A Therapeutic Death
5 am looked so bleak. A crystallized sky with dark clouds hung over the quiet city. In New York, no matter where you stood, you could always hear the chatter of birds, the incessant shutter of doors and windows, the onrushing honking of cars, and the rhythmic shuffle of crowds. This was a city that never slept, that never kept quiet.
But today was different; the noises Sarah grew accustomed to in the city were only now a floating conversation in the wind. That signaled something…
Sarah exited the balcony of her penthouse in the city, her satin robe brushing against the tendrils of her crimson rug. She was a well-renowned psychiatrist in the city, the type to earn two hundred thousand a year—minus consultation fee. She literally worked thrice a week at the city’s biggest hospital.
Her home was just underneath the blue skies at the biggest guesthouse in the city. She shared the apartment with her pet poodle which enjoyed human privileges and ate half her pantry. She loved her dog very much, and for a while watched the little thing sleep snugly on a little cushion at the corner of her glasshouse.
She took a cold shower next and made herself some coffee, before preparing a script for her new physiotherapy patient scheduled that day. Today’s patient was a spoilt teenage kid whose cocaine addiction rendered him a threat to society. It was her job to determine the extent of the kid’s mental deterioration and recommend a proper rehabilitation center.
I don’t need a script.
She was too good at this job anyway. But it wasn’t that. Something didn’t feel right today. It wasn’t the weather either. She just couldn’t place it. Coffee only made her more anxious, so she returned to bed, and laid there for a while. She woke by 6 after hearing something move, only to realize it was her poodle climbing into bed with her.
Around 7, she woke to the sound of rain. She usually clocked in by 9, so she had enough time to slip into her work clothes. She sat up and watched the rain for a while, thinking about her patient for the day. Then she went and turned on the television. After scrolling through music videos and telenovela shows, she tuned in to CNN.
Breaking news revealed details about a murder. It was the last thing she wanted to hear. Without even waiting for the details, she turned off the television and went for another cup of coffee. She whipped out her phone and scrolled through her messages on Tinder. Could you blame a lonely lady like her for finding love?
After swiping left on a couple of pictures, she tossed her phone aside and went back to working on her script. It still felt shallow, but she finished it anyway. Better to be prepared than caught napping during a psychotherapy session.
At half-past 8, she slipped into her work clothes: a brisk turtleneck and a dark brown skirt over polished leather boots, with a brown supple coat to keep her warm. The rain was so heavy that it didn’t fizzle out until past 9. She was late, but it wasn’t a bother. Her office was only a few hundred yards out from her apartment building, with a clear view of the hospital’s rooftop from her balcony.
Usually, she walked to work. It made little sense to drive to a place five minutes away and get stuck in traffic for a quarter of an hour when she could just stroll. Today was different; she didn’t want to get caught out in the rain, which threatened to fall any moment now. So, she called a cab and waited for it to arrive.
The cab arrived in three minutes, at about the same time the office called. Her patient had just arrived. But there was more: the patient had tendencies to cause a tantrum when kept waiting for too long. Rich people’s problems.
“I’ll be there soon,” she told the office.
She soon discovered that this promise was a little out of her reach. The rain had damaged a street light pole on the way to work, and the fastest alternative route was a further ten minutes away. By her calculations, she would make it to work a quarter to ten, almost an hour past her session.
Sarah had never been so late before. She urged the driver to step on the gas and offered him more money if he made it to the hospital quickly. The driver was good at his job; after maneuvering past the main road, he entered another equally trafficked boulevard. At least, here, she was closer to work. Her phone rang even more.
Sensing tension, the driver switched on the radio. The same murder news was on. She might as well listen.
“Turn that up please?”
Obliging, the driver added his own commentary. “The news is everywhere. The guy who’s been killing therapists is back.”
She froze and waited for the radio to confirm this horrible truth. Anyone else, an engineer, an accountant, an Uber driver, would have listened to this particular news with passive attention. For Sarah, this was a lot more personal. As a therapist herself, she felt truly afraid for her life.
Sarah found the news nerve-racking. This was the killer’s third victim in as many months; this being his most active period yet. Over a period of two years, the stone-cold therapy killer had murdered a dozen female therapists in their offices. The autopsy report was the same every time; he made his victims commit suicide.
How no one could tell. His motives, no one could fathom. All Sarah knew was that the killer was deadly and he was in the city.
As she rummaged through her thoughts panicking, she failed to realize that the driver was just now pulling up to the curb of the hospital avenue.
“Stop the car!”
Immediately, the driver pressed the brakes and checked to see if she was okay. She wasn’t. She alighted the vehicle swiftly; her head spinning and bent over the pavement in a bid to catch her breath. The driver hurried out of the car to offer assistance.
“Give me a minute!” she shouted, a little too loud, immediately waving her hand in apology.
Her world started spinning uncontrollably. The killer’s last victim was a long-time friend of hers. They had attended the same medical college in the city. Hearing news of her friend’s murder sent her into shock, and she struggled to understand the occurrence. Why she heard herself asking. Why!
The driver beckoned closer once more. His car was parked awkwardly on the road, and he needed to move it. Her phone rang incessantly just then; the office was calling again. She regained herself and hopped into the car, and allowed the driver to pull into the avenue.
She was being paranoid. The hospital was super secure, with a number of uniformed officers parading inside and outside the premises. All therapists in the hospital worked on the highest floor, the fifth floor. Matter of fact, the hospital had only one entrance and exit. This was a safe place. The killer, she surmised, wouldn’t dare enter such an open place. If he ever did, he would get caught.
Here, she was safe. She believed that—she needed to believe that.
After paying for her fare, she dipped her head low and walked towards the hospital’s entrance. At just that moment, her patient stormed out of the hospital. She recognized the little kid from the pictures sent from the office. In pursuit of her client was her supervisor, Doctor Trevor.
But the spoilt little kid had had enough waiting. Cocaine withdrawals was a really bad thing, Sarah realized, as the kid kicked a dustbin onto the road. Doctor Trevor tried to secure his investment, but the kid just wouldn’t listen. The security intervened and dragged him away from the hospital entrance.
Doctor Trevor turned on her, his face flushing red with anger. “Where have you been?”
Sarah shrugged. “There was an accident on the ro—“
Her supervisor held a hand up for silence. “I don’t want to hear it. You’ve just cost us a good client. His father is a Silicon Valley investor.”
There goes my pay rise.
Doctor Trevor sighed. He began to walk back into the hospital. Sarah caught up with him before he could enter the building.
“I’ll take the next available client.”
Trevor shook his head, and then stopped a few feet away from the hospital’s entrance to have a smoke. “Madison’s got that one covered. They’ve just started a session.”
Doctor Trevor noticed her intrigue. “Well, this client’s a queer one; doesn’t look mentally disturbed. If you ask me, he looks perfectly okay, mentally. Beats me why he requested the best psychiatrist.”
That’s me, Sarah opined.
“Of course,” said Doctor Trevor, “But he was so impatient; so I handed him over to Madison.”
Sarah nodded approval. Madison was the second-best psychiatrist in the hospital. She and Sarah often shared details of their client’s cases. Madison was truly exceptional at her job. There was no better person to deputize her position; that she knew.
After his cigarette, Doctor Trevor ushered Sarah in. But they never got past the doormat, because a sudden crash, followed by a heavy thump, behind them caught their attention.
“What in God’s name is that?”
They retraced their steps and almost wished they hadn’t. Accidents happened all the time in hospitals. Sarah had witnessed patients throw trays of medicine out the window. But this, this was different.
Someone had fallen off the fifth floor in a hail of shattered window panes.
It can’t be.
Doctor Trevor knelt beside the body of the fifth-floor suicide jumper. He gasped at what he saw. He didn’t even have to tell Sarah, she knew whose corpse that was. Right there, before their eyes, was the bloody frame of Anna Madison.
She looked up at the fifth floor, and sure enough, there was a person standing at the foot of Madison’s office enjoying the procession. She stood there frozen and afraid, as Doctor Trevor requested immediate help. Sarah took a step back to catch a good glimpse of the therapist’s killer.
Before today, the killer had been a wave in the news; a detached story from her reality; someone else’s problem; a distant dagger in Sarah’s heart. Today, she could feel nothing but hatred as the killer jumped off the top office, sealing his own demise.
This was the killer’s endgame, and she had only dodged a role in it by a second.