First, info about the book. Kindly remember this hasn't yet been edited. I'm nearly 30k deep, so heading toward the end.
Title: Provocation - Pen Pals and Serial Killers - Story Two
Author: Jo Michaels
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Length (guessing): ~ 60k
Release Date: Spring, 2018
Doctor Victoria Ward has been killing men for over thirty years. Her victims all have one thing in common: they’re abusive. Righteousness is a close companion—it helps her sleep at night—and she holds the virtue closely as she defends the innocent, upholding the law when it won’t rise to protect those who need it most. When she meets a young girl named Kelly, and follows her down a twisted path of deception, Doc Ward finds herself face-to-face with a ghost from her past. Never before has she wavered in her resolve—but can she defend another against someone she loves?
Splinters of wood on the corner of the table curl up and away. They seem to be trying to escape the acrid stench of whiskey as much as Victoria is. Her father’s face is inches from her own, forcing the putrid smell through the air as he screams.
She winces when dirty fingernails bite into the soft flesh of her upper arm, and she grinds her teeth against the pain as it mingles with the ever-present terror. It’s better this way. Her mother is saved from enduring another round of Daddy’s wrath…
“And then he was hitting me again.”
Victoria came back to the present, returning her attention to the patient on the couch. “How long has this been going on, Shelley?”
“He doesn’t do it all the time, you know?”
“How long?” Pressing the young woman might not have been the best idea, but duration was something that needed adding to the notes.
Nibbling on an already ragged thumbnail, Shelley answered, “Since our wedding day.” She whirled around. “But he doesn’t mean to! James is a good guy; he just has these moments.”
Little tears appeared on the yellow legal pad as Victoria wrote.
Patient has nubs for fingernails—shows distress. Likely cause is horrific encounters with abusive husband. Bruises on forearms outline as fingers. Prescribing anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. See entry in med script log book 4581.034—S. Whitaker.
“And he always apologizes afterward, right? Maybe cries?” It was obvious where the discussion was going, and she wanted nothing more than to rip James Whitaker’s face off. Instead, she pressed her lips together in a tight smile.
Shelley was nodding, her eyes brightening like an excited child’s. “He’s so loving. He really doesn’t mean to do it. I make him so angry when I screw things up.”
Rather than squash the newfound lightness, Doctor Ward gave a tight smile, walked to her desk, and picked up a prescription pad.
Effexor – 500mg 1x per day
“I’d like for you to take these.” Ripping off the first one and handing it over, she wrote the second.
Xanax – 2mg 2x per day
She scribbled her signature on the bottom, and that one was given over as well.
Shelley squinted at the squares of paper. “Do you really think I need these, doc?”
“I’m not sure, but I’d like you to try them. They may help take the edge off.” Or at least help you get through the next couple of weeks. Still smiling, Victoria pulled her chair across the room and turned it so she could see the woman. “Tell me about your wedding night.”
Shelley’s eyes widened. “I… I uh…”
“It’s okay. No one will ever know what we talk about in here. You’re safe with me.” Bastard already has her terrified to tell anyone what really happens. Victoria felt her face get warm as anger vibrated up her spine, but she kept her features soft.
After a deep breath in and out, Shelley closed her eyes and spoke quietly. “We’d gotten a hotel room in a swanky place, and he’d bought tickets to a show. Since we were early, we decided to go to the hotel bar for a glass of champagne—you know, to celebrate—before we went to get something to eat.”
She chuffed, and a small smile appeared on her face. “At dinner, we had a bottle of wine. I’m not a big drinker, so by the end of the meal, I was feeling pretty good.” Her face turned bright red, and she twisted her fingers until they turned white. “We got our seats, and that’s when my stomach decided it wasn’t happy with all the alcohol I’d put into it. I knew I needed a bathroom—and fast.”
Tears suddenly poured down her face. “I got up, but I was too late. There was barely enough time for me to make it to the stairwell outside the main hall. It was all over me, my dress, and my shoes.
“I didn’t know where I was, so I wandered until I found a restroom. After I cleaned myself off, I found my way outside and went back in through the main entrance.” Snot ran out of her nose, and she sniffed. “S… sorry. I…”
Doctor Ward handed over a wad of tissues. “It’s okay. Take your time.”
Several nose blows later, Shelley nodded. Her voice had gotten much louder. “I knew I smelled awful. I mean, who wouldn’t? But I made my way back to my seat anyway.” Fingers that had been clutched together flexed open and closed, vibrating.
“Are you okay?”
She nodded but was breathing heavily. “It’s just hard to think about, you know?”
“I do. Take your time.” Malice brewed, bubbled, and burned inside the doctor; she had an idea of where the story was going. If James had been in the room, Victoria was certain she would’ve killed him on the spot.
Once the shakes quelled, Shelley sucked in air. “He’d sent me a text message asking me where I went. I didn’t have my phone with me—I’d left my purse—and he was furious by the time I returned. I texted back and said I’d gotten ill. Well, that was it. We left right then, and he stayed three steps in front of me the whole way back to our room.
“After we got there, I got undressed and showered because I was sure I smelled awful. When I came out, I asked him what was wrong. He just got in bed and rolled over. I was angry and frustrated. I went outside and smoked a cigarette, and when I came back in, I tried again. Still nothing. Of course, my idiot self kept talking.” Her words were coming out fast by that point, running together so it was difficult to make out what she was saying. She hiccupped. “I was so angry he’d reacted that way. Still, I kept trying to talk through it, work it out somehow, begging him to just talk to me. Eventually, he had enough. He got out of bed, grabbed me by the throat, pushed me up against the wall, and told me how much he hated me.”
Sobs tore from her throat, and everything else was garbled.
Doctor Ward leaned in to try and catch what was being said.
“I petted… touched… told… I loved him… I cried.” Shelley wailed. “It was my fault for embarrassing him and provoking him!”
White hot fury grew behind Victoria’s sternum, and she pulled the other woman into a hug. “Shhh… Just cry for a minute. You don’t have to talk any more right now.” Jaw muscles popping from clenching teeth, Doctor Ward rocked back and forth, providing what comfort she could through the rage that was trying to consume her. She pushed it down and focused.
Finally, Shelley relaxed, and her tears slowed as she lay back down on the buttery soft leather of the couch.
“Are you okay?”
She nodded. “I’d like to tell you the rest of the story, if that’s all right.”
“Of course. This is your time. You can tell me whatever you want, Shelley. Again, you’re safe here.”
“Thanks, doc.” Shelley gave a weak, half smile. “There were these beautiful, chocolate-covered strawberries the hotel had sent—because we were newlyweds. I threw those little fuckers at the wall one by one. Not once did he get up and say he was sorry. He just laid in that bed. Man, let me tell you, I was pissed, hurt, and my heart was broken. I got my stuff, got a cab, and went home. I bawled the whole way.”
“I bet you did.”
“It was our fucking wedding night, doc.”
“I know, sweetie.”
“Why? That’s what I don’t understand. If he hated me so much, why marry me? I’m not a horrible person, right?” Shelley needed validation for her feelings, that much was clear. She was begging for someone to tell her she was worth something without asking outright.
“You’re not a horrible person. You’re a very good person. Know how I know?” Doctor Ward asked.
Shelley shook her head, her eyes open wide, begging.
“Because you’re still nice.”
That brought on a smile.
Dear God. What else has he done to her besides that beating she mentioned, I wonder. Before Victoria could ask, the buzzer signaling the end of the session went off. She stood and popped the top with her hand. “I’m sorry, that’s our time for today. Are you okay to drive?”
Shelley got to her feet and gathered her garish, oversized purse, tissues still clutched in one hand, face red and swollen. “I’ll be okay. Thanks.”
“Same time next week?”
She moved her head up and down.
“I want you to think about what happened after he came home. How you felt, what was said. We’ll talk about it next time. And take those meds. Be safe.” She guided Shelley to the exit and smiled.
After the door closed, Doctor Ward pressed her back against the polished wood and clenched her fists so hard her nails dug into her palms. She stared at the red carpet, wishing it was a pool of James Whitaker’s blood. It got worse, she was sure. Those stories were the tip of the iceberg, the beginning of the world of shit that poor girl was in.
Based on comments she’d made earlier in the session, the abuse had gotten worse mentally as well as physically, but only Shelley could shed light on the whole situation.
Victoria’s hand snaked back and clicked the lock. No interruptions. That had been her last appointment for the day, and she needed to do some research.
While she waited for her computer to boot up, she pulled out her script log book.
4581.034—S. Whitaker: 500 mg Effexor 1x day – 2 mg Xanax 2x day.
She reached down the front of her blouse and extracted the key that never left her person. Once the log book and Shelley’s notes for the day had been properly locked away in the filing cabinet, Doctor Ward sat at her desk and opened a private browsing session. Subject: James Harlow Whitaker.
What did you think?
Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!