Bill Todd -- Melissa and Jethro: A Quirky Little Novel
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 Chapter 8

An Idea

Humiliating as it would be, Melissa decided that she would have to talk with Sergeant Evans. Jethro wasn't cooperative, but, when she threatened to go down to the district headquarters and find Evans herself, Jethro arranged a meeting.

Although Melissa couldn't say exactly why, there was something sleazy about conducting an inverview in the back seat of a car. Sergeant Evans, round, cherubic, and comical, seemed quite comfortable with the arrangement. Indeed, he welcomed her in with an expansive gesture of his arm and urged her to make herself at home. Feeling like a fly in the home of the spider, she attempted to find room for her long legs in the cramped area. Ultimately, she found that she could preserve modesty only by sitting in a queer twisted way with one elbow against the back of the front seat.

Evans never did introduce Melissa to the driver, whom she assumed to be another plain-clothes detective. When they started up and drove in circles, the added element of absurdity seemed to make Evans even more comfortable with himself than before.

Melissa had an agenda, but it depended on whether her recent acquaintance, Al Markowitz, really was a criminal. When she explained that he had introduced himself as a bank robber, Evans began laughing. When she finished her account, he replied,

"He really does have a printing plant down on Eastern Avenue. He robs and kills for sport and entertainment."

"Did he get bored with big-game hunting?"

"Well, you know, there's the kind of hunter who wants to be photographed with his foot on the lion that he's just killed. Al's not like that. He finds it more challenging to kill secretly without leaving evidence. He's very good at it. Without old Jethro we probably never would get him."

"You could follow him everywhere he goes."

"It would be an enormous enterprise to follow Al everywhere without letting him know that he's being followed. He'd probably catch on no matter how careful we might be."

"I'm afraid Jethro will either get killed or get implicated in an actual bank robbery."

"He definitely won't be prosecuted if he testifies against Al."

"But, then, it'll look as if he's a real robber who's getting off by betraying his partner."

"Some people might think that. But I don't think it'll damage Jethro's reputation much."

Evans seemed to think this funny, but Melissa insisted on being literal.

"Do you mean that Jethro's reputation is already so bad that appearing to be a bank robber won't damage it?"

"Well, maam, Jethro's been around the block a few times. Being seen with him doesn't do your reputation much good, but I guess you must already be reconciled to that."

"I'm not thrilled about it. I also don't want to be killed by some crazed criminal who's out for revenge."

"It's always unpleasant to be caught in a cross-fire. Best thing is to lie flat on the floor and pretend to be dead."

"I think it would be simpler for Jethro to withdraw from this crazy business."

"If you're willing to take him off to the suburbs and support him in reasonable style, he'd be crazy to mess around with Al."

"Jethro doesn't want to be suburbanized."

"He may enjoy the game as much as Al does. I doubt that there's much you can do."

"But you have no right to exploit him in this way. Besides, through Jethro, you're encouraging Al to rob a bank and kill the guard."

Evans gave a mock sigh and replied,

"Occasionally someone objects that the police get too close to the criminals. The politicians make a few speeches, but do nothing. Do you know why?"

Melissa had reluctantly to admit that she didn't know why. Evans replied,

"It's much cheaper to catch criminals with informers. The public isn't willing to pay to catch them the clean way."

"It's still immoral."

"It's inevitable. People don't care how criminals and near- criminals are treated as long as they're protected from them."

Melissa could see that it was hopeless. Sergeant Evans, quite apart from believing in inevitable forces, was happy to be a part of one.

Afterwards, when Jethro asked how it had gone, Melissa replied,

"He's totally cynical. I've had friends who've worked with poor people, and even with criminals, and they're not at all like that."

"But they're social workers and volunteers of various kinds. They seem just as weird to me as Evans does to you."

"What's weird about them?"

"They maintain illusions in the face of all evidence, often for years on end. I prefer Evans."

"I'd rather be wrong and have reasonably high ideals than be right and be like Evans."

It was early on the next Sunday morning when Jethro said,

"The robbery's set for a week from Tuesday, I don't know where."

Melissa's habitual Sunday morning happiness disappeared instantly. She asked,

"You're still going through with it?"

"Yeah. There's another guy who's going to drive the car, and also come in with us."

"Al's going to shoot the guard, isn't he?"

"No question. They'll warn all the bank guards in the city at the last moment, but I don't think that'll do any good. They can't stand there with their guns drawn and point them at each customer who comes in the door."

"Al's totally crazy, isn't he?"

"I guess so. I think it's the killing that motivates him. He may not even care about the money."

"I can't imagine that I liked him, and was friendly to him. I even introduced him to mother."

"He can make anyone like him when he wants to. Anyhow, I've figured out what I'm going to do."

Melissa found herself calmer than she would have expected. Jethro explained,

"Since I'll be in front of Al in the bank, there's no way I can guess when he's going to shoot the guard and wheel and shoot him first."

"Al will shoot you too!"

"Probably. But, before we get there, I can do something. Al will want to be in the back seat of the car with me in front in the passenger seat. He won't be able to see my hands, and, anyway, it'll be natural for me to feel for my gun when we approach the bank. I'll simply shoot Al, right through the back of the front seat. The driver'll be too shocked to do anything."

"What if you miss?"

"I won't miss."

"The driver may crash the car."

"I'll wait until we're almost stopped."

"But that's murder. You won't even be able to claim self- defense."

"Charges won't be brought against me."

"Did Sergeant Evans tell you that?"

"He laughed and said that he wished he could be there to see it."

Melissa found herself amazed and horrified in a new way.

"That's stupid. His saying that doesn't give you the right to kill. Anyhow, he's just a cop. The district attorney isn't going to overlook murder."

"It may not be self defense in the legal sense, but it's the only way I can save the guard without getting killed myself."

"If you just disappear, Al will have to call the robbery off. That'll save the guard. We can just leave for somewhere else. Right now. This morning."

"You'd lose all your clients."

"This is more important. We can find a new life. A better life. A thuosand miles from here."

"Al might call this robbery off, but there'd be some other bank eventually. Some other guard."

"Jets, I don't think either you or I care that much about some anonymous bank guard somewhere. That's not why you're doing this."

"Okay. I'll think about it."

It was the next day that Melissa talked with her mother on the phone. Melissa had managed to assimilate emotionally the little scene outside the art academy, and she was quite civil. It was only when her mother announced that she was going to the opera with Al Markowitz that Melissa found that she had trouble speaking coherently. There was, however, a hesitation which her mother took for disapproval, replying,

"Mr. Markowitz may be Jewish, but we have to be open-minded. He's very much a gentleman, rather like your father."

It was ironic that any argument would have been assumed to stem from anti-Semitism.

Melissa had almost no idea what to do when she went out to the outer office and found Al Markowitz waiting to see her. But she did know that she didn't want to accuse him of anything or otherwise create a scene in front of Gladys. And then, as he smiled, it seemed obvious that he didn't represent an imminent threat. There was really nothing to do but take him back to her office.

As they sat down, Melissa said,

"I've heard a great deal about you since our last meeting."

"None of it good, I dare say."

"No. Not in the least."

"That's why I've come. You treat problems such as mine, don't you?"

"Never one exactly like yours, as I understand it. But I'm willing to consider almost any sort of psychological problem. If I don't think I can do anything with it, I could recommend someone for you to see."

"And, of course, everything will be confidential?"

"Yes. Although you have to realize that psychologists can be summoned to court, and there's a gray area as to just what we may be compelled to divulge."

"I was most interested in confidentiality from Jethro and your mother."

"That I can guarantee. I may, however, recommend that you see someone who has no connection with either."

"Well, I've heard about your approach, and I think it may well be uniquely suited to my problem."

Melissa wanted very much to know what Al knew about her methods, but thought that it might put her at a disadvantage to ask directly. She did decide to deal with Al in a way that couldn't be criticized by even the most conventional therapists. That meant beginning with his history.

The odd thing was that there didn't seem to be anything unusual about Al's background or history. The only child of a small Jewish wholesaler, he had been aimed at medical school, but, with little real opposition from his family, had gone into business instead. Even that opposition had disappeared when he was successful. He then bought a house for his parents and maintained good relations with them until their deaths a few years previously. Smiling, he remarked,

"I didn't kill them. My father died of a heart attack and my mother of cancer."

Melissa kept being disconcerted by Al. It hadn't occurred to her that he might have killed his parents, but, when he brought it up, she caught herself wondering what the limits of his behavior might be. After all, he was the man who, at their original meeting, had told her, seemingly in jest, that he was a bank robber. As if he had read her mind, he asked,

"You don't feel nervous here with me now, do you?"

"No. Perhaps I should."

"As my situation becomes clearer, I think you'll see why you needn't worry. Incidentally, I'm postponing the little operation in which I've enlisted Jethro's aid. If you can help me, it may not be necessary to perform it at all."

Melissa was still very much on her guard, but she did experience a feeling of hope. Sticking to business, she went back over Al's history in more detail. The only odd thing about it was that there wasn't really much of it. He had never married or had children, but had heterosexual desires that he occasionally satisfied with a prostitute. He was on friendly terms with her, and sometimes took her out to dinner afterwards. He got on well with his relatives and had friends, though none seemed to be particularly close. He had always been successful in business, but seemed to have no driving ambition to become a major capitalist. Finally, Melissa said,

"In what you've told me, I find nothing to suggest to me why you're having your present problems. Is there anything at all similar anywhere in your family tree?"

"My grandfather seems to have had some sort of criminal record in Russia. But, if he had, he reformed as soon as he got here."

Melissa found herself extremely anxious, not for her physical safety, but for her intellectual safety. It was now increasingly likely that traditional methods of inquiry weren't going to turn up any sort of explanation. In such cases, the patient was usually categorized as a psychopath, but that was just a name, full of sound and fury, signifying very little. They had recently re-named such people as sociopaths, but the new name was no more instructive than the old one. In any case, there was no sort of treatment associated with the syndrome which had any record of success. She then found herself speaking more openly than she had intended,

"I'm used to dealing with fantasy, but most people haven't actually acted out their fantasies. I try to bring the patient closer to the realization of a fantasy, at the same time showing him that it's not all it's cracked up to be."

"Whereas I realize my fantasies and take great satisfaction in doing so."

"Yes. It may be impossible to get you to substitute the fantasy for the reality, so we need a different reality. How would you like to make a movie about robbing a bank?"

That stopped Al. It was the only time Melissa had ever seen him disconcerted. When he had no immediate reply, she continued,

"The director may have even more control over his actors than a man with a gun."

"But you can't just make a movie. You have to have some tie- in with the industry."

"You can rent the equipment and the camera man. You might not be able to sell it, in which case you'd lose money. But I gather that you're far from poor."

"No, the money's no problem. But I don't think that would quite do it. The element of suspense would be missing."

Al had recovered, and was smiling again. Melissa replied,

"I see. Of course, there are other kinds of suspense that are relatively harmless."

"Exactly. I'm sure you can come up with something."

Melissa realized that she had been maneuvered into exactly the position she didn't want. In some desperation, she managed to terminate the interview by saying that she would work up something. It was, of course, necessary to schedule another appointment. She managed to schedule it two weeks away over Al's mild objections.

Melissa spent three anxious days waiting for Jethro to report that the robbery had been postponed. When he finally did, she replied,

"Good. I hope he cancels it altogether."

"He didn't say anything about that. He's tracking the flow of money in and out of the bank, trying to get it when it's flush."

It was more ironic than Al had dreamed that he had saved his own life, at least temporarily, with this postponement. Melissa privately thought that, if Jethro shot Al through the seat, Al would still manage to shoot back. She could imagine the ensuing scene only too easily, two dying men and a terrified driver rolling up to the front door of a branch back in some respectable Cincinnati neighborhood.

A few days later, Melissa was down on the floor, working on Mortimer's sore paw. Jethro came in and said,

"Miller Muggins has a message for you. A private detective he knows has been paid to investigate you."

Melissa's first thought was that her mother was at it again. Despite her anger, she asked quietly,

"How does he know?"

"These guys are supposed to keep such things secret, but most of them aren't very professional. Miller's been in the business a while, and this guy wanted him to help cover you. Miller told him he was too busy. He has no idea who the client is, or how much information he may already have received."

"Have you any idea who the client might be?"

"I'm sure it's Al. He wants to know as much as possible about us, and he has the money to hire detectives."

Melissa recalled that Al had already seemed to know something about her methods of therapy. She was strongly tempted to tell Jethro that Al had sought her out. She had promised not to, but, then, patients didn't ordinarily hire detectives to investigate their therapists. In the end, she said nothing.

It was later that same day, with Mortimer still walking on three legs, that Melissa saw Jethro fooling around with a straw hat and a bit of black cloth. He explained,

"Al's method is to go into a bank in ordinary clothes, but with a mask tucked up under your hat. You pull it down with one hand as you pull your gun with the other. It's important that the holes in the mask come out in front of your eyes."

Jethro demonstrated, but the eye-holes were too low. Melissa commented,

"That's just great! You've drawn your gun, but you can't see out. Do you suppose that the guard might shoot you?"

"It just needs a little adjustment, that's all."

"If only your brain could be adjusted slightly, we could move out of the slum and stop associating with criminals."

Jethro ignored this comment and said,

"It seems to be part of the thrill for Al that he enters the bank with no disguise. Evans says that the FBI has shown his picture to the people in the banks that he's robbed, but no one remembers him."

"Well, he's a middle-sized man, and there's nothing very distinctive about him until you look at his eyes. You'd be much more likely to be remembered, particularly if you wear that absurd straw hat."

That night, Jethro went to sleep almost immediately. It amazed Melissa that anyone embroiled in such an operation could sleep at all, but she put it down to insensitivity. She then lay awake thinking things out.

Al obviously knew a good deal about her methods of operation. But there would obviously be a factor of exaggeration. For example, no one who knew what he probably knew would dream that she could be a virgin. He would expect her to have sex with him, and he wouldn't be satisfied with her usual hand techniques. It might easily be some kinky sadistic sort of sex. But he would pretend that he was being treated, and he'd keep postponing the robbery as long as she consorted with him.

In this situation, there would be, as advertized, suspense for Al. Jethro was a big violent man, a very dangerous one in his own right. Forcing his girl friend into a sexual relationship would, indeed, be as dangerous as robbing a bank. But Al, knowing that she wouldn't want Jethro to try to kill him, would bet that she wouldn't tell him.

If it was a matter of preventing Al from killing either Jethro or the guard, Melissa decided that, whatever her inhibitions and repugnance, she'd have to go through with it. Better women had done the same thing for less reason. But it wouldn't just be one time, and it would have to end badly sooner or later. Melissa suddenly had another idea

Bill Todd -- Melissa and Jethro: A Quirky Little Novel
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