"Yes."

"Okay," he said, "run it by me. The gun was never stolen in the first place, right?"

"Right."

"How about the burglary? He fake the whole thing?"

"Probably not," I said. "But it's not impossible. He rides down to the lobby with his wife, then remembers he left the tickets on the dresser."

"So he goes upstairs, turns some drawers upside down, scoops up some jewelry, and what? He doesn't take it along to the theater."

"He's got it in two pillowcases he stripped off the bed," I said. "He ducks into his office, stows them both in a closet, and goes back downstairs to the lobby."

"And off to do the town. Comes home, reports the burglary. It's possible, but you don't think he did it that way."

"My guess," I said, "is the burglary happened just the way he said it did in his initial report. They went through the residence, took whatever he said they took, and carted it off in pillowcases. And two days later he realizes he's been trying to figure out how to get hold of a gun that can't be traced back to him, and here's the perfect way. He reports his own gun as stolen, and, when it is traced back to him, they say oh yeah, right, it was taken in a burglary, it was reported stolen months ago."

He nodded slowly, thinking it through. "What I like about it," he said, "is it's cute, and we already know our guy's got a weakness for being cute." To T J he said, "You ever decide to become a crook, don't be cute, okay? Three guesses what you wind up stepping on."

"On my Mister Softee," T J said.

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"You think that's why he bought the gun in the first place? You think he planned it that far ahead?"

I'd wondered about that point myself. "It's possible," I said. "Say he decided he wanted a gun. He's an Upper West Side shrink, he's not going to have access to the people with unregistered guns to sell. He could cross a couple of state lines and pick up something at a gun show, but would he even think of that?"

"So he's got a use for the gun planned all along."

"If so," I said, "then he faked the burglary, because he couldn't just sit around and wait for someone to turn up right on schedule and knock off his apartment. Unless he didn't have the details worked out yet, especially the part about the suicide. If there's no weapon recovered, he doesn't have to worry about it being traced back to him."

"And then the burglary happens, and it's a gift from on high."

"What I think," I said, "is that he knew who he was going to kill and why he was going to kill them. But he didn't know how, and the burglar who knocked over his place supplied that part for him."

"Turned his registered gun into a possible murder weapon, and gave him the idea of faking a burglary to cover the killing."

"And even showed him what a burglary looked like. Using the pillowcases, for example. I thought it was a coincidence when the same MO turned up in both jobs, Nadler and Hollander. Then I thought, well, Ivanko knocked off Nadler's place, and he kept the gun, and he had it with him when he knocked off the Hollander house."

"A burglar hits him," Wentworth said, "and he borrows the guy's MO when he stages a burglary of his own. Then he uses his own gun because he's managed to turn it into an untraceable weapon. Jesus, he really is cute, isn't he?"

THIRTY

"Peter," he says, beaming, stepping back from the doorway. "Come in, come in. You're right on time."

"Compulsive," Peter Meredith says, grinning.

It's a reference to a joke he told the five of them several months ago in a group session. Analysts, he said, divide their patients into two categories, based on the time they arrive for their appointments. The ones who are chronically early are anxious, he explained, while the chronically late are hostile.

And then he'd waited, knowing someone would ask the question, and it had been Ruth Ann, predictably enough, who'd obliged him. What about the ones who are on time? she'd wondered. They're compulsive, he'd assured her.

He grins back at Peter, steps forward and gives him a hug. The man's girth is considerable. He hasn't lost a pound, he will never lose a pound, but his progress in every other respect is enormously gratifying.

Teach a man to lose weight, he thinks, and he will love you until he gains it back. Teach a man to love himself, however much he weighs, and he will love you forever.

And isn't that the whole point?

"Well now," he says. "Couch or chair? What do you think?"

"No, no," says Peter, always obliging, donning a Viennese accent, his thumb and forefinger caressing an imaginary beard. "Nein, Herr Doktor. Not vot do I zink. Vot do you zink?"

They laugh together, and he says, "The couch, I think. Yes, the couch today, Peter."

Peter sits on the couch, slips off his shoes, then stretches out and puts his feet up. He looks at Peter and wonders fleetingly if the couch will hold the weight, then realizes the illogic of his concern. The couch is designed so that three people may sit on it at once, three people whose total weight might be twice that of Peter Meredith. And that couch has held Peter's weight regularly for many months. He has not grown appreciably heavier, or the couch less sturdy. And yet he, the couch's owner, reacts with the same unwarranted anxiety every time Peter uses it.

Fascinating, the human mind. And one's own is no less an object of interest than anyone else's.

"Well, Peter. You're comfortable?"

"Very comfortable, Doc."

"It's relaxing, isn't it, to lie down, to close your eyes. Cares and concerns rise up and float away."

His voice is soothing, comforting. He is not hypnotizing Peter, although he has done so in the past, but still there is something hypnotic in his tone, his cadence. It won't put the man under but it will help him to relax, to open up.

"So," he said. "How is the house coming?"

"Ah, the house," Peter says.

Ah, indeed. They are working night and day on the Meserole Street house, and Peter can talk about it for hours on end. It's not really necessary to listen. One of the nasty little secrets of the profession is that one does not always listen to one's patients. Sometimes, even with the best will in the world, one drifts off on wings of tangential thought, or even falls asleep. Nor can he imagine any greater exercise in futility than fighting sleep. Better to give in gracefully and gratefully, soothed into sleep by the neurotic drone.

Because, along with the nasty little secret, is the happy little truth- what is important is that the patient say it, not that the therapist listen. Of course he might contribute just the right insight, might steer the patient in just the right direction, but who is to say he/she might not get there as well on his/her own?

It reminds him of a woman who'd been told to give up her dog because of allergies. She'd been to an allergist, suffered through a series of shots and the rigors of an elimination diet, and all to no avail; her eyes would tear and her nose run and her throat shut down whenever she went near the animal. She'd come to him in the hope that it was all in her mind, and that he could do what the allergist could not.

And what he did, of course, was solve the problem. He had her bring the dog to his office, explaining that he knew just the person to give the animal a home, a good friend of his who was relocating to Wyoming. The dog would have acres of countryside to romp in, and, best of all, he'd be a couple of thousand miles away, where she wouldn't be tempted to visit, or, God forbid, take him back.

The dog was a King Charles spaniel, with alert, expressive eyes and a proud carriage. As soon as she was out of his office he gave the little fellow a man-sized shot of morphine and put him out of everyone's misery. Then he stuffed him into a small overnight bag and took him for a last walk in the park. He set the bag down and wandered off to watch the ducks, and when he returned, why, wouldn't you know it? Some enterprising young man had made off with the suitcase. And what a nice surprise he'd have for himself when he forced the locks!

Then he sent the woman to FAO Schwarz to pick out a teddy bear. She could shower it with the same affection she'd lavished on the dog, and could imagine her love was reciprocated- with about as much validity as with a real pet. She didn't have to walk it or feed it, didn't have to clean up its messes, and, by God, the thing was guaranteed hypoallergenic.

And now she has a houseful of stuffed animals- no surprise there, and you can have all the stuffed pets you want without the neighbors complaining of the noise and the smell- and she thinks he's a genius, and who's to say he's not?

And she loves him.

And, he asks himself a second time, isn't that the whole point? You can't do this for the money, because there's just nowhere near enough of it. People think you've got a license to coin money, getting a hundred dollars an hour to listen (or not listen) to dreams and fears and childhood memories. As if it's a fortune, and as if you're stealing it!

But how many patients can you see, fifteen a week? Twenty? And how many actually pay a hundred dollars an hour? Peter and his chums, for example, paid sixty dollars each for their individual sessions. In group therapy, when he works with all five of them, he charges them each twenty-five dollars, so he does in fact take in $125 for that particular weekly hour.

But, for heaven's sake, you have to knock yourself out to drag down a hundred thousand dollars a year, and how far does that go in New York in the twenty-first century? Any other medical specialty is almost certainly more lucrative. Forget the plastic surgeons, the anesthesiologists. Why, storefront family practitioners can see as many patients in an hour or two as he sees in a week.

A hundred thousand. The big law firms are offering $150,000 to kids fresh out of law school! No, forget the money. You can't do what he does for the money. You have to do it for love.

And that, of course, is where the real money is.

There is an awkward moment when he realizes that Peter has stopped talking, that there is an expectant quality to the silence. Has he been asked a question?

"Hmmm," he says, leaning forward, clearly giving the matter some thought. "Peter, do me a favor. Say that again, word for word, with the same inflection you just used. Can you do that?"

"I can try," Peter says.

And he does, bless him. And it is a question, just as he'd sensed, and Peter, having voiced it a second time, then proceeds to answer it himself. A breakthrough, thanks to his own inspired inattentiveness.

They think he's a genius. And, really, who is he to say they're wrong?

"Peter," he says, "I've been thinking about Kristin."

"Oh."

"I'm sure you've been thinking about her yourself."

"Some."

"Have you had any further contact with her?"

"I called her after what happened. I think I told you about that."

"Yes, I believe you did."

"And I'm glad I did, Doc. It was the decent thing to do. I wanted to, but at first I was, well…"

"Afraid?"

"Yes, sure, let's call it by its right name, huh? Fear. I was afraid."

"Would you like to sit up now, Peter?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Good. Take the chair. You were afraid to call, but you called, and you're glad you did."