Life's Road Keeps Winding



        Walter Krouse had driven straight home following the tumultuous day at the office.  Ordinarily, he'd be reveling in the sick trick he'd just played on poor Paulina.  But all he could think about was The Caller's ingenuous psychological warfare tactics employed on him and Allen Thorne hours earlier.  He'd come to the conclusion that The Caller was a genius.  After he opened the front door and looked over his shoulder one last time, he headed upstairs for his bedroom, whereupon he opened the closet doors and unlocked and opened his fireproof safe.  It was so secretive to him that the Misses didn't even have access to it.  Wads of cash, bars of gold, jewelry, along with some other items of value were stored inside, including a plastic ziplock baggie containing a significant amount of a white powdery substance.  Two grams of it went up the stressed-out psychiatrist's nostrils.  Then, he pulled out the handgun and closed and locked the safe.

        Six o'clock rolled around.  Walter Krouse resumed his nightly ritual of watching the local news in his easy chair while sipping his can of beer.  Raleigh's favorite newswoman, channel eleven's own, Sophia Newlight, looked into the camera lens and read straight from her script:

        "About an hour ago, ambulance crews responded to a car crash on Dollbern Avenue.  One driver, Barry Fleischmann, was killed immediately upon impact, and the driver of the other car, Paulina Price, is in critical condition.  Both cars were totalled in the head-on collision.  The Highway Patrol has issued a statement saying that it was caused by Mrs. Price's vehicle travelling contraflow along the one-way stretch of road.  Specifically, she was headed west on the east-bound set of lanes.  Intoxication apparently did not play a role in the accident, as there were no traces of alcohol in either Mrs. Price's vehicle or in her body.  Should she survive, it is expected she'll face involuntary manslaughter charges.  Turning to national affairs..."

        "Walter," Victoria called from the kitchen, where, as usual, she had the TV turned on while cooking her family's dinner.  "That name, 'Paulina Price', sounds familiar; it seems like I've heard you mention her in the past."

        "Oh, my God," her husband gasped, as if he was bolted by the "news" -- which he had anticipated, desired and caused.  "Yes, honey.  She's one of my patients!  This is terrible!  I hope she's alright!"

        Those verbal declarations were actually the polar opposites of his actual thoughts and feelings.  If his black heart was automatically converted into expression through discourse, his wife would've been shocked to hear him say: "This is great!  It went down just like I planned!  I hope she either dies or lingers in pain for the rest of her life!"

        "Maybe you should call the hospital and ask about her status, Walter," Victoria suggested.

        "Yeah, I'll be sure to do that first thing tomorrow morning," he vowed, inwardly knowing that he wouldn't bother.  Paulina's injurious condition, coupled with the other motorist's death, induced an intense adrenalin rush of excitement that was beyond the magnitude of the chemical high he'd experienced an hour previously.  For Walter Elmore Krouse was an unmitigated sadist!




        The Caller laid low for the rest of the week.  But Walter Krouse knew it was just a "matter of time" before he'd strike again; it was inevitable!  Another Monday morning arrived, and along with it, another routine weekly blueprint on a criminal's cryptogram calendar.  The unvarying sinister synopsis of business, which ravaged so many lives over his nine-year career, comprised: barely paying attention to issues discussed during "therapy" sessions while pretending to care; playing mind games designed to confuse and rattle disturbed psyches even furthrer; prescribing all sorts of deleterious drugs; periodically conducting Mengele-like experiments on his most vulnerable and voiceless subjects; and numerous advantageous liaisons with female patients.  He did all this while "making a killing" -- both figuratively AND literally.  Walter Krouse had been smug throughout his career, and he felt quite proud of himself for "getting away with murder" for so long.  However, now the wicked one was wondering if perhaps there really was "something to" the Eastern belief in karma, which he'd always scoffed at as superstitious rubbish drummed up by silly idealists.  Furthermore, he worried that Master Karma would put an end to his evil streak and place him behind bars for the rest of his life, if it didn't murder him through its vessel, The Caller.

        In an ironic twist of fate, the psychiatrist was turning into the mold of his patients as he gradually became more and more unhinged with each stess inducing occurrence.  He was constantly fretting about something: The Caller's ongoing harassment; Ralph Oxner surviving and spilling the beans; the psychological strain The Caller had placed on his wife and children; the upcoming meeting with the Private Investigator; and, if all these things weren't enough, now he had freaking ghosts to worry about!!!  Furthermore, his cocaine habit had escalated.  It seemed to be getting out of control.  And control was one of the prized attributes he'd always proudly possessed.  He'd begun snorting at work which was personally unprecedented, and breached one of his few moral codes.  Five patients had been lost as a natural consequence of his aloof, and downright disrespectful, attitude while high.  Others were on the verge of skipping out on him.  So, his drug problem was bringing upon job complications.  Additionally, his family life and social life suffered immensely due to the mounting stress and increased substance abuse.  Although never a nice guy to begin with, under the influence of alcohol and coke, as well as during times of sobriety, he was now more prone to take his pressures out on his wife and kids.  They were regularly yelled at and chastised needlessly.  Walter's rich and powerful friends also felt the brunt of his mood swings, especially on the golf course and at the country club.  He'd alienated some of his closest friends due to snide remarks and outright vicious insults.  But that wasn't the case for his life-long sidekick, Allen Thorne -- the Stan Laurel to his Oliver Hardy personaHe knew that ole' Allen would take his abuse for as long as he liived to dish it out on him.

        The cowardly pair had recently begun carpooling together because Walter figured it'd be a worthwhile maneuver to safeguard against a physical attack from The Caller; the logic simply being that a twosome has a better chance of warding off a charging maniac as opposed to a solo-on-solo confrontation.  But the most drastic security measure they'd employed was harboring concealed weapons on their bodies at all times when out in public.  They never left home without their guns.  Upon entering the business suite at the Executive Center, they always dislodged their 357 Magnums and unstrapped their holsters from their waists.



Their white dress shirts were then tucked inside their pants.  During the precarious daily march to work on the way to the building, their shirts always hung over their holsters for concealment purposes.  They looked funny, and rather silly, walking together with their shirts hanging out, almost like a comedy act, something along the lines of The Blues Brothers starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. 

        The regimented, militaristic-style routine they'd grown accustomed to was: Walter walked on Allen's left, and they stayed close together; Walter opened the office door and held it for Allen to enter; then, when they were both inside, Allen locked and bolted the door while Walter lifted up the blinds and peered out the windows to double check for any sign of The Caller.

        This morning, as war lover Walter Krouse lifted up his shirt and relieved his body of its attached armor, he expressed his emotional insecurity with a succinct analogy: "I feel like a Jew in Israel with the The Caller being my personal terrorist."  Allen, who was also deeply thrilled by the concept and prospect of national wars, conflicts and uprisings, commented in a foreboding tone, "That's a good comarison!  I feel the exact same way -- never knowing when, or where, the enemy will attack.  All I know is that he'll attack!  He WILL attack!"  Now they knew what it felt like to be on the OTHER side of war!  Another way of putting it is that the hunters were now the hunted, the predators turned into prey.


       Regina was glad the session was over.  The client whom she disliked the most stood up.  Then, he withdrew two 100 dollar bills from his wallet and handed them to the nude, tattooed mulattto prostitute sitting on the edge of the motel's mattress.  She hastily stuffed them into her purse and walked over to her clothes which were haphazardly strewn on the chair.  After she stepped through the leg holes of her white panities and pulled them up to her narrow waist, her scrambled, drug addicted mind recalled a dubious question her regular customer asked moments before they copulated.

        At the time, she disregarded it due to her attentiveness being solely directed on getting the job over with ASAP.  Everyting about the whoremonger disgusted her: his appearance, personality, body odor, voice, mannerisms... just to name a few.  Those were only a small portion of his many unsavory characteristics.  But, lucky for her, the sex was invariably brief.  He frequently presented his case for a discount due to his performance problems and "premie" handicap specifically.  Regina always laughed off the ridiculous request and took the opportunity to belittle him and ridicule his manhood, or lack thereof.  On one particular occassion she ripped into him rather viciously, taunting, "That's YOUR problem, not mine!  So don't keep begging me for a reduction.  You're pathetic!!  Even Viagra doesn't help you!  You're lucky you can just get it up at all!  If you were any less of a man, you'd be a woman!"  The hurl of insults didn't hurt his feelings.  Nothing anyone said ever did.  That's because he didn't have any feelings!

        "Why did you ask me if my pimp had ever killed anyone for money," she queried.  He was circumspect in his answer: "Because Rodney looks mean.  I was just curious, that's all.  Hey, have you gotten any more tattoos since I saw you last," he asked, in a vain attempt to change the subject matter.

        "You know I can't keep up with them all.  I may be a whore, but I'm not an idiot, Walter!  Don't patronize me!  Who is it you want killed?"

        "I wish I knew," he stated in a depressed tone, obviously disheartened by his lack of knowledge and inability to positively identify the target.

        "What do you mean by that," she asked, puzzled by his obscure response.

        Walter elucidated, "To make a long story short, someone has been harassing the hell out of me.  He's trying his best to make my life absolutely miserable... and he's succeeding, I have to admit.  He also 'has it in' for my co-worker."

        "How's he harassing you," Regina inquired.

        "It all started with prank phone calls, but now it has escalated to other forms of electronic harassment.  He has a whole lot of information on us, and he's damn good at covering his tracks!  But sooner or later, he'll slip up and I'll find out who he is.  That's when I'll need someone in the underworld to take care of him for me."



        "When you find out who he is, why not just turn him in to the police and have him prosecuted?  It's a crime to harass people!  I mean, what makes him worth killing," Regina reasoned.

        "Umm, well, see... I've been a 'bad boy,' so to speak.  And he has a lot on me.  I don't know for sure what, or how much, he could prove in court, but I'd rather not take the chance.  So my primary motive isn't revenge -- it's self preservation, although the revenge part [will be] SWEET!"

        The harlot zipped up her short, black leather skirt.  "Well, like I said, Rodney ain't into no murder for hire plots.  He probably ain't never killed nobody on the spur of the moment either, even though he has hinted that he has.  Probably just trying to scare me or impress me or something.  Basically, Rodney is just a fast talking, wanna-be-thug, pimp daddy with a gold tooth in his mouth and a gold chain around his neck.  I know he LOOKS tough, but compared to real gangsters and mobsters, believe me, he ain't 'all that'!  Sure, he's gotten into a handful of fist fights and even stabbed some people here and there out of necessity, but he's far from a natural born killer.  The good news is that I know some badass hitmen.  But you'd have to cough up a lot of green.  These thugs are professional as hell.  They never fuck up a job or get caught!  So, you wouldn't need to worry about that shit."

        "Sounds good to me," said Walter with a raised eyebrow, still half dressed.

        "Look, just let me know when you discover the pest's identity, and I'll set up the hit for you.  Of course, I'd want a kickback.  You know I wouldn't go out of my way to help you for nothing in return!  Give me 700 dollars and I'll hook you up with the best hitman in the state."  Walter Krouse nodded his head in agreement, too beleaguered and desperate to haggle.

        "You know what, Walter.  I have an appointment with a fucking judge at 9:00 tonight.  I'll tell you the story.  Three years ago, I knocked on a motel door to meet with a new client.  At first sight, I thought I recognized him from somewhere.  I said, 'You look familiar.'  He nervously said, 'I do?'  Then it came to me.  As a test, just to see if he'd be honest, I said, 'What do you do for a living?'  He goes, 'Umm, I'm a mechanic.'  I shouted in his face, 'That's bullshit!  You're none other than that asshole judge who locked me up six months for turning tricks back in 2003 and gave me a long lecture about morality and turning my life around.  You hypocritical piece of shit!'  He sheepishly confessed his identity.  I was like, 'That'll be an extra 100 dollars for coming down on me so hard, pervert!'  He was horny, and was like, 'Okay, whatever.'  I think he was also afraid I was going to try to blackmail him.  But now we're almost like friends.  Last year I stood before him in court for soliciting prostitution.  A fucking Mexican undercover cop set me up.  After I got in his car and agreed to sex for cash, he was like, 'You have the right to remain silent' and all that crap.  I was like, 'Shit!'  Anyway, like I was saying, I went before this judge I had serviced after I got busted for solicitation.  He threw out all the charges.  After he said, 'Case dismissed,' I winked at him, and he smiled back at me.  That same night, he called me up and requested a free fuck for the favor.  I felt indebted to him.  That was the first, and probably the last, freebie I'll ever consent to.  Rodney went ballistic because he pockets half of my earnings.  He was like, 'That pussy has a price tag on it, you stupid bitch!'"

        Regina had finished getting dressed and reapplying her makeup in the mirror.  A stick of chewing gum went in her mouth.  She was all set to go.

        "Well, I've got to run," she said, as she slung the purse's strap over her shoulder.

        "Wait," Walter cried out as she started toward the door.  "That judge you were telling me about... What's his name," he inquired, out of curiosity.

        "Phil Matterson."

        "Holy shit!!  I golf with that guy all the time.  He's always talking about morality and family values and all that crap to me, too.  What a fucking hypocrite!"

        "Yeah, well, just don't let him know that you're also my client because he might be like, 'This is too weird!'  I don't want to lose any business, you know... especially regulars."



        "Yeah, I know.  We repeat customers are pretty important!  Don't worry; I won't say a word!  I'm not stupid!"

        "No, you're just a total sleaze," Regina shot back.

        With a newly formed smile on his face, Walter boasted, "Yeah, and I'm proud of it!  I love being a sleazy pervert.  I wouldn't change it for anything!  Good is bad, and bad is good.  Clean is dirty, and dirty is clean.  Fair is foul, and foul is fair."

        "You're crazy as hell!"

        "Crazy is sane, and sane is crazy."

        "Shut up, you twisted freak!"

        "Twisted is straight, and straight is twisted.  A freak is normal, and normality is freakish.  Rage is calmness and calmness is rage.  War is peace and peace is..."

        "SHUT THE FUCK UP, NOW!!!  YOU'RE DRIVING ME NUTS!!!" screamed Regina before he could finish. (There's no telling how many more of them he had coming, that he could string along before discontinuing the philosophical nonsense he was uttering.)

        Regina was heading for the exit.  "Wait, before you go, I want to know something: Who's better in bed: me or Matterson," Walter called out.

        She chuckled and coldly replied, "Walter, everyone I've ever been with has been better than you in bed; even the women I've serviced.  I can't believe you just set yourself up like that!"

        With that, Regina strolled out the door and closed it behind her, assuming that her reply had stung.  However, Walter smiled, amused by the insult.  But if he had of possessed feelings, they would have undoubtedly been hurt!


        Arnold Fetz's devoted wife stood at the stove cooking their breakfast while he walked up the driveway to get the newspaper.  The 57 year-old, 6'6" man had earned the nickname "Hard Rock" while serving in the Marine Corp.  He was also a nightclub bouncer for a brief stint, a professional bodygurard for some celebrities, a firearms instructor, a police chief, a homicide detective, an S.B.I. agent, a S.W.A.T. team leader, a bounty hunter, and a Mayor of a small town.  To top off the list, he was currently a private investigator with his own practice, employing a staff of four Assistant PI's, a secretary and a receptionist.  Still an exercise buff after all these years, he was in superb physical condition for a man his age, or any age, for that matter.  His main hobbies were cycling, weight lifting, and martial arts.  He was a prototype of strength, fortitude and masculinity.  His hands were bigger than most seven footers' hands, he had a very deep voice, squared jaws, and piercing blue eyes which belied his heart of gold.  The thick mass of hair atop his head had been snow white for over a decade, and his beard of the same color was long and fluffy just like the ivory strands on Old Saint Nick's chin.  What he didn't have in common with Santa was his flabby build, rosy cheeks, and warm gaze.  However, the thick padding and rouge masked two of those deficiencies every Christmas Eve when he put them on, along with his red and white Santa Clause costume.  He delighted in handing out wrapped gifts to underprivileged children, and that even had a softening effect on his eyes.  The kids affectionately nicknamed him "Giant Santa."

        Back inside his house, he opened up the newspaper.  Escaped Psychiatric Patient, Ralph Oxner, Still At Large was the first headline that caught the old PI's eyes.  The article was of personal interest to him due to the fact that he was meeting with Ralph Oxner's psychiatrist in about two hours.  Marianne, his faithful wife of 32 years, set a second cup of coffee on the kitchen table by his thick forearm.

        "The eggs and bacon will be ready in about five minutes," she informed him.

        "Thank you," he murmured, semi-attentively, while in the midst of reading the first paragraph.

        After Mr. Fetz read the article and ate his breakfast, he left home with the newspaper and when he arrived at work he carried it into his office.  Within a few seconds of skimming, he found another National News article about Ralph Oxner.  This one seemed to reach out and grab his attention, as well.  It was entitled: Ralph Oxner: A Modern-Day Billy the Kid?



        A growing public interest is developing in the fugitive, Ralph Oxner.  The case that was profiled on 'North America's Most Wanted' has garnered both intrigue and sympathy.  Mr. Oxner's psychiatrist, Walter Krouse, deemed him a dangerous threat to anyone who crossed him when he spoke on the show.  The whereabouts of Ralph Oxner remains a mystery, shrouded in speculation, and morphing into a legend!  ... ... ...

        While Arnold Fetz read inside the office, Walter Krouse stood outside of it, feeling rather nervous.  He read the engraved title, Arnold Fetz, Private Investigator, on the dark, mahagony door and then he applied three knocks on it.  That interrupted the PI's highly concentrated reading.  He lifted his head up from the newspaper and hollered, "Come in."  The door opened.  His new client stepped inside the room for his 9 a.m. appointment right on time.  Sitting behind a big desk, eyeing that client with a sharp, astute mind that was used to discerning different personality types and character traits, he immediately sized him up as a punk.  But at least he was a punctual punk!  As for the first impression on the other side of the coin, Walter was surprised and taken aback by the man who was behind the desk across the room, intensely focused on him with that penetrating stare of his.  Before his eyes was an imposing and intimidating man who exhibited a stone-cold aura of rigid invincibility, stern formality and psychological toughness, far above and beyond what would be considered 'rough and rugged.'  His wide shoulders and chest were apparent upon first sight; he undoubtedly had tremendous upper body strength!  And although he was seated, on the other side of the room, he seemed to hover over him.  There seemed to be no shred of weakness, physically or mentally, in the man.

        Mr. Fetz stood up, revealing his height, and said, "You must be Walter Krouse."

        "That's me," he confirmed in a high pitch; it was barely audible.  He was hardly able to get the words out of his mouth.

        Arnold then walked toward him for the formal greeting.  Once there, standing right in front of him, made Walter feel like he was a pigmy looking up at a giant.  Now he really seemed to be hovering over him!  Arnold extended his huge right hand, gripped Krouse's little one, squeezed it firmly, and shook the limp piece of meat several times up and down.  This was no 'Paulina Price' Walter Krouse was dealing with, and his accustomed sense of authority and dominance when interacting with (his) vulnerable clients was flipped upside down.  His normally arrogant attitude and cockiness was totally out the window, as well!  What he now felt was an overwhelming, and most unpleasant, sense of humble submissiveness evoked by the admirable presence before him.  Krousey Boy, as The Caller called him, gulped and looked downward to avoid eye contact.  They took their respective seats; Fetz returning behind his desk and Krouse in front of it, facing him.  The consultation was underway.

        "Now sir, you told me over the phone that someone is engaged in a campaign of ongoing harassment against you."  Mr. Fetz spoke in a very deep voice with a southern-tinged accent.

        "Yes, that is the case, unfortunately," Walter confirmed.  It was in his slimy character to lie and deceive.  Therefore, this is precisely the route he took upon elaboration.

        "He called me on the phone and said that he was going to kill me for helping Ralph Oxner.  His exact words were, 'I'm going to kill you for helping that crazy bastard, Ralph Oxner!'"

        "Hmm.  Now, do you have any idea at all who this person is?"

        "I can't think of one particular person it could be because I've known so many people, and I can't place his voice.  Maybe 'The Caller,' as I call him, is one of my former patients.  Or maybe he's someone else.  I don't know who it is, or what's going on in his head.  All I know is that he's a real maniac and I fear for my life!"

        "Now, Dr. Krouse, did you report this incident to the police," Mr. Fetz inquired.

        Weasely Krouse shifted his eyes and said, "Well, no, I didn't."

        "Why not," he naturally wanted to know.

        Another lie was in order.  "The reason I didn't call the police is because I didn't want him to get into any legal trouble if he is mentally deranged.  I would prefer that, if this is the case, he receive proper psychiatric treatment.  I realize that most people would not take this lenient position if their lives were threatened, but I'm an extraordinarily compassionate, forgiving, and understanding man."



        "Mmm Hmm," Mr. Fetz mumbled, while he reached for his pen and notepad.

        While he was writing something, Krouse went on lying: "I got another call several days later that was full of profanity and threats against my wife and children.  It was horrifying and disgusting!"

        Mr. Fetz was still jotting down notes with his head down.  He talked at the same time, although half as loud, due to his divided attention.  "And still you didn't call the police??!!"

        "No, like I said, I recognized the fact that this individual needs help, not punishment from the court system."

        "Mmm Hmm."  Six seconds of silence ensued while Mr. Fetz wrote with his head down.  He lifted it up, layed his pen down and fixed his gaze on Krouse again.  "So, is this the extent of the harassment that has been leveled against you by this 'Caller' character?"

        "Oh, no.  I almost forgot to tell you; he sent me an e-mail that lacked a return address.  It was about carving up my wife and kids while having me tied up and forced to watch.  I regurgitated after I read it.  I'm telling you, this guy is a real sicko!"  Midway through this answer, Mr. Fetz dropped his head down, picked up his pen and began writing again while simultaneously listening.  He figured it was a half-truth.

        Following four seconds of silence, writing on the pad was again exchanged for looking at Krouse as he asked another question.  "Did you save the e-mail, Dr. Krouse?"

        "Well, no.  On the spur of the moment, I deleted it because I was so angry and traumatized.  But man, I wish I had of saved that thing for evidence!"

        "Mmm Hmm."  He started writing again.  Walter anxiously watched him pushing his pen, hoping that the PI had 'bought' everything he'd said thus far, the whole twisted, falsified account.  But, taking him for a mere brute, he'd underestimated his substantial intelligence.

        Arnold Fetz's pen ceased moving on the paper for what would be the final time.  For ten seconds, he skimmed the notes they'd combined to produce.  Then he set the pen on his desk and lifted up his head to look Walter Krouse squarely in the eyes.  Once again, he shifted his gaze to avoid direct eye contact.

        "Now, Dr. Krouse, let me get this straight: you have absolutely no physical evidence or clues whatsoever?"

        "No sir, I sure don't."

        "Well, this makes my job a lot harder, but I'll still solve the case.  It's just going to require more time and work.  I haven't failed to crack a case yet, and this won't mark the first time.  I guarantee you that!  What I'm going to need is medical records on all of your patients; the current ones, as well as everyone you've seen in the past."

        Fearful of what he might uncover, Walter gulped down saliva and stammered, "Well...  I mean... that's confidential information.  I'm sorry, but I can't let you have access to something that sensitive.  Number one, it would go against my ethical standards, and number two, I'd get into trouble with the psychiatric bar."

        In a sharp tone, Mr. Fetz said, "Sir, you told me that someone threatened to kill you and your family, and you suspect he's someone you've treated.  Now, I could easily get a judge's approval granting the release of your patients' medical records under the 'Necessity Medical Disclosure Act.'  Answer me this: do you, or don't you, fear for your life and your family's life?"

        "I mean, I don't want to violate any of my patients' rights and..." 

        "Sir," he interrupted in a raised voice.  His new client was clearly flustered.  "I can understand that.  But you previously told (me) that you fear for your life and I just told (you) that I can obtain the legal authority to investigate this matter to my full capacity.  Before I study the records, I'll sign a legal retainer forbidding me from discussing any part of their content with anyone, including you.  Now, answer me a very simple question with a 'yes' or 'no': Do you fear for your life, as you previously indicated was the case?"

        "Yes, sir," Walter Krouse said dejectedly, defeated by his own lies and defeated by a much stronger will, an iron will.  He knew he'd just lost that battle of the wills and, on top of that, he'd been out witted.  Hard Rock Fetz was going to get his hands on those records no matter what!  There was no use trying to argue or fight it any more.

        "Okay, I'm going to get a court order permitting you to relese your records to me.  I should have it by Friday.  Now, I'm also going to have to look over your home and office since this guy probably knows where you live and work.  I'll just need to survey any possible area which may be 'open to attack' -- such as, for instance, places an individual could hide behind, lying in wait.  I'll also need to take a look at the locks on your doors, as well as your alarm system.  Do you have an alarm system in your office?"

        "No, I don't," he said, flatly.

        "Well, you're going to get one, regardless of the inconvenience.  I assume you have one in your home."

        "Yes, I do," confirmed Walter.



        "By the way, where do you live, Dr. Krouse?"

        "Llewellyn Estates," he answered in a monotone, still feeling the sting of defeat and still avoiding eye contact.

        "Oh, I've heard of Llewellyn Estates.  That's one of the most affluent housing communities in all of Raleigh.  I'll enjoy visiting your 'hood' and seeing the mansions.  But, believe me, my mind will be focused on the business at hand!"

        Walter protested, again in vain, "I don't think you need to come out to my neighborhood and go inside my house.  It's a gated community with a community watch, and I have a state of the art alarm system, and..."

        Mr. Fetz cut in, "Dr. Krouse, no matter how safe you think you are, there are always weak spots and improvements you can make.  Now, either my secretary or one of my Assistant PI's will be calling you soon.  If not before the weekend, then Monday or Tuesday of next week someone will call you to touch base and make arrangements.  In the meantime, I want you to do two things.  The first is to be very careful where you walk and whom you let in your home and office.  In general, just be very aware of your surroundings, and cautious of every stranger you come into contact with.  The second thing I want you to do is try to remember as many people as you can think of from your past that might harbor a grudge against you for any reason.  That includes patients, as well as non-patients.  Rack your brain for everyone you may have rubbed the wrong way, even slightly offending someone, along with more apparently hostile conflicts, of course."

        Walter was (thinking), "There are so many of both!"  But what he (said) was, "I haven't had many quarrels throughout my life, but I'll see what I can recall."  Nearly the exact opposite.

        "Great," exclaimed Mr. Fetz.  Then he stood up and walked to the door.  With a smirk on his face, knowing he had scored a resounding victory, he opened the door and held it for his client to exit.

        "Do you have my business card," he asked, as Walter approached the threshold.

        He replied, "No," and was informed that he could pick one up from the receptionist's desk on his way out.  Arnold 'Hard Rock' Fetz advised him to call him on his cell phone immediately following any future incidents, no matter how minor.  Then he stepped back in his office room, closed the door, sat in his chair, tilted his head back, and stroked the white whiskers hanging from his chin.  He was reflecting on the meeting that had just transpired.

        Walter Krouse descended the escalator and left the building totally discontented with the meeting, and downcast, as opposed to the relatively high-spirited mood moments earlier when he entered the building's front door and ascended the elevator.  The first action he took after getting in his Jaguar was reaching into his suit pocket and pulling forth his cell phone to make a call.  He was too disconcerted to drive yet.

        Ring. Ring. Ring.  "Hello."

        "Allen, this is Walter.  I just got out of my meeting with Private Dick."

        "Oh, how'd it go?"


        "Why?  Did he say he couldn't catch The Caller?"

        "No, he's going to go ALL OUT to catch him.  THAT'S the problem!"

        "What are you talking about???"

        "What I'm talking about is that he made me agree to release my patients' medical files."

        "What do you mean, 'he 'made' you'??  You CAN'T let him see those records, Walter!!  Didn't you tell him that you couldn't submit them to him??"

        "Yeah, of course... at first.  But he wouldn't take 'No' for an answer.  He was overbearing and he got me tripped up in my own statements, kinda forced my hand.  I never felt so dominated in all my life.  I just couldn't stand up for myself.  It was horrible!"

        "Who's the wimp NOW??!!"

        "You don't understand, Allen.  This dude would make John Wayne look like a pansy.  He'd make a Hell's Angel quiver in his boots.  I've never seen anything like him!"

        "Well, what about legal restrictions?  That's sensitive material!  I thought the law stated that it was only permitted to be viewed by outsiders under extreme circumstances deemed necessary by the court."

        "Yeah, it is.  See, that's where I screwed up!  I told that son of a bitch that The Caller threatened to kill me and my family."



        "You WHAT?!"

        "What was I supposed to have said??!!  The truth??  That he threatened to expose me for abusing my patients?!  Anyway, I guess that little white lie really backfired on me."

        "Yeah, it sure did!"

        "So now he's going to run down to the courthouse and tell a judge what I said.  Then he'll have legal sanction to stick his nose in my business."

        "Shit, Walter!  And you're always calling [ME] stupid!"

        "Yeah, I know.  I guess I'll have to take it on the chin this time.  But I couldn't have forseen it going down like that, man.  But look, I never recorded the really crazy stuff we've done to people, except in my own codes, which are nearly impossible to decipher even for a genius because they're so complex and well disguised.  And even if he does inquire about the cryptograms, which I assume he will, I could either say I forgot their meanings or dish out some BS.  Like if he asks me what 'H.E.R.' stands for, I wouldn't have to say 'HEROIN'; I could say it stands for 'Heredity' and that I was studying hereditary factors in my patients instead of injecting them with hereoin.  In other words, whenever any questions arise, I can apply pseudo-interpretations of the records that will sound reasonable.  Even if I'm unable to do that for some of them, I really doubt he'd be able to figure out their real meanings.  Let's see, there's also the cipher, "STERI" for Sterility Injections and "STERO" for Steroid Shots, plus a ton of others.  But like I said, I doubt he'll be able to figure them out.  And who would ever suspect that a reputable doctor like me would be giving little kids smack, sterilizing people, and pumping others full of steroids?!  It's inconceivable!"

        "I see how you can manipulate a lot of things, but what about experimental drugs you've prescribed, not masked in codes, that were at odds with patients' diagnoses'?"

        "Yeah, that's definitely my biggest concern!  But you have to keep in mind that this guy isn't a psychiatrist.  He knows nothing about psychiatric medication, or applicable clinical labels for identifying mental disorders.  So I very seriously doubt that he would be qualified or capable of noting discrepancies between the two.  Besides, what I assume he's mainly going to be searching for is recorded behavior patterns in my case files that are consistent with The Caller's antics -- such as: patients who have engaged in verbal threats, anti-social behavior, and harassment."

        "I still wouldn't let him see my records if I were in your shoes."

        "What choice do I have?!" (asked rehtorically.)

        "You could call him back and tell him that you changed your mind and don't want to enlist his services, couldn't you?!?"

        "Yeah, but if I back out now, it'll look like I've got something to hide.  Then, he'd get suspicious.  And remember, I'm dealing with a freaking private investigator.  I repeat, 'IN-VES-TI-GA-TOR!'  He could easily mount his own investigation against ME!  Besides, I've come this far, and I REALLY want to nail The Caller!  Maybe it'll all go smoothly and Private Dick will find out who he is.  That's what I'm hoping."

        "I have a question, Walter.  In your notes, did you refer to [me] by name, or did you employ a code?"

        "Don't worry, I used your initials, 'A.T.', when you aided me in research and experiments."

        "Oh, like THAT'S really discreet!!", he stated sarcastically and loudly.  "I don't suppose it would take a genius to figure out that 'A.T.' stands for 'Allen Thorne' since we share the same office suite, and work together as partners.  Duh."  Allen was very worried that his partner's file would implicate (him) in crimes, as well, and the tone of his voice reflected that concern.

        "Well, actually, you're right.  I should have masked your identity better.  But I really don't think he'll be able to crack any of the other codes or decipher encrypted meanings in the records due to their intricacy.  But what you alluded to earlier.  Like, if I've got some freaking kid diagnosed with just ADD and, in addition to Ritalin, I have about six other drugs listed... that might raise an eyebrow, even though he's not a psychiatrist.  And all he'd have to do is either ask a medical professional about the specific drugs or do research on them in a book or on the Internet, and he'd be like, 'DAMN!  These are freaking anti-psychotic drugs.  This kid isn't listed as being psychotic!  What the hell is going on here???!!!???'  See, that's my main concern!"



        "Shit, Walter!  Now I'm starting to be more afraid of the P.I. than The Caller!  I know it'd be a hard thing to do, but can't you just go back and change your records somehow??" Allen pleaded.

        "There's no way I can do that!  They're in the National Archives of Medical Information file, and if I was to tamper with them NOW, it'd be obvious, and then I'd get into trouble for sure."

        "Damn, Walter!  Why didn't you just keep separate record books to begin with?!  One to turn in at the end of every year, and one to retain."

        "Because the extra effort outweighs the risk.  See, it would've been much more trouble, and more time consuming, and an overall bigger strain on my work to create another version of everything, and it's so rare for anyone to want to dig them up, and the law makes it nearly impossible to do so without the doctor's approval.  Even Joseph Mengele didn't do it, and look at how much HE had to hide!"

        "Yeah, that's why the whole world knows what he did," Allen pointed out.

        "Look, I know that it's always wise to completely cover your tracks, but 99 percent of the time, the toil is in vain.  I just never imagined that a situation like this would arise where I'd fall into the one-percent bracket."

        "You should have never hired that freaking P.I., Walter!" Allen emphatically opined.

        "Yeah, I know.  But don't worry about it!  I doubt he's going to scrutinize my medical records too much.  Like I said, my guess is that he'll know what he's looking for, and he'll pass over everything unrelated to it.  Besides, the impression I got of him is that he's just a dumb brute."

        "A dumb brute who outsmarted the hell out of you."

        "Yeah, well, I guess he just got lucky.  Look, Allen, I've got to be getting on the road; I've been sitting in my car in the parking lot all the time I've been talking to you.  I had planned to be back at the office before two, but I think I'll just take the rest of the fucking day off.  My little meeting with the P.I. from Hell took a lot out of me.  I feel emotionally drained.  Do you have any clients scheduled from two to three?"

        "Umm... from two to three... No, I don't think so.  Hold on, let me check my cell's calendar to make sure."  Six seconds later: "No, today it's twelve to one, and then three to four.  My last appointment of the day is from four to five."

        "Then you can handle my patient; I only have one today.  I think it's Julie Banks.  Her appointment is at two.  Just check my black schedule book to verify that for yourself.  Julie's a relatively new client.  She's older and less attractive than Paulina Price, but you have my permission to hypnotize her and screw her on the couch if you'd like."

        "Hey, with all that's going on, I'm in no mood to mess around with the broad; I've got too much to worry about!  I'll probably just try to space-out while she's talking shit.  By the way, is she that plump blonde with dark roots, looks like she's in her late 30's or early 40's?"

        "Yeah, that's her.  She's 41."

        "Okay, I know who you're talking about; I've seen her come into the office a few times.  You're right, she doesn't rank up there with Paulina."

        "Well, I'll see you first thing tomorrow morning, Allen."

        "Alright, later."

        After Walter returned the cell phone into his vest pocket, he muttered to himself, "What have I gotten myself into?!"

        He knew exactly what he'd gotten himself into!  Now, Walter Elmore Krouse -- the man with so much to hide -- was dealing with the best and brightest private investigator in the state of North Carolina... and he thought The Caller was trouble!