Obsessive Compulsive Amateur Sleuth, Scene 3

Written by Mark Wm Smith

An overeducated, blue-collar cowboy, Mark Wm Smith grew up on along the banks of the Yellowstone River in Eastern Montana. Raised by a long haul trucker and a bartending waitress, Mark learned the hard ways of the modern frontier, scraping life from the unforgiving high chaparral.

January 13, 2020

“Obsessive Compulsion” Scene 3

Bennington toyed with his mug, an eye turned toward the entrance across the boulevard. 

Customers shuffled around him, crowding, bumping his table. 

Coffee shops made him wonder if he’d chosen the wrong profession. He knew too much about individuals. Empathy had drawbacks. The emotional energy of crowds for example. He worked hard to end his employment in community mental health precisely due to group sessions.

“An anxiety group would be easy,” his practice manager had argued. “More clients paying for the same hour.” Bennington lost a week of sleep trying to accept the fiscal reasoning before shutting her down. “I’ll go broke before sitting with five or six anxious humans in a veritable cage.”

Had he always avoided crowds? No. It started with the grief support group. 

Images of The Baby rose to interrupt his stakeout.

On the opposing sidewalk, a bouncing step caught his eye.

Erin the Phlebotomist. She pulled the door for the upper floor apartments. She did it with flourish, excitement, energy. 

The rush of blood warmed his arms and breast. His cheeks tingled with heat. Fantasies of stripping her in the stairwell rattled him. Lust tightened the crotch of his khaki trousers. A snake stiffening with malcontent.

Cacophony became muted conversations. Someone shared plans for a move to Gryffindor. Another considered assassinating Luke Skywalker to cure the plight of a failing Star Wars franchise. A woman sputtered about her husband cheating. She would hire a detective, repossess the house the car the kids, set the lousy bastard on fire using the perfume he bought for the dirty whore he was sleeping with.

The undulation of Erin’s scrubs disappeared into the stairwell.

A hand slapped his tabletop.

Bennington looked into the double barrels of gun metal gray irises, glazed with outrage. 

“You’re in my chair.” Familiar eyes.

Bennington’s mouth unfastened with recognition.

The deadly expression lost its bead, finding the pavement outside the window. “Oh. Hey, Doc.”

“Josiah?”

The younger man grinned through a half-grown beard, taking the edge off of his thirty-something, grunge-like snarl.

“They assign these chairs?” Bennington teased.

“This seat. I take it every day. Same time.”

“Maybe we can share?”

Josiah glanced to the sidewalk. “I guess that works.” He sat with the negative intensity Bennington recalled from therapy sessions. “It’s weird to run into you here, Doc. Outside of the Nutshell I mean.”

“Nutshell,” Bennington echoed. He surveyed the room. No other chairs with a view. He checked the entryway to Erin’s building. He couldn’t be sure how much time changing clothes might require. He didn’t even know if she would leave. “That’s funny.”

“It’s good though,” Josiah’s energy built with his words. “No, it’ll be perfect. You here. See how it goes down.” 

Bennington had made the phone call after their last session. He scrutinized Joshiah’s face. Desperation. Recollections of therapy gathered, reforming his early conceptualization. The clustering thoughts tightened Bennington’s chest. 

“I don’t hold it against you, Doc.”

“It was… a responsibility.” 

“You know I wouldn’t hurt her?”

Bennington nodded. “I do believe it. I’d like to understand.” He feared igniting an endless flow of Rinny this and Rinny that. Rinny, Rinny, Rinny. “It’s risk assessment, is all.”

“Of course.” Josiah turned to watch the road.

“I’m glad you’re doing well.” It was a guess. A positive morsel to feed the healthy part of the younger man’s mind. He owed Josiah. His delusion was the inspiration for finding Erin. 

“I had to get better, Doc.” The boy’s gaze stuck to an invisible scene beyond the plate glass barrier. 

Bennington recounted the fellow’s history. Arrested for stalking his ex-girlfriend. Came in for help with the obsessive thoughts. His girl demanded to leave, then she needed him back. Bennington validated him. Encouraged a less threatening approach. Admonished him.

“You’re a doc and all that, I know. You can read people’s minds.” Josiah nodded, agreeing with himself. “Being in it though, that’s a special thing. You did what you needed.” He smiled, gray eyes softer. Insight.

“I wish it could have been different, Josiah. It’s a rule.” Bennington searched for a better word in the ripples of his coffee. Knowing he’d done right, that he had to make the call, had to turn the lad into the cops, protect the girl. None of it relieved his shame. 

“Now you’ll understand it, though, Doc. It’ll be easier when you see Rinny.”

“She’s meeting you?”

“It’s like I said. She’s in, she’s out. Just friends. Friends with benefits.”

“I see,” Bennington said. The story played over in therapeutic shorthand. Boy meets girl. Girl turns boy’s crank. Obsessive love goes sour. She wants him but can’t have him. He pleads. She rejects. Boy can’t let go. Ruminates endlessly on girl’s promises, her ambiguous emotions. Follows her. Uses his computer, another obsession, to find her. Indicator of autism. High functioning, but unable to read social cues. Struggles to regulate emotions. 

Bennington sipped the lukewarm coffee. Where is she? This isn’t therapy time. Set an appointment. I’m here on personal business. Don’t make me come off like a stalker. We’re not the same. All I want is just to observe her again. To feel that surge of fire. He scrunched his forehead, willing Erin’s entrance to open and set him free of Josiah’s obsessions.

“She can’t decide,” Josiah said. “She needs my help to decide what’s best.”  

The statement jerked on Bennington’s professional training with the force of a choker chain. “You can’t choose for her, Josiah. You can only tell her how you feel.”

The boy’s head drooped. “That can’t be right, Doc. I told her. She told me.” He lifted his face. Tears welled. “She says no. She says yes. Someone has to decide.”

Curious faces with probing curiosity poked at their privacy. 

Expertise was failing him. Making sense of delusion presented enough of a problem in the controlled space of his office.

“You’ve been down this road, Josiah. There’s no happy ending.”

The rugged youth traced a square design in the table’s surface. His brow tugged at the bridge of his nose. 

Bennington snagged the consternation. Move Josiah to a safe place. “Son,” he began.

Erin bounded from the apartment building’s exit.

Bennington’s heart jumped.

“See!” Josiah exclaimed. “How she captured your eye so easily. That’s what Rinny does to men.” 

Bennington missed a few lines of Josiah’s invocation. Bits of their past conversations bobbed to the surface and aligned themselves into a new story. His heart slipped lower in his chest. 

“Rinny,” he mumbled. 

Josiah’s infatuation was Erin—Erin was Rinny. 

The mad man hopped to his feet. “I have to confront her, like you said.” He bounced into the street.

Bennington’s neural network snapped and crackled to realign itself for his somatic functionality. His prefrontal cortex shouted Run! Muscles resisted the message. Sinews tightened against collapse. Time reeled out, the world on fast-forward. 

When enough synapses connected he fumbled out of the chair. His cup teetered. He left it to its wobbly destiny. 

A couple’s argument filled the passage.

“Excuse me,” he sputtered.

The blurred figures grew louder.

Bennington shoved through, tripping on their tangled feet and teetering at the curb in his search for Erin or Josiah.

With divine authority, the stream of pedestrians and vehicles parted to reveal emptiness.

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