Traditionally, noir and sex are tied together, with the detective often finding himself drawn into a world that deviates what society considers to be a normal relationship – hence the existence of the femme fatale archetype.
We live in a more sex-positive era, which makes exploring the fringes a little more difficult. BDSM is one area that remains taboo for most people, but it also tends to be grossly misrepresented in media, either used as a joke or as a method of abuse. I’m not terribly familiar with the fetish myself, but I’m trying to learn a bit about it as I introduce it into the novel. Hopefully, I can do it justice without presenting it as something inherently funny or bad.
* * *
I pushed my phone and the letters away so I could turn to my computer. A teacher might ask a student to write a letter that never gets sent, but they wouldn’t ask for something as deeply personal in the content. Add to that the fact that while Jamie, while being somebody who could definitely benefit from some solid lessons, probably didn’t have any motivation to spend his time with a writing tutor, and I decided I could rule that profession out.
A therapist, on the other hand, had some promise. Even the rich and useless have their problems. The stigma around getting treatment, however, often pressures them into hiding their issues, even from the people they care about the most. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jamie showed up to a psychologist’s office wearing a disguise.
Tracking down therapists across a major metropolitan area with only a first name to go on was hardly a fun prospect, though. If Frankie hadn’t already gone home for the day, it would be a job I could drop in her lap. I didn’t want to wait until the office opened up again in the morning. Both my current jobs had started spinning their wheels, and I needed something to feel like I was moving forward.
After half an hour of searching, I came up with two potential leads in the city. I chose Livia Ortega, PsyD, as a starting point because her office was located further away from Jamie’s known residences. Whatever feelings he may have developed toward this Livia after he started writing the letters, he probably didn’t want to see her around town when he first started going to sessions. I just had to hope that he wanted to keep meetings local. If he really used the means at his disposal to stretch his legs and move about the country, I’d wind up spending the rest of the month tracking down professionals named Livia between here and Albuquerque. Wild goose chases really weren’t my specialty.
I was losing sunlight, so the logical thing to do was to check in with Dr. Ortega early the next morning. But I also didn’t have any plans for the night, and I had a desperate desire to feel like I was earning the money that Mrs. Montgomery had seen fit to send my way. I grabbed my windbreaker and headed for my car, stopping only to check my messages in one last vain hope that Frankie had managed to arrange a meeting with Jamie Montgomery.
A light rain greeted me as I stepped outside, coming down with the kind of shyness a person reserves for an old friend they’ve all but forgotten. It quickened to a steady downpour by the time I reached the car, and I muttered a silent curse as I realized that my umbrella sat in its stand back inside the office. After weighing the possibility of a mad dash back inside to grab my defense against a downpour that would likely pass over quickly, I instead chose to start the car and go see myself a therapist.
The building was a small, three-story affair. A sports shop on the bottom floor still bathed the streets with neon light from its front window. A door on the side of the building opened to a staircase that led up to a series of leased offices – including, presumably, Dr. Ortega’s. Finding her at this hour was a longshot, but I figured I might get lucky. In a worst-case scenario, I would find the door locked and have to come back tomorrow morning before checking in with Frankie at my own office.
I really needed to get better at envisioning more devastating worst-case scenarios.
The light in the stairwell was out, but I found the switch after a moment of fumbling. The fluorescent bulbs blinked once and then bathed the beige wooden stairs with a steady white light. I noticed wet footprints on the slip guards of the stairs heading up. Somebody had been here before me. I saw that as a good sign – it meant that there was still a chance I could catch Dr. Ortega before she went home for the night.
The footprints faded, as did my own, once I got to the second floor. The rain outside had turned heavy, but it hadn’t soaked into the ground long enough to leave shoes waterlogged. As a result, the wetness rubbed off on the linoleum floor, disappearing entirely down the long hallway which led past a photography studio, an accountant’s office, and finally to Dr. Ortega’s own private practice. Unfortunately for me, her light was out, which meant I had hit a dead end.
I turned around to head back for the car when I heard something on the other side of the door. It could have been a creak caused by wind from outside, but it sounded to me more like a footstep. The wet footprints that I had seen on the stairs suddenly took on an ominous subtext. I wracked my memory in an attempt to figure out if there had been footprints heading back outside, but the truth had already vanished like a shadow in some fog, if it was ever there to begin with.
I strained my ears for another hint that could verify my suspicions, but I got nothing. The drum of the rain outside had slowed down to a drizzle. The interior of the office seemed desperate to stay as silent as a snowflake in winter. Only the sound of wheels on the street outside broke the deafening silence.
Trying to move as quietly as the rest of the night around me, I reached for the doorknob to the office. It was a fine brushed steel knob, holding access to a door that looked sturdy enough to stop a bullet. Hopefully it had never had cause to try.
The knob twisted easily in my hand, and the door swung open with a creak. Blackness greeted me on the other side. I ran through a mental checklist trying to figure out the protocol behind my situation. If I was a cop, I would have a doozy of a time trying to prove probable cause. Luckily, as a private citizen I didn’t have to worry about things such as warrants and probable cause. On the other hand, there was nothing to stop somebody from shooting me dead and claiming they felt threatened by an obvious trespasser.
I held my phone in front of me, using its screen to provide some dim illumination as I searched for a light switch. The office floor was lined with a cheap teal carpet, and the walls sported faded wallpaper decorated with a fleur de lis pattern.
I hit a switch next to the door, and a trio of spiral lightbulbs came on to officially greet me upon my entrance. The wide room had comfortable furniture and a locked cabinet. I saw no reception desk, which means Dr. Ortega probably ran a small practice and didn’t need a lot of effort to negotiate her schedule.
Aside from the entrance I had just walked through, the office had two other doors. One sported a restroom sign, so I chose to search the other one. The door creaked slightly as I opened it and didn’t seem quite as sturdy as the office entrance, but still had some heft to it. Without even turning on the light, I could see storage boxes and a large wooden bench inside. A large black bar leaned against the bench, and I caught the glint of metal on the floor.
Again, I found the light switch conveniently located near the doorway. As soon as it came on, I recognized the metallic object on the floor: a pair of handcuffs. The item lying against the bench was some sort of expandable metal rod. That bar had a series of nubs on it where a person could attach something…or multiple somethings, if they desired. Looking at the handcuffs, I wondered if there might be a connection there.
From my vantage point close to the ground, I noticed a pair of women’s white platform shoes poking out from the other side of the bench. They lay with their heels parallel to the floor. I would have assumed that somebody had carelessly tossed them into the messy room, but they wouldn’t be so close to one another in that situation. Still, none of this helped me prove any connection between the therapist whose office I had just walked into without permission and the man who was apparently too busy to let me stroke his ego.
Had it not been for those shoes, I probably would have walked out of the room and left the situation behind. It would have been just as simple for me to come back another day and pretend I hadn’t just discovered a spreader bar and handcuffs. But human nature says that once you’ve reached a certain point, you keep right on going until you’re in way over your head. I had passed that point when I decided to walk into Ortega’s office instead of waiting patiently for the sun to rise.
Once I circled around the bench to get a better look at the shoes, everything else became a moot point. The shoes definitely belonged to Dr. Livia Ortega, but I didn’t have any need to apologize for trespassing. Dead people don’t usually mind.