“Would you agree that the ‘watched pot never boils’ maxim applies here?”
Austin looked up from his watch and hid his annoyance behind a grin. “May I remind you, Doc,” he said, slow and easy, “that you were fifteen minutes late for the fifth time in a row, and, as usual, wasted another five tidying your desk before we got down to business.” He shrugged one shoulder. “I’m only trying to make sure those high muckety-mucks at headquarters get their money’s worth outta these sessions.” “How noble of you, particularly under the circumstances.” Translation: The Department put him on desk duty, and that’s where he’d stay until the doctor deemed him fit to hit the streets again. That fact galled him, but he’d grind his molars to dust before he’d give her the satisfaction of scribbling “easily provoked” in his file. “They’re just going by the book. I’ve got no beef with that.” A bald-faced lie, but no way he intended to admit it to her.
She leaned back in the too-big-for-her chair. “If you think hostility will get you out the door faster, you’re sadly mistaken.”
Hostility? He looked left and right, as if to say “Me?” Lifting her chin, the doctor added, “A talent for doublespeak might be useful on the streets, but it won’t get you anywhere with me.”
First hostility and now double-speak? In Austin’s mind, she’d just confirmed the old “You need to be half nosy and half crazy to become a shrink” theory.
“Cooperate here,” she said, tapping her desk blotter, “and maybe I can help you get back out there.” The only person who’d ever talked to him that way --- and got away with it --- had been Principal Buell. Well, Buell and Lieutenant Marcum, who cornered him in the bullpen six weeks earlier with a snarly “You’re at the end of your rope, Finley. See the department shrink, this week, or you’re through.”
The threat made him call to schedule that first appointment, then arrive on time five weeks in a row --- more than he could say for Dr. Samara. It also explained why he’d stretched his patience to the breaking point, and why he hadn’t provoked her by admitting what a waste of time it was, nattering on and on about feelings. He didn’t acknowledge that wearing stylish business suits instead of a burqa didn’t fool him, because everything --- from her name to her green-rimmed brown eyes and sleek, dark hair --- branded her a Muslim. It galled him that she wielded the power to end his career, especially since, for all he knew, her kinfolk were 9/11 terrorists. But he didn’t tell her that, either.
“You’ve been dancing around these police brutality incidents in your file long enough, don’t you think?”
That haughty tone --- a regular thing with her, he wondered? Or had she adopted it to tick him off, see if she could make him lose it, right there in her office? Well, if she wanted to play the game that way, she’d best prepare to learn a thing or two about scoring points.
He sat up straighter and cleared his throat. Because if she intended to talk about those, she’d better be prepared to cite the dozens of commendations he’d earned in the line of duty, too. But just as he started to make the point, she said “Eight separate incidents in the eleven months since 9/11.”
Technically, there had been ten, but the first two had occurred in the first weeks after the terror attack, and the lieutenant had agreed not to put them in Austin’s file. Knowing Marcum, he’d added both to cover his own butt after the third perp-cop confrontation, providing this arrogant little smartmouth yet another arrow in her “Get the Hothead to Hang Himself” quiver.
Her expression and posture reminded him of the black and white photo he’d found, researching Sigmund Freud for a Psych 101 assignment. In it, the doctor sat in an overstuffed wingback, fingers steepled under his bearded chin, wearing that same self-important smirk. Why would the little fool want to emulate a man whose theories had been debunked by his own contemporaries?
“Surely you have something to say in your own defense.”
Austin pinched the bridge of his nose, hoping to buy time. Time to summon the patience not to let her have it with both barrels. Time to remind himself that he’d always been a good cop, and his actions didn’t need defending. So he’d roughed up a few perps --- thugs who’d beat their wives, robbed hardworking shopkeepers, got into gunfights in the streets and killed innocent folks. If it took a little “police brutality” to get animals like that off the streets, so be it! But that wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Just play the game, he told himself, and keep your cool.
It dawned on him that he might be going at this all wrong. Maybe under that smug, buttoned-up exterior beat the heart of a “badge groupie,” like those he’d charmed in cop bars from the Bronx to Manhattan. Austin rested his left ankle on his right knee and linked his fingers --- not too tightly, lest she see it as a symptom of agitation. “You forgot to swear me in, counselor.” One perfectly plucked eyebrow disappeared under thick, gleaming bangs. “I beg your pardon?”
“‘In your own defense’?” Austin chuckled quietly. “Seriously? You sound more like a lawyer than a shrink.”
“I’ve never been overly fond of the term ‘shrink.’ ”
“Ah.” He grinned. “Maybe you prefer ‘wig picker.’ ”
To that point, her practiced expression hadn’t changed much, but the subtle narrowing of her eyes and lips didn’t escape his notice. In place of the “Gotcha!” reaction he’d expected, it made him nervous, and, much as he hated to admit it, a little afraid of what she’d tell Marcum.
If only he could go home, numb his brain with a little Jim Beam! Lately, he’d been moving in two speeds: Too Fast, and Off, like the windshield wipers on his beat-up pickup. It took more and more booze to knock him out, and mega-doses of caffeine to jack him up again. Maybe he ought to just tell her that, because what could it hurt to blast her with a dose of grim reality?
Austin leaned forward, elbows on knees and hands clasped in the space between, until no more than two feet of cluttered desk separated their faces. “Y’know, I do have something to say in my defense.” He mimicked her earlier move, and aimed his forefinger at the window. “I’m a good cop, and I belong out there, not in here.” He paused, more to ratchet up the courage to continue than to give her time to mull over his words. “And I think you know it as well as I do.”
Excerpted from FROM ASHES TO HONOR: First Responders Series, Book 1 © Copyright 2011 by Loree Lough. Reprinted with permission by Abingdon Press. All rights reserved.