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Obsessed by G.H. Ephron


Rating: (Mildly Recommended)


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Fans of the murder mystery series featuring protagonist Dr. Peter Zak will put up with annoying parts of the latest offering from G.H. Ephron, Obsessed. Other readers will not be as forgiving to the writing duo, Hallie Ephron and Dr. Don Davidoff, who use the pseudonym, G.H. Ephron. The pace alternately speeds up and slows down, without adding to the momentum of the plot. Dialogue is often staccato, and there’s more medical detail than many readers are willing to endure. On the other hand, anything from the pen (or keyboard) of any of the talented Ephron women is worth a glance, at least.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 2, (pp. 11-18):

I got to work late the next morning. I still hadn’t been able to reach Annie. I sprinted from my car, up the steps to the tunnel, barely registering the gorgeous spring day—air that smelled like cool, fresh water, trees just leafing out in that amazing lime-green color that lasts only until the first heat wave.


I hoped Emily had managed to get some sleep. I wondered if she’d be up to working with patients. Thinking someone is out to get you, true or not, can have insidious consequences. I knew that from firsthand experience.


A blast of warm, humid air greeted me when I unlocked the door to the unit. The pinkish basement walls seemed to shimmer like overheated flesh. It wasn’t that the a/c was on the fritz. The heating system never knew when to quit. I took the stairs up to the first floor and let myself out onto the unit.


I ducked into the little room behind the nurses’ station, poured myself a cup of coffee. The mail hadn’t yet arrived. Gloria’s phil­odendron plant, nearly hacked to death a few months ago, was now thriving. Affectionately known as Audrey, its vines snaked from the pot, up and over the window and around a mirror. Between the heart—shaped leaves, my own (lark eves looked worried as they stared back at me from beneath a tumult of black eyebrow hair flecked white. I straightened my tie and cleaned my glasses.


I walked down the corridor with its nine—foot—high ceilings, past the common room where sun streamed in through floor—to—ceiling windows behind the once—grand piano. It was a room that deserved a red velvet Victorian settee, gents’ and ladies chairs. Instead it had vinyl sofas and molded plastic chairs, a fiberboard bookcase, and a large-screen TV. There was mesh screening over the windows today’s psychiatric hospitals stand-in for bars.


“If it isn’t the hero of the hour, my colleague and resident fashion consultant Dr. Kwan Liu announced when I arrived at the conference room. He was looking his usual spiffy self in a custom— made charcoal suit and red tie, his dark hair gleaming. “Heard you rescued a damsel in distress last night.”


“Never mind him,” said Gloria. “Security sent out a bulletin for everyone to be on the alert for an intruder. What happened?”


I told Kwan and Gloria how I’d found Emily in the parking lot. Flow her car had been vandalized and she’d been terrified, con­vinced that someone was taunting her from the shadows.


“A stalker.” Gloria breathed out the word.


“You think so?” Kwan asked.


“It looks that way,” I said. “Someone got into her car. Wrote ‘bitch’ on the dash and took some stuff—underwear and an ear­ring.”


“Creepy,” Gloria said, fingering one of the tiny gold hoops in her own ears. Gloria rarely wore jewelry. She might even have been wearing a touch of lipstick. “Is she okay?”

“She’s fine,” came a voice from the doorway. It was Emily Ryan, leaning her head wearily on the doorjamb. She had on a navy blue suit, the jacket buttoned. The clothes were a somber contrast to the dark hair tied back in a ponytail. Between her Miata, the preppy outfits, and her all-American good looks, you’d have thought Emily came from somewhere like Connecticut and money. But she didn’t. The scar on her cheek and more on her arms were the only visible traces of a hardscrabble childhood in central California. Her father, a trucker, had been mostly absent while her mother strug­gled to keep them all fed. Somehow Emily had managed to lift herself out and put herself through school.


She gave a half-smile, not wide enough to turn on the dimples at either side of her mouth. Her complexion seemed even more pale today, and she had smudges under her eyes. She walked over and settled into a spot at the table.


“You get any sleep?” I asked.


“Can I get you some coffee?” Kwan offered.


“You sure you’re okay?” Gloria asked.


“Listen, you guys are great,” Emily said, looking at each of us and turning up the smile, “and I appreciate your concern. But I can take care of myself.”


“No one’s saying you can’t,” Gloria said. “We’re a team here. If one of us is hurting, we’re all in trouble.”


“You can’t do this kind of work if you’re afraid,” Kwan added.


Emily’s smile vanished. “I’ve been managing so far.”


“This wasn’t the first time?” Gloria asked.


Emily looked down at the table. She shook her head.


Gloria moved into the chair and put her arm around Emily. “How long?”


“A few weeks. Maybe a couple of months.”


A couple of months? I wondered why she hadn’t mentioned that to me or to the security guard last night.


“Phone calls late at night. I think someone’s been following me to my car in the garage at the MRI lab. I’ve been asking one of the guys over there to walk me out.”


That was disturbing. Emily had a half—time clinical fellowship with us and a half-time research fellowship at a magnetic resonance imaging lab near Central Square. Whoever the stalker was, he was following her there, too.


Emily got up, went to the window, and stared out. “It’s so in­furiating. I hate that it’s made me change my life. I used to run at Fresh Pond, but halfway around it’s pretty isolated. I realized if he was there, I’d he a goner. He’d drag me off and Emily shivered. “That’s why I started running here at the Pearce. I figure there’s more people, there’s Security. Hell, they tow your car in about thirty seconds if you park where you’re not supposed to.” She bit her thumbnail. “I felt safe.”


Emily didn’t look as if she felt safe now. For the moment she looked small and vulnerable, a little girl in dress-up clothes.


Kwan was massaging his chin as he listened. Gloria reached out and squeezed Emily’s hand.


“Any idea who it might be?” Gloria asked. “Your ex?”


“Kyle wouldn’t, no way.”


“Someone von broke up with?” I asked.


“A couple of months ago.”


“Isn’t that when you said this all started?” Gloria said.


“Yeah, but Kyle? I just don’t think he’s the type.”


What type of person got his jollies from following a woman? Vandalizing her car? Taking her belongings? I knew what the lit­erature said. Most often a stalker was an ex-partner who couldn’t accept the end of a relationship. Or a suitor whose overtures had been spurned. Celebrities got stalked by adoring fans. And like the rest of us working in mental health, Emily’s occupation put her at a higher-than-average risk of crossing paths with an individual ca­pable of forming an obsessive attachment.


I’d never been stalked by a patient, hut I had been stalked by a man I helped defend. Ralston Bridges had been on trial for murdering a woman he’d met in a bar. He’d blown up at me when I suggested an insanity plea, banged his fist on the table and bellowed, “I’m not insane. No one calls me that and gets away with it.” Then he’d turned off the emotion like a faucet. And besides, he’d said with the supreme confidence of a man who’d gotten away with murder before and expected to do so again, he didn’t need anyone to convince the jury that he was crazy.


He’d been right about that. After deliberating for six hours, a jury of his peers found Bridges not guilty. They bought his blue-­eyed baby face and his lies. When he got out, he’d stalked my wife, Kate, and me, learned our routines so that he knew when she’d be home and I wouldn’t. He broke into the house and took his re­venge, killing Kate.


Now I could rattle off those details in a matter-of-fact way, hold them at a distance like a news story that had happened to someone else. But the feeling of devastation, of catastrophic loss could still ambush me when I least expected it.


I was glad I’d been there last night for Emily. I took any kind of stalking threat very seriously—who knew if her stalker would be satisfied with merely scaring her to death?


Our social worker and the music therapist arrived, followed shortly after by the physical therapist and the occupational therapist. Everyone took places at the table and I started morning rounds. The rhythm of this daily routine where we review the patients on the unit made last night’s trauma seem distant.


After the meeting I caught up with Emily in the hall. She was standing close to Gloria, their arms linked.


“You’re looking very chic today,” Emily told her. “Nice outfit.” In addition to the gold earrings, Gloria had on a white silk blouse instead of her usual crisp, button-down oxford shirt with a pair of dark belted trousers. “Got a date?” Emily asked, her voice teasing.


Gloria gave a self-conscious laugh and looked around, as if to see who was listening. “Just meeting Rachel for lunch,” she said. Rachel was Gloria’s life partner. “It’s our fifth anniversary.”


Good thing it wasn’t a job interview. Gloria could pretty much have had her pick of jobs at the Pearce, or any psychiatric hospital, for that matter. So much of the order and sanity on the unit de­pended on her.


“No donut today?” Emily asked, reaching out and patting Kwan’s stomach as he squeezed past. “You’re looking very trim.”


Kwan stopped, beaming. “Well, I’m glad someone around here notices,” he said, eyeing me.


I had to admit, he was looking a bit less paunchy. It was only a month ago I’d been teasing him that he’d had to let his belt out a notch. And the vest that now buttoned comfortably—I remembered how it had strained across his middle.


“Of course we notice,” I said. “We’re just polite.”


“I’ve lost twelve pounds,” he said, glowing with pride.


“No wonder you’ve been in such a pleasant mood.”


“I’ve been a prince,” he said, and ambled off.


Now it was just me and Emily in the hall. She pulled a pack of gum from her pocket and offered me a piece.


“No thanks,” I said. I hated Juicy Fruit.


“Helps me not smoke,” she said. “And boy, would I love a cig­arette right now.” She slid the gum into her mouth.


“You okay working with your patients?” I asked.


“I think so. I’ve got Mr. Black later this morning. Otherwise, nothing I can’t handle.” Mr. Black was a clinic outpatient whom Emily had been treating since before she began her rotation with us.


I took out my datebook and checked my appointments.


“Maybe I can observe. I expect you’re still feeling the aftereffects from last night. Wouldn’t hurt to have a backup.”


Emily realized that I wasn’t asking permission. As her clinical supervisor, it was my job to be sure she had the oversight she needed.


“Actually, that would be great. Maybe you can tell me if he’s getting anywhere or if we’re both spinning our wheels,”


I closed myself into the little room behind the nurse’s station, poured myself another cup of coffee, and tried Annie at home. No answer. Then I tried her office number. “Ferguson and Associates. Squires Investigations,” said the familiar recorded voice. I’d done many forensic evaluations for her business partner, attorney Chip Ferguson, assessing the psychiatric status of defendants. “If von know your party’s extension , . .“ I punched it in.


“Annie Squires.” Annie’s voice was clipped, as if she’d grabbed the phone on her way out the door.


“You’re busy?”


“Actually I was just heading out. I’m really sorry about last night.”


“At least you called. Don’t worry about it. I never got to the restaurant myself.” I told Annie what had happened.


“Did you see anyone?”


“No, but it was dark. I waited with her for Triple-A.”


“Stalking isn’t something to mess around with.”


“That’s what I told her. I didn’t realize it had gotten so late until I saw your message.”


“So that’s a weird coincidence. Each of us standing the other one up.”


“Where were you?” I asked.


“Family emergency. I’ll tell you about it. Right now I’ve got to run.”


“Sounds like you’re pretty busy.”


“Wouldn’t you know. After all those months of struggling to make the rent, business is booming.”


“And tonight?”


“Busy. How about tomorrow night? I’ll be hungry by then.”


“I’m hungry now and we don’t even have to have dinner,” I said.


“Hold that thought. How about dinner at my place? Eight o’clock?”


“You’re going to cook?”


“Did I say that? I was thinking Chinese take-out. Or pizza.”


I didn’t care what we had to eat. “I’ll bring the beer,” I said. I’d been strictly a wine drinker before Annie educated me to the finer points of beer. I made a mental note to pick up some flowers, too.


I hung up. I’d never given Annie flowers. I smiled, remembering the daisies she brought me after I mangled my ankle tackling a man who turned out to be a murderer. It was much too long after the daisies that we finally made love. That had been months ago, but I could still feel my groin tightening and a grin tugging at the edges of my mouth at the memory.


After Kate was killed all my passions seemed to dry up. Food had no taste. I gave up Bordeaux for bourbon. I buried myself in work. It had taken nearly two years for me to start feeling again.


I was still getting used to what I was feeling now. Lust. I savored it.

If you find this dialogue and exposition enjoyable, then by all means pick up Obsessed. Otherwise, wait for the team to improve their skills.

Steve Hopkins, March 23, 2004


ã 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the April 2004 issue of Executive Times

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