No More Lies


It always started with her hand, before it got the rest of her. Holland Banks could sense the dream unfolding yet again, though she could not stop it. She could never stop it. Sweat broke out over her body, soaking the thin cotton of her baby-blue sleep shirt. She opened her eyes on darkness, as she always did. Her hand lay on the white of the sheets beside her pillow. That was part of the dream. So was the feeling of evil that swirled in the room. The dim outlines of the mission oak furniture in her bedroom wavered at the edges of her vision. The ribs of the headboard and the backs of her rockers cast the shadows of a prison on the walls. The slats of the plantation shutters--meant to keep out the Los Angeles lights--weren't doing their job. Thin channels of moonlight cut across the darkness to create the shadows. Even in the canyon you couldn't escape the glow of the city. Star jasmine in the boxes along the balcony drenched the night with a scent that seemed too rich for L.A. So familiar. . . so alien. Just like her hand.

It lay on the white sheets beside her pillow, consuming her field of vision. The long tapered fingers curled softly, nails made shiny even in the dark by clear polish. The hand had a young woman's skin, smooth, the ropes of veins still softened by flesh not yet collapsed around them. The hand lay there, quiescent, somehow distant. Yet she could feel the evil pulsing in the darkness, the stench of it mingling with the smell of sweat and star jasmine and the fabric softener her laundry used. The hand was alien, not human at all. What would it not do? Murder? Sabotage? Betray her, her people, her world?

As always, the panic rose in her as she realized that the evil was attached to her. How could she escape the monster when it was part of her body? The hand was about to do something terrible. What to do? Her breath came in ragged gasps. Could it kill her? Best she chop it off before it tried. With what? Chinese cleaver. . . in the kitchen? It would try to stop her. She sat up. The comforter duvet in white, embroidered cotton slid to the side. Her hand, that foreign lump of evil attached to her arm, was dragged across her lap. Somewhere a cat yowled.

As though the movement wakened it, the hand sent tendrils of evil up her arm. She was too late! She clutched at the merciless wrist with her left hand, stumbling to her feet. The hand stretched its fingers wide, seeking. It wanted to touch something, something she was afraid of, and if it found what it wanted to touch, the world would be forever changed. Malevolence flowed around her elbow, searching for her heart, her brain. Fear beat at her mind. When the evil engulfed her, she would not longer be able to control what she did. Power surged inside her. It made her feel strong, whole.

She pushed herself erect, thrusting down the siren call of power. She had to fight it. Somewhere, someone was whimpering. She staggered toward the bedroom door. The pulsing red beat pushed up to drown her heart, her lungs. She gasped, fighting for air. A scream formed in her throat and was stifled there. Her eyes bulged. She sank to her knees. The evil roiled up her carotid artery into her brain. All that was left of Holland Banks was about to be lost and she knew that the kernel of evil had always been inside her, waiting for this moment, and that the kernel wasn't human. She wasn't human. She never had been.


Holland's own shriek woke her up. She was crouched in a corner, hugging her bare knees. Her gaze darted around the darkened room, cut by channels of moonlight. Nothing. No evil--just the slats of her grandmother's mission rocker, the pristine white of the tumbled bedding, the shadowy bulk of the armoire. Her pulse beat in her ears. She sucked in the damp night air from the open window with the scent of star jasmine. Then the shaking began.

It's just the dream, she told herself, hugging her knees even tighter, to stop the shaking. You've been having it since college. Can't you get used to it? But now it happened almost every night. And the emotion wasn't getting easier, though she often realized it was a dream even as she dreamed it. No, her nightmare was getting worse.

She listened. But all she heard was the blood humming in her ears. Tinnitus, John had called the condition when she was reduced to consulting him. The constant noise was getting on her nerves. Great. Tinnitus. Yet another thing wrong with her. John even said it often sounded like whispering. God, she couldn't believe she'd been desperate enough to tell him about the whispering. Somehow she hadn't liked to tell Dr. Grayson, old family friend that he was, at her routine check for the levels of allergen suppressant in her blood. It was easier to ask John at the hospital, maybe because he wasn't a friend of her father's. John's eyes had gone curious for a moment. No cure for it. He'd offered her Xanax and said that sometimes helped suppress the noise. But she was not yet reduced to using sedatives. The only other choice was just to get used to it. Tune it out. John might well use her weakness against her, doctor/patient confidence be damned. Why hadn't she gone to some doctor who didn't work at her own hospital? She was being stupid, and someone like her could never afford to be stupid.

She pushed the damp blonde hair out of her face. Control yourself, she admonished. Your Impostor Syndrome is getting out of hand. Everyone feels like they're in over their head once in a while. Lots of people feel like they don't deserve their position or that someone will find out they're not as smart as they're cracked up to be. People didn't think they were evil, though, or not human. That was carrying her issue to extremes.

It was hell to be a psychiatrist. Diagnosing yourself and everyone around you came a bit too easily. Holland managed a weak smile and shake of her head as the trembling subsided. To center herself, she repeated her achievements like a mantra. Her lungs expanded and she let the air out slowly. Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude form Yale, premed. Second in her class in med school, though she should have been first--would have been if she'd been male. Stremski's research was not nearly as original as her own project. Prestigious funded internship at the Neuro-Psychiatric Institute at UCLA. The ground-breaking studies on schizophrenia. They still called it the Banks Remission phenomenon. Rising through the ranks at several hospitals until now she was Director of Medical Services at Century Psychiatric Hospital, the most prominent private treatment and research center west of the Rockies--hell, west of the Mississippi. Head of the Schizophrenia Research Foundation. Not bad for thirty-four.

That's what the dream was about, just Impostor Syndrome. She wasn't evil. She was just an overachiever who worried that someday someone would find out that she had to work harder than anybody else to get where she was and stay there. Someday, hard work wouldn't be enough to get by, but that day was not yet. Holland suppressed the psychiatrist part which whispered that the whole thing had gone beyond a mild neurosis and that she was bordering on something she wouldn't like the name of.

She even knew the root of the problem. She had a lunch date with him tomorrow, well, today. The clock on the oak antique ice chest serving as a night table glowed three a.m. That must be why the dream had been so virulent. Lunch with her father was always difficult.

She sighed and pushed herself up the wall. When she was sure her knees were not too wobbly to hold her, she staggered to the walk-in closet and pulled a caftan in white embroidered on white over her head. There would be no more sleep tonight. Might as well read that stack of journals sitting on the library table by the door.

In the hospital employee parking lot, Holland glanced in the rearview mirror of her Mercedes 450 at the same time as she swung into the space marked DR. BANKS. She'd chosen her spot in the corner of the flat lot rather than one in the garage because no one could park next to her. with ice plant growing on one side and the vent from the hospital's heating unit on the other, her car was not subject to the vicissitudes of careless drivers opening car doors. She'd trade isolation of a covered space any day. Besides, it was L.A. How often did it rain?

When the car had jerked to a halt, she turned off the key but left the radio running as she pulled down the visor and flipped up the vanity mirror cover. Not good news. The roar in her ears seemed worse this morning. The noise was taking its toll. She looked as though she hadn't slept. True enough, but it was the last way she wanted to look at work. The radio bared on about the latest sniper attacks. How many of these guys were there? Simultaneous events in Seattle and L.A. last night. Another four weeks of this and the whole country would be psychotic.

She took a compact out of her Dooney and Burke briefcase and layered some self-powered foundation over cheekbones that seemed a little sharp. Not much to do about the shadows under her eyes. The blue of her irises arrested her for a moment. Patients found them unnerving. One had described them as clear turquoise, like the bottom of a swimming pool. Not comforting, on the whole. You drowned in swimming pools. An older woman had said she looked as though she couldn't lie. Holland gave an almost inaudible snort. Yeah, wasn't that what Impostor Syndrome was all about--the feeling that you were living a lie? For that matter, what was psychiatry but relative truth? Not much difference between that and lying. Her father would no doubt tell her there was no difference at lunch today. He knew all about truth. She patted a pale strand of hair back into her chignon and adjusted a hairpin. Sleek. Professional. That was how she wanted to look.

For a moment the voices of her med school colleagues darted through her mind like random shots of a gun, just enough to wound, not to kill. She had come up behind a group of the guys one day as they talked about some woman they called a frigid ice princess. They'd laughed, right up until one of them noticed her. Their faces had frozen in horror. It was only their expressions that told Holland they were talking about her. Her surprise was closely followed by shame. The flush that filled her had turned to anger. She'd simply turned and walked away. she had never spoken to any of them again, in spite of several mumbled apologies. Didn't they know what control it took to be truly excellent at what she did, what sacrifice? Didn't they understand what price she paid to be the best of any of them?

She stared in the little mirror, examining the flawless lips, "Plum Mist" filled in for moist perfection; the big eyes lined with subtle pencil, their naturally thick lashes enhanced with mascara; wispy fringe of bang to soften her face. Pearl earrings, the big and expensive Tahitian variety, lent their iridescent gray echo to the strand of their fellows around her neck. The gray linen dress with white piping would look crisp under her white lab coat. Professional, brittle... even, almost, true. That was the way psychiatrists had to look. they had to at least pretend that what they did was scientific.

She cut off the radio's hysteria with another flick of the key and slid out of her little sports car. The news these days seemed calculated to fuel hysteria. Her five-foot-six turned to five-eight in her metallic gray Ferragamo pumps. She slung her briefcase strap over her shoulder, then turned back to lock the car. The sussurrations in her ears got suddenly louder. It was almost like words she couldn't quite hear. She glanced around as though they had a source.

That was when she saw him. He stood on the sidewalk some five feet above the parking lot about fifty feet away, up toward Third Street. Ice plant, recently watered, covered the slope to the sidewalk. He was looking at her, she was sure of it. His hair was light brown and long. It almost touched his shoulders in the back, and brushed his chin even at the sides. It hadn't been cut in a long time--just allowed to grow. As she watched, he pushed his fingers through his hair to get it out of his face. He looked as though he hadn't thought to shave for several days. He wore a plaid shirt she would bet was flannel, even in the heat of the L.A. summer. The sleeves were rolled up on his forearms. His jeans weren't tight, but they showed his form. He was bulky through the shoulders, maybe barrel-chested, and his thighs were thick with muscle.

He was definitely staring at her. The rush of sound in her ears whined up the scale until it was almost painful. Help me. What? What was that? Her own thoughts given voice? Or real words in her head, hidden in the tinnitus? She shook her head but the words were gone, leaving only the roar. As she realized she had been staring back at the stranger, Holland looked away, guilty. She jerked herself around toward the back entrance to the hospital and stalked away. The sounds flooding her ears faded. But the image of the man would not be banished. Hadn't she seen him before? Her thoughts skittered over recent activities. Where? Hanging around the hospital? Or ... was it at the gym yesterday?

God! Panic washed through her. It had been at the gym. He'd been walking in as she walked out. He had turned around to look at her. Jesus! He was a stalker. She picked up her pace. Where were the security guys when she needed them? She practically lunged for the door, but before she could reach it, it swung out, and a pair of huge orderlies coming off the night shift almost ran her down. They were laughing. The door banged into the wall.

"Sorry, Dr. Banks," one stuttered. "Didn't mean to nearly kill you there."

Holland laughed. Damn! It sounded just this side of panic-stricken. She took a breath and hauled her expression into what she hoped was normal range. "No problem, gentlemen. I'm just glad to see you two." Their presence gave her enough courage to turn and glance back across the parking lot. It was empty of people. An SUV pulled in at the far gate. No plaid shirt, no jeans, no long hair. The stalker had vanished. Relieved, Holland stepped through the door one massive orderly held open, refusing to meet his eyes. She didn't want to know if he was looking at her strangely.

As she stepped into the world of gleaming linoleum and pastel walls, the smell of the hospital calmed her. The vague odor of sickness--disinfectant, floor wax, starch, urine, vomit, food that all smelled the same--wafted over her. This was an environment where she knew what was expected of her. She was master of it, in spite of the dreams, in spite of the noise in her ears, in spite of the guy outside. She straightened her shoulders and clicked down the hall to the elevators. She put her professionalism on like a flak jacket. Nurses murmured greetings. Orderlies nodded as they wheeled cold breakfasts to patients in the unlocked rooms. Holland managed to return the greetings with a smile and felt herself come back into focus.

That guy wasn't stalking her. She couldn't even be sure it was the same one from the gym. Two plaid shirts--that's all she'd seen. What were the odds that they guy would be wearing the same shirt two days in a row? These dreams were making her nervous. That and the tinnitus. John hadn't been able to explain what caused it in her case. She hadn't had a blow to the head, or ear infections. Weren't medical conditions supposed to be more clear-cut than psychiatric ones? Maybe she just needed rest. She could prescribe herself some Ambien to help her sleep, but that was an addictive slippery slope. Dependency was not in her nature. The answer was work. She knew how to work. She pushed through the door into her office suite on the sixth floor. Time to put on the persona. Time for shrink-speak.

"Good morning, Chloe." She put her briefcase on her desk in the inner office and slipped into her lab coat.

Chloe handed her a stack of charts. 'Rounds in ten minutes, Doctor."

Holland nodded. "This afternoon, I'd like to review the grant. Did Rhenquist complete the drug therapy section?"

"Turned it in last night," Chloe said. She grinned. "Just-in-time homework for that guy." The woman's lank white-blonde hair and long dangly earrings were complimented by heavy black makeup around her eyes and, depending upon what she was wearing, glimpses of several tattoos from ankle bracelets to flowers over her shoulders to scroll-work at the small of her back. No one could understand why Holland put up with her. They didn't recognize the strident efficiency that balanced Chloe's mental scales. She was ruthless in her pursuit of Holland's ends, if Holland stated them clearly. What more could an over-achieving boss ask?

Holland smiled, glad for Chloe's calm assurance. "Just in time is preferable to the alternative." She clutched the stack of charts to her chest and took the porcupine set of keys from her belt. I'll return by eleven. Let's do a calendar check."

"Patient appointments at nine-thirty," Chloe recited. "Forty-five minutes with Smith, observation with Jenkins, team consult on Raley before lunch."

Holland turned toward the door, opening a chart to glance at the case before rounds

"Dr. Ferenghetti needs ten minutes this afternoon." Chloe dropped the bomb casually.

Holland rolled her eyes. "That man is tedious. And the subject of the meeting?"

"I'm guessing it's complaint time about the doctor's complementary lunch buffet."

"Very well. Fit him in. And get me a copy of the menu for the next week from food service. Forewarned if fore-armed." She started for the door, mumbling, "For this I went to college?" Then she realized that Chloe could hear. Not good.

"No, for this you make the big bucks. Don't expect sympathy, Doctor Banks."

Holland realized she'd let her professional demeanor slip. She smiled self-consciously as she pushed out the door of Administration. In some ways she was most herself with Chloe. That could be dangerous. She unlocked the ward door and let herself in with half-attention as she looked at the charts. Three new schizophrenics today. She glanced up to see Rhenquist hovering. "Who's first up, Rich?" she asked, still looking at the charts.

Rich Rhenquist was young and ambitious--reason enough not to trust him. He fancied himself charming. His dark good looks had always opened doors. Holland liked showing him the limitations of those credentials. He was competent. she couldn't fault him there. But in his first weeks on staff he had tried to charm her. Never try to charm Holland Banks.

"Uh, Lozano. Family checked him in yesterday. Dropped out of school last winter. Ended on the streets. Police remanded him to family custody. Now hearing voices, inattentive, personal hygiene lapses. Family insists there's no history of drug use. Precipitating event was violent act against his married sister. Scared him as much as it scared them. He checked in voluntarily." Rhenquist continued with the results of the mental-status exam.

"You've got him on Abilify?" Holland interrupted.

"Ziprasidone. Ten milligrams every six hours."

Holland glanced up from the chart. "Forty a day? That's a fairly heavy dosage, Rich."

"It took two orderlies to subdue him."

"You said he was voluntary." Her voice was sharp. You needed a court order unless the patient admitted himself voluntarily. Breaking the rules could cost a hospital its license.

Rich backpedaled. "He was fine when he got here. He had bad dreams last night."

That she could understand. Holland glanced through the small door window that was crosshatched with metal threads. A young man sat slumped on the bed in a plaid flannel robe, staring at his hands. Plaid flannel trembled through her mind. "I'm not sure Ziprasidone would be my first choice. Too many complications."

"I got a medical history form the family." Rhenquist made it clear he was the expert on medication. "No heart problems, no other drugs. And it gives immediate results. You don't usually need Ativan to keep them calm." He drove home the final spike. "Trials up to 100 milligrams have been successful."

Holland acquiesced. "Treatment plan?"

Rich detail his program of therapy. The drugs had made the patient docile. Was that good? what price had he paid for this calm depression in lieu of his mania? This poor soul was incarcerated because he was hearing voices. She shifted attention to the roaring in her own ears. There were no whispers of voices. But there had been. At least she thought there had been, even though she couldn't make out any words. Suddenly she longed to know exactly what that young man heard. She wanted to dart into his mind and hear what he heard and then dart safely out again.

"What do you think, Doctor?" Rhenquist was saying.

Holland took a breath. "Acceptable treatment plan. Keep me abreast of the results."

"Are you ready?" Her father's gruff voice came from the outer office. The door swung open, possibly from the sheer force of his personality, and he strode forward to lean both hands on her desk.

She braced herself and looked up over her charts. "Hello, Dad." It seemed so inadequate a response. But she was used to that. What could she possibly say to match her father's larger-than-life persona? His thick shock of silver-gray hair was brushed back from a high forehead with a straight hairline. His face was as bold and blunt as he was. Cheekbones poked out of flesh that he begun to sag, subtly. But the stabbing gray of his eyes changed color constantly from threatening storm-cloud dark to the silver that sparkled of a steel sea in early afternoon. Someday his flesh would betray him, but never his eyes. He used the force of life that lurked there to bludgeon competitors and those who would be barriers to his goals, or those who were less intelligent than he was. That included just about everybody. The damnedest thing was Holland was pretty sure he loved her.

His suit must have cost a couple thousand. It hung off lean shoulders squared to face the world on his tall frame. How many research scientists felt the need to dress well? How many could afford to? But Leland Banks was not your average research scientist. He was more like a one-man industry. Holland reached to finger her pearls, uncomfortable. Did she get her need to project an impeccable image from her father? Why did she feel the need to wonder how much of her father had insinuated itself through genes or experience into her psyche? Maybe because knowing exactly what part genes played had become his life's obsession. Lips that habitually curved down in disapproval lifted almost imperceptibly. "Can the nuthouse spare you today?"

"Yes. The hospital can spare me." She pushed herself up from her desk and shed her lab coat. "Where are you taking me? I warn you, I'm feeling expensive."

"Matsuhisa expensive enough for you? I feel like fish." He held out an arm to open the door, careful not to touch her. He was protective without ever getting close physically.

"We'll never get in," she protested.

"I booked the private bar. Nobu is in town. He'll make us sushi personally."

"You booked the whole private bar? Well that's expensive."

Her father caught up to her with his long strides. "Always the best for my daughter."

No More Lies by Susan Squires

October 2003
ISBN: 0505525666

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