Danielle Foster was lost and she didn’t need her Masters in Psychology to know it. She turned right on the highway and stopped to look at the Sign: New Beginnings Recovery Center.
She gave a defeated sigh. What a cheesy name. But, she had to admit, she needed a new beginning, being broke and on her sister’s couch wasn’t how she pictured her life. She thought she would do more.
She turned the car down the private road and after a few minutes of climbing up the windy hill, she stopped at the guard gate.
A large man in a dark blue uniform approached and asked, “Your name please?”
“Danielle Foster. I have an interview with Chase Montgomery.”
The guard looked at his clipboard for a moment, and said, “Stay on this road, go by the first building, to the second gate. The guard there will let you pass and right after you pass the gate, take the first left all the way to the second building. Got it?”
The gates opened and Danielle continued down the road.
The first building was a large, white, colonial style structure with four columns in the front and a well-manicured lawn studded with benches and tables, shaded with colorful umbrellas. White uniformed attendants escorted patients through the brick pathways leading through the lush gardens. It was everything the glossy brochure promised in its addiction recovery program.
When she passed the second guard gate, she noticed several mongrel dogs were freely trotting about the lush grounds. The second building was a Victorian structure. In front of it, a few guards and patients were playing ball on the lawn with a few more dogs.
She pulled into a visitor space and sat for a moment. This was a chance to get her life back on track, she had to try. She got out of the car, looked at herself in the reflection of the window, smoothed her gray skirt, made sure her honey blond hair was pulled back in the clip and headed into the building.
The receptionist greeted her warmly, and then buzzed the center administrator, Tanya Booker.
Danielle had interviewed with Tanya on the phone, but had not met her in person. The lobby was cozy, blue walls, dark ash carpet and the faint scent of wood coming from the fireplace.
Tanya Booker came up to Danielle and extended her hand. “It is such a pleasure to meet you in person, Danielle.”
Danielle shook her hand and felt the warmth, along with the optimistic energy, the excitement and the dedication of the middle aged, African American woman.
Dressed in neatly pressed designer jeans, white shirt and red blazer, Tanya was the picture of business casual.
“Same,” Danielle replied, feeling overdressed in her purple silk blouse and gray suit.
“Chase Montgomery is anxious to meet you. He hasn’t brought anyone on staff in such a long time. It will be great to have you here. Did you see the cottages on the grounds when you came in? You have the option of moving into one of them. You’ll love it.”
Danielle followed her, a bit puzzled; she hadn’t been offered or accepted the job, this was still an interview.
Tanya passed through an already open door and called, “Chase, she’s here.”
Danielle felt her heart stop the moment she laid eyes on Chase Montgomery.
Wearing blue jeans, a black tee shirt that fit in all the right places, and boots, Chase looked more like a model from a “Man & Machine” bike calendar than the Director/Owner of the center. He was standing at the window watching something and when he turned, fixed his green eyes on her and smiled, her mouth went dry.
He stepped away from the window, dropped into his chair, and ran his hands through his short dark hair. “Please sit down,“ he said, motioning to the chairs in front of his desk. “May I call you Danielle? Tanya, get the rooms set up.“
Tanya nodded and left the room.
Still stunned by his appearance, Danielle nodded and sat down on one of the two, green clothed chairs. Finding her voice, she said, “Yes of course.”
“Call me Chase. I know our call was a surprise, but I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Now, I understand Tanya emailed you an exercise; two case studies for you to write assessments, with the understanding that you haven’t met the candidates, and you had to make a recommendation, based strictly on the paperwork, whether to move forward with treatment or have them leave. Can I get those from you now, please?”
Trying to not look like she was trembling, she opened her briefcase and handed him her two assessments.
He leaned back in his chair, humming as he scanned the documents. He looked up at her and summarized her papers. “Jason Raines is a young man that would benefit from medication to assist with his hallucinations and he should be observed for at least another year, correct?”
“You think he is worth saving?”
“I don’t want to condemn him, yet.”
“Hmmm… but Roland Aston, a bit harsh, wouldn’t you say?” He looked down at the page and, quoting her words, “If Roland is in a death penalty state, sending him to the gas chamber as rapidly as possible would be in the best interest of the public. Every minute he is alive, he poses a danger to others and no amount of psychiatric care will ever fix this broken soul.”
He looked up at her, “What’s the difference? They both killed someone.”
“Jason thought his neighbor was a monster and he didn’t want to kill the monster, he thought he had to do it. He’s sick, I don’t know if he can be fixed. I don’t know if we can fix him, but right now he’s delusional and he doesn’t know what he did. Roland knows what he did and he enjoyed it. According to the file, he sexually assaulted and tortured a local college girl and he wants to do it again.”
“As an expert witness in the field of Criminal Psychology, you’re positive? Because if you make the final recommendation, you need to be 100% correct. There can be no doubt; you have to be able to live with your decision.”
Now she felt a flush of anger. She was uncertain about a lot of things in her life, but not her work. She knew she was good and she answered, with some hostility, “Yes!”
“Just making sure you haven’t lost your touch, since the last case. You knew I was going to ask.”
Danielle swallowed. “You’ve read the paper, you know what happened.”
“I want you to tell me. You were an expert witness in dozens of cases, but now you’re hiding out in your sister’s apartment and you’re thinking of going into private practice to help overweight individuals manage their eating habits? Hardly a good use of your ability, tell me what happened.”
“Tom Conner killed his girlfriend, no, tortured her and then killed her. He enjoyed it so much, he continued, his father’s maid, and then a prostitute. The guy liked it. The prosecutor had me as the expert witness. I said he knew what he was doing and he wasn’t temporarily insane. His father, the rich bastard, paid off the judge and his son went to a state treatment facility, where he escaped and proceeded to kill the prosecutor, the prosecutor’s wife and their two children, and then he came after me.”
“But the cops caught him at your place.”
“Yes, but he vowed to escape prison and finish me.”
“So you’re hiding out at your sister’s place? You sure you’re not hiding out because you failed a patient named Katarina Stratakova?”
Danielle gave him a cold stare and said nothing.
He smiled. “I’ve failed a patient recently also. Katarina Stratakova isn’t the same kind of killer as these two, huh?”
“She wasn’t a killer. Her daughter was murdered by a recently paroled sex offender. The cops couldn’t prove the murder, but she knew. He plea bargained for a lessor sentence. She shot him because she didn’t want him back on the streets.”
“She was still convicted and sent to prison.”
“A short sentence, but I was working with an attorney on her appeal. We were too late; she hung herself in prison.”
“And you thought she was temporarily insane?”
“I thought she didn’t deserve to go to prison.”
He stood up. “Let’s go meet Jason & Roland.”
“What? No! I thought these were…”
He pulled out an envelope and handed it her. “Fake examples? Nah, we’re honest here. Don’t open it until after we meet them okay? Look, meeting them is just another way for you to confirm your assessment. Your ability to assess people is why I want you. The work we do here is very important.”
“You help rich people with addiction, so why do I have to talk to killers?”
He got up from the desk and headed to the door. “Because you know the difference between good and evil. Now the front of the operation does help people with addiction, depression and other clinical disorders and you’ll have some patients from there. But back here we help other people, people that can make a difference in the world, we also handle assessments. Come on. “
“Assessments? For parole boards?” she asked following him.
He wandered down the hall, opened a door and motioned her to follow.
Tanya was in the room. “Two way glass. There’s Jason. Ready when you are,” she said, holding out a file for her.
She shook her head. “This isn’t the kind of work I want to do. I’m sorry. Thank you. I’ll find my own way out.”
Chase took her hand. She immediately felt the warmth, then the strength, compassion, confidence and power.
He said in a very soft voice, “If you work here, you will change your life and the lives of others. I promise. There’s nothing to be afraid of here, you’ll learn that. Listen, they’re both chained at their ankle, it’s perfectly safe. If after you meet them, you want to leave, you can, and we will never bother you again.”
He was hypnotic, mesmerizing, and sincere. She knew she needed to change and he did too. She took a deep breath, grabbed the file and went around to the other door.
The room was the same as the lobby, blue walls, dark ash carpet, but for some reason it didn’t feel as welcoming. She looked at the shaggy, sixteen-year-old in the faded denim shirt. “Jason, I’m Danielle Foster. “ She glanced at the ankle chain that led from under the boy’s torn jeans to the wall. She sat down at the table in front of him.
The kid looked up from the table, then at the mirror. “Is he there?”
“Why won’t he come and talk to me?”
“He asked me to. “
“Maybe I can help?”
“There’s nothing you can do for me now.”
“Why do you think that?”
He laughed. “You’re not from here are you?”
He laughed. “So you want to know why I did it?”
He laughed harder. “Chase knows. He knows about the monsters. You don’t.”
“Why do you think your neighbor was a monster?”
“He was. I always know. Chase knows that. You’re one of the good ones, aren’t you? That’s why your here, huh?”
“Can you always tell the good ones from the monsters?”
He smiled. “Yeah, can’t you?”
She said nothing.
He nodded and said, “Yeah you can.”
She heard a knock on the glass and she got up. “Excuse me Jason.”
Chase met her at the door, exchanged files with her and said, “Next room. Roland.”
She went in and looked at the balding forty something man in front of her.
He gave her a smile, a fake, innocent smile. “Are you another doctor?”
She sat down and said, “I’m a therapist.”
“Are you here to help me?”
“Maybe. What do you need help with?”
He looked at the glass. “Chase is going to kill me.”
“Why do you think that?”
“That’s what he does. He calls it justice. He likes it. Please help me.”
He turned, looked at the glass and then looked back at her.
She reached across the table, squeezed his hand, and felt an un-natural cold for a moment, and then she felt the hate, the rage, the lies and the cruelty. “We’ll talk later,” she said, anxious to leave the room. She stood up, “I’ll talk to Chase.”
Chase met her and walked into another room. “Still stand by your original assessments?”
He smiled. “Open and read mine aloud.”
She handed him the file and opened the envelope he had given her. “Jason Raines is an unfortunate case. I failed him. I tried to help him learn how to live with his abilities, but in the end he decided he would rather…” She looked at him, her mouth still open.
“He would rather die than live in the world he sees,” he said.
“I don’t understand.”
“He would rather die than live in the world he sees. Now that he has taken his life, it is my assessment that he should go on, in the hopes that he finds the peace in the next world that he could not find in this one.” She looked at him. “I don’t understand.”
“Jason killed himself. That’s his soul and we’re evaluating whether it should go on to a better place or not.”
She shook her head. She wanted to help this handsome, crazy man, but he was far too gone. “Thank you for this opportunity, but I don’t think it’s for me. I need to leave.”
“Before you dismiss me as crazy, there’s just one more person I want you to assess. He pointed to the glass and she looked.
Her eyes widened. On the other side of the glass, wearing the same long black skirt and purple sweater that she wore to court, sat Katarina Stratakova, calmly surveying her surroundings. Danielle looked at him and back at the glass.
He said, “Go on in. I think she’ll want to see you. “
Stunned, Danielle opened the door and Katarina looked at her and smiled. “Danielle, my friend, I’m so glad to see you again.”
Danielle sat in the chair across from her. “I thought, I thought you were gone. “
“I am. This is all that remains, my essence. It is good to see you. I never said thank you. I never told you how much it meant to me to have you believe in me. To understand me, you were good to me and I wish I wasn’t so sad that I… I did what I did to myself.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I, but I know, I will see my daughter soon.”
There was a knock on the glass and Danielle shook her head. “Why Katarina?”
There was another knock, this time louder and Danielle got up. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get to you in time.”
Katarina grabbed her hand and she felt the same un-natural cold and then the fierce love, warmth and the hope.
Katarina smiled and said, “Thanks Danielle, for being my friend and for trying for me.”
Chase met her outside the door. “It’s not clouds and pearly gates. Assessments are just part of it and a pretty final part too. There’s a lot of work, special work, like assessments, that are hard to believe in and matter greatly. You can do what very few can do, you can tell good from evil.”
She looked at Katarina then turned to him, still trying to understand.
He nodded toward the glass and said, “Who do you think recommended you? Check out my assessment for Roland.”
She looked at his assessment. “Should not be allowed to continue.”
He pointed to the glass.
A little girl entered the room and Katarina screamed, “Natasha!” as the girl rushed into her arms.
Chase whispered, “I couldn’t do Jason’s assessment. I was too close. But we both came to the same conclusion and I think,” he said nodding at the glass, “you are too close to Katarina, but once again, we both agree on this assessment.”
Katarina wrapped the little girl in her arms and Danielle heard the little girl say, “Mommy I’ve been waiting for you. I have so much to show you.”
Even from behind the glass, Danielle felt the love. She wiped the tears from her eyes as she saw the chain disappear from Katarina’s ankle and watched the mother and daughter open another door in the room and walk through it.
Chase squeezed her arm. “Come on. “
She walked by the door where she had gone in to see Roland, and she asked, “What happens to him?”
Chase looked at her, “Nothing good, but then that’s him, isn’t it?”
She nodded as they headed back to his office.
He said, “It’s hard to get your head around it, I know. But once you do, you’ll see, it’s important work.”
“I’m not sure I believe it. But Katarina… How? How does it happen? How did you end up doing this?”
“Well, it’s a long story, but once you start working here, I’m sure I’ll get around to telling you. So, do you want to go back to town or do you want to see your office?”
She knew, his promise was real, if she worked there her life would change. “I’d like to see my office first.”
He smiled. “This way Danielle.”
She followed him down the hall to start her new beginning.
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