A Kyle Callahan Mystery
by Mark McNease
Among the Living
Kyle Callahan glanced around his therapist’s office. He’d sat in this overstuffed beige leather chair, talking to this wise and soft-spoken man for the past six months, and still there were small details he would notice on a visit that he hadn’t seen before. A photograph of Peter Benoit’s daughter, now in her second year at Princeton. A small, cheap plaster bust of Chopin, Peter’s favorite composer, staring blindly from the bookshelf. A book about circuses among the dozens on psychology, psychiatry, and the byzantine workings of the human mind. And tonight: a set of bronzed baby shoes on Peter’s desk. Kyle never sat at or beside the desk. He only looked at it tucked tightly into a corner of the room beneath a window overlooking Central Park West. It was as mysterious as his therapist—he only knew about the daughter and the love for Chopin by asking questions, a reversal of roles that had happened perhaps a half dozen times over the course of twenty-four one hour sessions spent talking about his life since the killing. Correction, the shooting, as Peter reminded him. Yes, Kyle had killed a man. Yes, it had been in self-defense. Yes, it had ended the nightmarish career of the Pride Killer, among New York City’s most successful and cruel sociopaths. So, rightly, Peter Benoit (pronounced “Ben-wah”) reminded Kyle from time to time that it was not murder. But that didn’t change how Kyle felt. It didn’t erase his guilt, however unnecessary. He had taken a man’s life in an Upper East Side townhouse basement, and he had been trying to live with it ever since.
“I haven’t seen bronzed baby shoes since I was a kid,” Kyle said, looking at the desk. “I started to ask if they still made them, but obviously those were made a long time ago. Are they yours?”
“Yes, Kyle, they’re mine,” Peter responded. “I was that small once. We all were.”
“Are they really bronze?”
“I don’t know. My mother had them made. But they look bronze.”
“Yes, they do.”
Kyle turned his attention back to Peter. Lately he’d found himself attracted to the therapist and it made him uncomfortable. He knew it wasn’t real—not real real—and that it was some kind of “transference”, but it made him uneasy. It didn’t help that the therapist was quite tall and handsome, late-forties, with brown hair shot through with gray; blue eyes, large hands, and much too relaxed for anyone living and working in New York City.
“What were we talking about?” Kyle asked, trying to refocus.
“Your father’s death,” said Peter.
“Yes, Kyle. You were visiting your parents in Highland Park. You went in to see your father in his study and you found him slumped over his desk—the same desk you now have in your spare room at home.”
Kyle thought about it. He could not understand how talking about killing Diedrich Keller—the Pride Killer—had morphed into talking about his dead father. Or how it led to talking about his relationship with his husband, Danny. Or his job. Or anything, really. None of those things were why he’d come here, but they had entered his conversations with his therapist and he was as uncomfortable with that as he was with feeling attracted to the man. Psychoanalysis was a curious, dangerous beast, and Kyle wasn’t sure he’d made the right decision letting it out of its cage.
“He didn’t like me,” Kyle said. Just like that. Flat, true.
“What made you think that?”
“You don’t believe me?”
“I didn’t say that. I just asked why you thought your father didn’t like you.”
Kyle stared at him. “Because he told me.”
There, it had happened again. Another unsettling truth uttered as if he’d said it was cold in the room or that he’d left his umbrella at home and it was raining. This had happened quite a few times over the months. Bits and pieces of memories, emotions and unpleasant realities popping out into the air, floating there for a moment then falling to the floor or staining his heart.
“How did it happen?” Peter asked.
“How did what happen?”
“How did your father tell you he didn’t like you? Were you having an argument? Was it a response to something that had been said?”
Kyle remembered it clearly now, just like he remembered finding his father dead at his desk—a not-so-repressed memory he’d told very few people. His mother knew; she was in the house that day, too. Danny, of course. But almost no one else.
Kyle had been at the kitchen table having breakfast. He was twenty at the time. Twenty-one? He was in love with David Elliott, the young man he pursued to New York City from Chicago where they’d both attended college. He’d made the decision to move but not yet done it. His father had not taken kindly to Kyle’s being gay. It wasn’t rejection, per se, but more of a further distancing to an already distant relationship. Kyle’s father had taken the news coolly, as he’d taken all of Kyle’s decisions in life. As if he didn’t care.
“I told him I was moving to New York,” Kyle said, recalling it now in the therapist’s office. “He shrugged. He said, ‘Fine,’ or something like that. Something short and disinterested. ‘Don’t you care?’ I asked him. I didn’t want him to oppose the move—I was hell bent, as my mother said, on chasing David across the country—but something.”
“You wanted him to take it as a loss,” Peter said.
“Yes, yes, I did.”
“But that’s not what happened.”
“Not at all,” Kyle said. He looked down now, worried his eyes might water. “I said, ‘That’s all you have to say? ‘Fine?’ And he just … I don’t know … took a bite of his toast, looked at me and said, ‘I don’t like you, Kyle.’”
“It must have hurt.”
Kyle felt his facial muscles tighten. He hated being told such clear simple truths. Of course it hurt. And of course Kyle had never told anyone before tonight what his father had said, or how deeply it cut him.
“Yes,” Kyle said. “It hurt. Then he got up and went to his study. To his desk. Where I found him dead twenty-five years later. Can we change the subject?”
Peter was sensitive, which was not surprising. He was a very experienced therapist and knew when to let things rest. He paused for a moment to drink some of the ginger tea he always had on the stand beside his chair. Kyle knew it was a way of shifting away from one subject to another. Peter Benoit was not the only one in the room who could read people.
“How are the nightmares?” Peter asked, setting his teacup back down.
It was a question the therapist hadn’t asked for several weeks. Kyle was glad of the omission; he preferred not to talk about the dreams that had plagued him since the shooting in Diedrich Keller’s basement. They’d stopped for a while—a short while—but had returned the last week, as distressing as ever. The dreams’ scenario changed slightly, their sequence of events, but they always ended the same: with Kyle sobbing over the body of the serial killer he’d just stopped with a bullet to the heart, while his husband Danny and his friend Detective Linda Sikorsky lay dead at the hands of the man he’d murdered.
“It wasn’t murder,” Peter said the first time Kyle described the dreams. “It was kill or be killed. You need to remember that.”
Kill or be killed. A struggle, a twist of fate, a gunshot, and Kyle had taken a life. He knew it should matter whose life he had taken—a brutal killer who had claimed fourteen victims over seven years and who’d been within a knife blade’s distance from killing Danny—but watching a man die at your own hand defied emotional logic. Death was death. And as he’d seen the life quickly flee from Diedrich Keller’s eyes, he’d felt as if he had been tattooed forever by it. Then the dreams began and he sought out a therapist to try and stop them.
“Not so bad, or so often,” Kyle lied. He’d had a dream just the night before.
“Good,” said Peter, doubting Kyle had told him the truth. “How about your photography?”
Kyle looked up at him. Once upon a time, not long ago, he’d been an avid amateur photographer. The passion had lasted about fifteen years for him, ever since his father had given him an expensive camera for his fortieth birthday. Then the murders at Pride Lodge, Kyle standing over the empty blue pool taking photographs of his friend Teddy’s broken body at the bottom; his first and only photo exhibit at the Katherine Pride Gallery, just days after the madman Kieran Stipling had been stopped from killing Stuart Pride. It was all connected, Kyle knew. The murders, the murderers, and his photography. As one entered his life, the other left. Now he no longer took pictures and had no desire to.
“It’s still on hold,” Kyle said, knowing it would probably stay there. Maybe he would someday see something he thought would look amazing through a camera lens, turned into a moment in time. Or a face that needed preserving in a photograph, or a scene. But not anytime soon. His camera had lain on a shelf in the spare room gathering dust for six months.
Peter leaned forward. It was usually a signal their fifty minutes were coming to a close.
“Have you given some thought to what I suggested?” Peter asked.
The therapist had been encouraging Kyle to take on something new—another passion, another pastime. Kyle had expressed for the first time his interest in getting into the reporting end of his career. If his boss Imogene could do it, he could, too. He’d even begun contributing to her stories—un-credited, of course. He was writing copy now, under Imogene’s tutelage. He knew he was too old to become a reporter, but there may be ways to contribute. No one knew what editors looked like, and Kyle had discovered he had a knack for writing and editing as well as being the best personal assistant Imogene had ever had. He was good for more than bagels and coffee and answering her emails well past quitting time.
“Yes, I have thought about it,” Kyle said. “And Imogene thinks it’s a great idea. I’ve been working on stories with her. She’s very experienced, she’s teaching me a lot—about angles to stories and how to shape them.”
“Good, good. And are you still taking anti-depressants?”
“Oh, God no!” Kyle said, as if he’d just tasted something bitter. He’d tried three different anti-depressants and each made him feel disembodied. No matter how low the dose, whatever they did to him was pronounced and unpleasant. He was glad to find a therapist who preferred talk to medication. Kyle had thrown the pills out each time and was now determined to find another way to deal with his . . . trauma. He didn’t like the word. He didn’t like thinking he’d been traumatized. But sometimes there was no better way to describe it.
What he did not tell Peter Benoit that night was that he’d been thinking through the suggestion to find a new interest and had come up with something very different from writing, editing or reporting. Something he was not ready to tell Peter about. Something that already had him waking up feeling better, clearer, and once again energized.
“Our time’s up,” Peter said gently. He always ended the sessions with his kind voice. Then, as he did from time to time, he said, “I’ll be away next week.” He reached for the Day Planner he kept next to his ginger tea, opened it and said, “Two weeks from tonight is okay for you?”
It was always okay for Kyle. Peter had only skipped three sessions in six months. He never said why; it was part of his mystique. Kyle knew his therapist was divorced—there were no photos of his ex-wife in the office. He knew he had a daughter, and a cat whose white hair was sometimes on the therapist’s pants. But beyond that he knew very little.
“Two weeks is fine,” Kyle said.
He stood up then and shook Peter’s hand. He often wondered if they’d been at it long enough for a hug, but it was better to keep the distance.
“I’ll see you in two weeks,” said Kyle. He turned and let himself out of the office.
Tomorrow was Tuesday and he planned on working late with Imogene. The Manhattan District Attorney was under investigation and it was a huge story, with developments breaking daily. He would be in the office well into the evening.
He would also be paying a visit to someone who could help him find his new obsession, his path back to the life he’d known.
* * *
A short synopsis: Kyle decides the best way he can reengage with life is by following his other true passion – solving murders. He takes on his first cold case: the killing of a teenager three years ago. She was the daughter of a friend, and Kyle decides to give it a try, to bring justice to a grieving, obsessed father, and to pull himself out of his own despair. Joined again by his friend Detective Linda Sikorsky (New Hope, PA, retired), he finds himself delving into the undercurrents of New York City politics and on a collision course with a crime boss who kills as easily as she breathes. Everyone thought Corinne Copley was killed for her cell phone in a random act of violence on a Manhattan side street – but was she? Kyle is determined to find out, and to stay alive.