The reason Mr. Hanson couldn't return the coat himself is that he's dead."
Judd felt a small shock go through him. "Dead?"
"Someone stuck a knife in his back," McGreavy said.
Judd stared at him incredulously. McGreavy took the coat from Angeli and turned it around so that Judd could see the large, ugly slash in the material. The back of the coat was covered with dull, henna-colored stains. A feeling of nausea swept over Judd.
"Who would want to kill him?"
"We were hoping that you could tell us, Dr. Stevens," said Angeli. "Who'd know better than his psychoanalyst?"
Judd shook his head helplessly. "When did it happen?"
McGreavy answered. "Eleven o'clock this morning. On Lexington Avenue, about a block from your office. A few dozen people must have seen him fall, but they were busy going home to get ready to celebrate the birth of Christ, so they let him lie there bleeding to death in the snow."
Judd squeezed the edge of the table, his knuckles white.
"What time was Hanson here this morning?" asked Angeli.
"How long do your sessions last, Doctor?"
"Did he leave as soon as it was over?"
"Yes. I had another patient waiting."
"Did Hanson go out through the reception office?"
"No. My patients come in through the reception office and leave by that door." He indicated the private door leading to the outside corridor. "In that way they don't meet each other."
McGreavy nodded. "So Hanson was killed within a few minutes of the time he left here. Why was he coming to see you?"
Judd hesitated. "I'm sorry. I can't discuss a doctor-patient relationship."
"Someone murdered him," McGreavy said. "You might be able to help us find his killer."
Judd's pipe had gone out. He took his time lighting it again.
"How long had he been coming to you?" This time it was Angeli. Police teamwork.
"Three years," Judd said.
"What was his problem?"
Judd hesitated. He saw John Hanson as he had looked that morning; excited, smiling, eager to enjoy his new freedom. "He was a homosexual."
"This is going to be another one of those beauties," McGreavy said bitterly.
"Was a homosexual," Judd said. "Hanson was cured. I told him this morning that he didn't have to see me any more. He was ready to move back in with his family. He has - had - a wife and two children."
"A fag with a family?" asked McGreavy.
"It happens often."
"Maybe one of his homo playmates didn't want to cut him loose. They got in a fight. He lost his temper and slipped a knife in his boyfriend's back."
Judd considered. "It's possible," he said thoughtfully, "but I don't believe it."
"Why not, Dr. Stevens?" asked Angeli.
"Because Hanson hadn't had any homosexual contacts in more than a year. I think it's much more likely that someone tried to mug him. Hanson was the kind of man who would have put up a fight."
"A brave married fag," McGreavy said heavily. He took out a cigar and lit it. "There's only one thing wrong with the mugger theory. His wallet hadn't been touched. There was over a hundred dollars in it." He watched Judd's reaction.
Angeli said, "If we're looking for a nut, it might make it easier."
"Not necessarily," Judd objected. He walked over to the window. "Take a look at that crowd down there. One out of twenty is, has been, or will be in a mental hospital."
"But if a man's crazy...?"
"He doesn't have to necessarily appear crazy," Judd explained. "For every obvious case of insanity there are at least ten cases undiagnosed."
McGreavy was studying Judd with open interest. "You know a lot about human nature, don't you, Doctor?"
"There's no such thing as human nature," Judd said. "Any more than there's such a thing as animal nature. Try to average out a rabbit and a tiger. Or a squirrel and an elephant."
"How long you been practicing psychoanalysis?" asked McGreavy.
"Twelve years. Why?"
McGreavy shrugged. "You're a good-looking guy. I'll bet a lot of your patients fall in love with you, huh?"
Judd's eyes chilled. "I don't understand the point of the question."
"Oh, come on, Doc. Sure you do. We're both men of the world. A fag walks in here and finds himself a handsome young doctor to tell his troubles to." His tone grew confidential. "Now do you mean to say that in three years on your couch Hanson didn't get a little hard-on for you?"
Judd looked at him without expression. "Is that your idea of being a man of the world, Lieutenant?"
McGreavy was unperturbed. "It could have happened. And I'll tell you what else could have happened. You said you told Hanson you didn't want to see him again. Maybe he didn't like that. He'd grown dependent on you in three years. The two of you had a fight."
Judd's face darkened with anger.
Angeli broke the tension. "Can you think of anyone who had reason to hate him, Doctor? Or someone he might have hated?"
"If there were such a person," Judd said, "I would tell you. I think I knew everything there was to know about John Hanson. He was a happy man. He didn't hate anyone and I don't know of anyone who hated him."
"Good for him. You must be one helluva doctor," McGreavy said. "We'll take his file along with us."
"We can get a court order."
"Get it. There's nothing in that file that can help you."
"Then what harm could it do if you gave it to us?" asked Angeli.
"It could hurt Hanson's wife and children. You're on the wrong track. You'll find that Hanson was killed by a stranger."
"I don't believe it," McGreavy snapped.
Angeli rewrapped the raincoat and tied the string around the bundle. "We'll get this back to you when we run some more tests on it."
"Keep it," Judd said.
McGreavy opened the private door leading to the corridor. "We'll be in touch with you, Doctor." He walked out. Angeli nodded to Judd and followed McGreavy out.
Judd was still standing there, his mind churning, when Carol walked in. "Is everything all right?" she asked hesitantly.
"Someone killed John Hanson."
"He was stabbed," Judd said.
"Oh my God! But why?"
"The police don't know."
"How terrible!" She saw his eyes and the pain in them. "Is there anything I can do, Doctor?"
"Would you close up the office, Carol? I'm going over to see Mrs. Hanson. I'd like to break the news to her myself."
"Don't worry. I'll take care of everything," said Carol.
And Judd left.
Thirty minutes later Carol had finished putting the files away and was locking her desk when the corridor door opened. It was after six o'clock and the building was closed. Carol looked up as the man smiled and moved toward her.