(Missed the last chapter? Go to 57: Paranoia Will Destroya)
THE LOBBY looked like it had been decorated in the 1980s—none of the ostentatious perfection that I was beginning to associate with them. I never thought I’d be this happy to see acoustic ceiling tiles and puffy pastel couches.
The receptionist, a hipster with horned rim glasses and a brown cotton dress, put down her biology text and gave me a friendly smile, but when I told her I wanted to see Bill Huang, her smile faded.
“I’m sorry. He’s out on leave.”
The receptionist lifted her eyebrows. “May I ask your business with Mr. Huang?”
I tried to smooth the panic out of my voice. “He’s the lawyer in charge of my father’s estate. I’m Legacy Keyes.”
She typed on her computer. “Mr. Bassett is handling things for Mr. Huang until his return. Do you want to—”
“I need to see Bill. Is there anyway to get in touch with him. Please. It’s an emergency.”
The receptionist picked up the phone and dialed. I felt a moment of relief, but then she said, “Rex, one of Bill’s clients insists she needs to talk to someone. It’s an emergency.” I thought the strain of not rolling her eyes might give the receptionist a stroke.
She hung up the phone and turned back to her book. “Mr. Bassett will be right out.”
I considered turning around and leaving, but then what? I’d be back here in a week or two when my money ran out. I wouldn’t be able to stay long at Zora’s, not with Dr. Grey around. And who knew what was going to happen tonight. If we had to confront Dr. Grey to keep her from hurting another child….
Flavors of fear, savors of fear.
Brain racing in circles, I stood hugging my arms around my chest, staring blankly at a faded print of Monet’s water lilies. A few minutes later, Rex Bassett, a tall man with sagging jowls and pasty skin came slumping into the room like the hound dog his name suggested.
Bassett looked around as if expecting someone else, though I was the only one there. Finally he let his eyes rest on me.
“Mr. Bassett.” I held out my hand, which he took with a grip about as firm as an empty sock. “Can you please tell me where Bill is? My family and I are longtime clients and friends. It really is an emergency.”
“Please, come to my office. We can talk there.”
I stood watching Bassett walk away. Other than the comment about flavors of fear, no voices. No headache or tunnel vision—none of the signs that indicated they were nearby. Of course, I’d never experienced any of that around John. As, I followed Bassett down a narrow hall and into a beige and pastel office overlooking the raised Downtown Expressway, I wondered why. Was it simply because I’d grown up around John that he never pinged my radar in the same way?
The furniture in Bassett’s office was brown laminate, the walls bare except for a giant Escher in a cheap frame. It was one I’d never seen before, a distorted fish-eye view of brick stairs with six-legged worms climbing upside down in a claustrophobic, endless parade. The heads of the worms looked almost mechanical, the feet almost human. I shivered, feeling that the Escher print revealed something about the man who inhabited this office, whereas the photo of the smiling woman and the Zen rock garden on the desk looked like props.
Bassett collapsed heavily in a cracked vinyl chair and motioned for me to sit across the desk from him. I preferred to stand, but didn’t want to seem hostile, so I perched on the edge of a chair, fingering the pepper spray in my jeans pocket for reassurance.
“Can you tell me where Bill is?” I tacked what I hoped was an appealing smile to my face. “Since my father passed a couple of months ago, he’s one of the few people I feel I can turn to for advice.”
“He and his wife are traveling abroad,” Bassett intoned. “Tibet and Nepal.”
“Oh,” I said, and faked another small, brave smile. “I’m happy for Bill, but I’m in a difficult situation. I’m quite sure Bill would want to know about it.
Bassett gave me a blank look.
“I don’t suppose he’ll be back this week?”
Bassett shook his head, and his jowls swung. “Not until sometime next month, maybe June. But I have all of your files. I’m very familiar with your case.”
“My … case?”
“Yes.” He opened a file drawer and pulled out a thick brown accordion folder so readily, it had to have been sitting on top. He set the file on his desk with a lascivious smile. “Your uncle said you might be in.”
I shot to my feet. Who the fuck is this guy?
And as clearly as I’d formed the thought in my mind, I heard the answer: John’s pet. I saw my file sitting in an otherwise empty drawer. I saw Rex Bassett sitting here for weeks like an obedient dog, staring at that Escher with narrow stairs and bricks and bugs in a never ending loop that matched the loop in his head. Waiting.
“Bill Huang didn’t hire you,” I said evenly. “Who did?”
Bassett’s eyes shifted to the Escher. “We’re all on the same team here.”
I started toward the door, but faster than I would have expected for a man of his size, Bassett moved from behind the desk and stationed himself in front of me.
Heart pounding, I slid the pepper spray from my pocket and pointed it at his face. “Get out of my way.”
Bassett held up his hands, grinning as if this was a game. “They warned me that you had violent delusions. Full of perverted, violent, sexual ideas.” He licked his lips and regarded me a moment with droopy eyes.
I held the pepper spray closer to his face. He flinched away, then tried to play it off as a shrug. “Go ahead. There’s nobody else here. And even if there was, they’d send you back to me. I’m the one that has what you need.”
I was out the door before he’d finished speaking.
“I’ll be waiting,” he called after me.
I stomped up and down the hallway, but found all of the offices empty. From the dust on the furniture, it looked like they’d been that way for a while.
Cursing inwardly, I returned to find Basset staring out the window at the traffic zooming by on the raised expressway.
“So what’s in the file?” I said from the doorway.
“Come in, come in!” Bassett beamed like I was an old friend.
“I’ll stay here, if you don’t mind.”
Bassett looked slightly injured, but opened the file. “Well! I am to inform you that your uncle John Strong, has relinquished executorship of your father’s estate.”
My head swam and I grabbed the doorjamb. “I can go home?” I murmured.
Bassett got up and came toward me. “Are you all right, Ms. Keyes?”
I held up my hand to ward him off. “I’m fine. Please, just explain what this means.”
“Very well.” Bassett returned to the desk and took a letter from the file with a flourish. He stood facing me with one arm outstretched, like a preacher before his congregation. “Dear William Huang, et al., I must resign as executor of Steven Keyes’ estate. Regretfully, it has become impossible for me to continue in this role; even though it was Stevie’s wish that I do so. I have tried, in good faith, to protect the assets left to Ms. Keyes by her father, and to protect Ms. Keyes herself. However, her resistance to therapy and medication, and resulting erratic and destructive behavior has rendered this situation beyond my ability to manage.”
As Bassett read the letter, I gritted my teeth. I told myself it didn’t matter what wild slander John spewed, as long as it meant I was free of him.
“I was warned by Legacy’s psychiatrist,” Bassett continued, “that my niece was forming an unhealthy attachment toward me following her aunt Dorothy’s hospitalization for drug rehabilitation, and Legacy’s own drug-induced psychotic break. Although I am a doctor, I am inexperienced in matters of abnormal psychology. It was my desire to keep Legacy safe that prompted my decision to provide private treatment in her own home during the period—”
“Fucking liar!” I spat.
Bassett looked perturbed. “Don’t you want to know what he’s decided about—”
“Give me the file.” I held out my hand.
“These are official documents, I can’t just hand them over to—”
In two steps, I had the pepper spray an inch from his face again. He handed me the file and smirked. “It doesn’t matter. We have copies.”
I backed away from him until I gained the door, then sprinted down the hallway and out the door of the law offices. I hit the elevator key, but then decided to take the stairs. Pounding the four flights to the parking deck, I couldn’t think, could hardly breathe.
“Son of a bitch! Son of a bitch!” I panted, over and over, too angry to care who heard. If I’d had to listen to any more of John’s disgusting lies, I would have snapped again, and I couldn’t afford that. I wouldn’t be able to help anyone if I got arrested.
I GOT IN my car, threw the file on the seat next to me and squealed tires down the ramp. I couldn’t get away from the shell of Bill Huang’s law practice fast enough. Did he know what had become of it? Was he even in Nepal or Tibet? I didn’t believe anything Bassett said.
I drove blindly, taking random turns until I felt safe, and then headed toward the river. I pulled into the parking lot across from Belle Isle. It was half full of cars and people: hikers, partiers, and families coming and going. I felt like a Martian observing life on earth. Regular people, on their way to enjoy a beautiful spring day at the river.
I shucked my leather jacket, shoved the pepper spray in my pocket, and tucked the file under my arm. After checking around to make sure nobody was watching, I crossed the street and climbed down the rocky embankment.
At river level, I skirted along the edge of the water. It was running hard and fast, chocolate dark with mud and snow melt from mountains a hundred miles away. I found a spot with a flat rock secluded behind the scrubby bushes that grew along the disturbed riverbank.
I took off my boots and socks, rolled my jeans to the knees, and stuck my feet in the river, letting the contrast between numbing cold and warm sun take the edge off my anger. There was another ration of shit in the file under my arm, I was sure of that. I’d heard enough of Bassett’s oration to realize if John couldn’t fuck me, he would settle for fucking me over.
I could feel the pressure building inside my head. The voices broke through, lapping over each other at full volume: take ahold under the bed of his tail don’t trust parasite and eat off carving their teeth run his head red lies skin be sure predator raped me and pig hog then hush listen is dead …. “Stop!” I cried. “Stop talking ALL AT ONCE!”
And—just like that—they did.
I caught my breath, surprised that I’d been able to control them. Part of me still believed that whatever they were, ancestors or delusions, they had no place in my head. But my fear of John and the rest of them had become greater than my fear of mental illness. If there was any chance the voices could help, I owed it to Dorothy and Kat and the kids at Warrick to listen.
“One at a time,” I whispered. “Please.”
Don’t let crazy under your skin. Predator harvests the nectar of fear.
It was the same voice I’d heard the night before: firm, sad, kind. A grandmother forced to warn a child that not everyone in the playground is a friend.
I sat back, feeling the smooth rock under me, the warm sun on my skin. The cold, loamy river tugged at my feet. There was silence but I could feel the voices waiting.
“What are they?”
“What does John want? Why me? Why us—our family?”
It wants what it’s had for generations. What it believes is property.
My vision swam. Flavors of fear, savors of fear. Connoisseurs of fear.
I leaned over and splashed my face, trying to calm down.
“How far back does this go?”
They live for hundreds of years.
“That can’t be.”
It is, it is, it is.
I fought the urge to throw myself into the current, running hard, and shockingly cold. Did I want to die?
No. I wanted to give myself over to something bigger than I was—a force of nature that not even they could stop.
Yes, the voice said.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, the river whispered. I didn’t know if it was talking to me or if I was just overhearing a never-ending dialogue between water and stone.
I picked up the folder and read.
The gist of it was simple: Dad hadn’t been broke at all—he’d left me almost two million dollars in stocks, securities, real estate and cash. John had sold his house anyway, to Richard Strange Construction, the same company he’d hired to renovate the Fan house..
There was nothing in the file about Dorothy’s house, since my dad hadn’t owned that, but I felt sure John had convinced her to sell it to the same guy—right before he pushed her over the edge—drugged her and messed with her mind until she broke.
I found an envelope full of staged photos of me dressed provocatively in my bedroom, underneath the painting of myself. My drugged eyes stared blankly off camera. There ware also photos of Branson and I having sex in the Jacuzzi at InnerPool.
Walt. I should have known he’d have cameras everywhere. That sleazy bastard. I wondered how many of Richmond’s upstanding citizens Walt was blackmailing.
I shoved the photos back in the envelope and got to the meat of the whole disgusting farce. John had formed a trust to “protect” me from myself. He had relinquished the rights to everything except my house—the only thing I truly cared about.
The document stated that since John and Dorothy had sold their house in order to act as my “guardians,” due to a period of mental instability following my father’s death, they would retain the “right to habitation” in the house on Stuart Avenue.
The mortgage and utilities for the house would be paid out of the trust. I’d get a thousand dollars a month for groceries, gas, and personal needs, provided that I brought a signed note from Dr. Rolfe to the law office of Huang, Loy and Roach each month when I came to pick up the check. I could not sell the house or access any of the other funds until I’d been “stabilized” on medication and keeping regular appointments with my psychiatrist for one year.
Dr. Rolfe. That worm.
I gathered the folder and began to climb the embankment to the road, when a small, cream-colored card slipped from the file. The notecard, written John’s neat hand: “If noncompliant, use VA. CODE §§ 16.1-340; 16.1-340.1; 19.2-169.6; 19.2-182.9; 37.2-808 through 37.2-819 to create petition. Footage and testimony of the willful damage and vandalism at UrgePool will provide ample evidence. Historical photos of drug use and sexual wantonness will also build a solid foundation.”
John thought he could manipulate me by dangling the carrot of my inheritance, and if that didn’t work, he was going to use the law to have me locked up in a mental hospital. I had been working with messed up teens long enough to know plenty about Petitions for Involuntary Admission for Treatment—a green warrant. But John didn’t know me as well as he thought he did. I could easily avoid his green warrant. I’d lived for years in squats. I could do it again.
As I crested the hill, I realized that, despite his terrifying intellect and hypnotic abilities, John wasn’t omniscient. My laugh came out the harsh bray of a madwoman, startling a wispy jogger. She fluttered sidewise with a startled coo.
“Don’t mind me, I was just in my office taking care of legal matters!” I said, gleefully brandishing the folder.
The jogger’s glide became a sprint and I chuckled.
Save your wrath for those who deserve it, the grandmother’s voice chided.
Fine, then! My trust stipulated I had to visit Rolfe—that worm. I would go, after all. I was looking forward to it.