WARNING* Contains spoilers! If you haven’t read any of the Talion books. We highly recommend that you do before reading this content.
After Roy debriefed Susie on his discussion with McCall in Seattle the night before, he went down to the study to lock the burner phone he’d bought in Seattle in the safe.
As he did, he heard Susie walking by the office, and, as she passed the office door, she said, “Don’t forget we have the Van der Puts tonight.” She said ‘tonight’ with an upward lilt – ‘toniiiight.’ She was messing with him.
Crap, thought Roy.
To begin with, Roy was not big on cocktail parties. The whole big-group-small-talk thing was not his strong suit. Beyond that, the Van der Puts were not his favorite people. Actually, to be completely clear, it came down to ‘her.’ Roy found Claire Van der Put intolerable. She was narcissistic, banal, and cloying. Those were her good traits.
The husband, Roy could tolerate. Emile Van Der Put – ‘Mel’ – was a psychologist. Some sort of criminal investigator type. He came from money. The psychology thing was almost a hobby.
He was very “professory.” Susie had seen him as a patient a couple of times –for help in dealing with Camila’s death, but hadn’t stayed on with him. They hadn’t “clicked.”
Roy had sat in on a couple of the sessions. Mel made him uncomfortable because he asked a lot of questions. And Roy wasn’t big on sharing personal information. He especially didn’t get into the whole “digging into your childhood” thing. The way Roy saw it, his childhood pre-Grandma was fucked up, post-Grandma was fine – best just to leave it at that.
Mel was what you expected from a psychologist. He was balding. He had that little monk’s hair thing going on. He wore tortoiseshell eye-glasses. He favored cardigans, and pastels. He wore no jewelry, not even his wedding ring. His worst trait, as far as Roy was concerned, was that he seemed to be stuck in a perpetual “active listening mode.” Although what was probably even worst was his wife.
There was no small talk with Mel.
How you doin’ Mel?
Fine. How are you doing Roy?
Same old same old.
Tell me about that.
Well, you know. Just the same old stuff at work.
How does that make you feel?
It felt like Mel was always “on.” But, as to this kind of thing, Roy could be pretty forgiving. To begin with, it was the guy’s gig. If he went a little overboard selling it, well, that was up to him. Beyond that, Roy really felt that Mel had helped Susie some. Their work together had been positive. For that, Roy was willing to forgive a lot. Even tolerating his crazy bitch wife.
Claire Van der Put reminded Roy of the old saying about the cobbler’s children having no shoes. At one of their past cocktail parties, Roy had overheard Claire speaking with a small group of women about a “spiritual revelation.”
She’d apparently been out running early one morning, and as she passed through Matheson Hammock Park, she felt something “drawing her toward the sea.” She’d gone down to the shore, near the Red Fish Grill, and there, on the beach, “God had spoken to her.” God had told her that she was the reincarnation of some saint – among other things. Roy had stopped listening, but marveled at how a psychologist’s wife could be that many eggs short of a dozen.
All of the ladies sitting around her listening were clearly in Roy’s camp – looking at Claire with skepticism and, the nicer ones, with pity. Claire was oblivious. She went on telling her story.
Classic narcissist. Histrionic.
But that was Claire. Mel was alright. Probably just too busy with work to notice that he lived with a crazy person. Or maybe working hard to not have to deal with it?
Roy had even considered maybe doing a monthly session himself with Mel – just to discuss high-level things. Work related stress. That kind of stuff.
The Van der Puts lived just two houses away from Roy and Susie, which was very convenient. Both in term of ingress, and more importantly, egress.
At 5:40 p.m. – Susie sounded the first alarm.
“I’m going to take a shower. We need to leave at 6:30, okay, hun?”
“Got it, babe.”
Roy went to the office, poured himself a scotch, and went online to check news and poke around on social media.
At 6:10 p.m. – Susie shouted from upstairs, “Roy, twenty minutes!”
Roy gulped down the last of his scotch and headed upstairs to get changed. Susie was finishing her hair and putting on make up. She was wearing a smart light blue cotton dress, blue heels, and was putting her hair up in a causal bun. Kind of dressy.
“What’s the attire?” asked Roy.
“Miami chic.” said Susie, with a forced nasal, uppity tone.
“Ugh. Does that actually mean anything?”
“You know babe. Wear whatever the fuck you want as long as you look rich,” laughed Susie.
Roy opted for white jeans, an untucked dress shirt, and loafers. He swapped his work watch for a more sporty Panerai, and mussed his hair with a bit of gel for a more casual look.
The Van der Puts house was lovely. Well-maintained, though not updated in quite a while. A little past it prime. Susie and Roy let themselves in the front door, which was a large double door, glass on the upper half, and was unlocked.
The party officially started at 6:00 p.m. In Miami, this meant that, arriving at 6:40, Roy and Susie were among the first guests.
“Susie!” Claire exclaimed.
Claire Van de Put was of average height for a woman, though in the high heel platform shoes she favored, she grew a good 6-8 inches. This evening she was dressed in red cocktail dress, which as usual showed way too much cleavage. The skirt was just a bit too short for a woman her age. Everything about Claire was a bit cartoonish.
She seemed to think she could pull of clothes that would have been challenging for a woman ten years younger.
Susie and Claire air kissed, both cheeks, as they greeted one another. Roy stood to the side, and couldn’t help notice Claire’s side boob – bra-less, of course.
“Hello Roy. It is so good to see you!” Claire gushed. “Please come in and get yourself a drink. Mel is making his special G&T’s. And you know no one makes them as good as Mel!” Claire’s face was animated as she spoke, though her forehead barely moved. Botox, no doubt.
Roy headed over to the bar where Mel was busy at work serving up gin and tonics. As he approached, he could hear Mel finishing up describing the drink he was serving.
“Hendricks really goes well with the cucumber. And I personally like the Fever Tree Naturally Light, if you are going off the shelf. But, for tonight, I brewed up this homemade tonic syrup. I think you’ll find it most agreeable. The trick is all in the cinchona bark.” Mel looked over at Roy, “Care for one?”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
Mel did make spectacular gin and tonics.
Roy spent the first hour of the cocktail catching up with another neighbor, Roland Gomez. He was president of the homeowner’s association, and knew everything about everyone in the neighborhood. Roy was particularly interested in the “mangrove issue.”
Mangroves are protected trees in Florida, and in south Miami. Permits were required to trim them back. And the HOA was responsible for this. There had been issues with getting the permits that year, which presented issues both for boats – as the mangrove would encroach on dock areas – and mosquitoes, mosquitoes love mangroves.
Roy chatted, and drank, and drank and chatted. He was just getting into his fourth G&T when Mel caught him off guard.
“How goes it, Roy?”
“You’ve abandoned the bar?” Roy looked over to the bar and saw young woman in a white shirt and black bow tie serving drinks.
“I like to mix a few drinks to start things off, but then I hand it off to the bartender. So I can get around and mingle.”
“Good plan. They are great gin and tonics, Mel.”
“So, how is Susie?” he asked Roy.
“You tell me, you’re the shrink.”
Mel winced slightly, almost imperceptibly, but Roy caught it. Roy liked poking fun at him, to try to break though the active listening façade.
“I know, Mel.” Said Roy, “All confidential. Doctor patient privacy. Yata-yata.”
“Setting anything confidential aside,” Mel said, nodding toward Susie who was standing with a small group of ladies, all laughing, “Any objective observer here tonight would say that Susie looks to be very happy.”
“She is.” said Roy.
“What was all that about on the radio the other day, with the Bareto woman?”
Roy’s spidey sense went into high alert. He kept his face still, showing no reaction or emotion.
“How do you mean?”
“The radio interview. Did you catch it?”
“I did. Yes. Odd. The woman has issues. I guess she’s having trouble dealing with her son’s death. Closure issues. You know?”
Mel looked at Roy. Silent. Waiting for him to say more.
“Maybe she should call you,” chuckled Roy.
“Maybe.” Said Mel. He looked pensively at Susie.
“So, your main thing is criminal, isn’t it?” Roy asked, changing the subject.
“That is where I have distinguished myself – in terms of advancing the field.”
“What kind of stuff specifically?”
“Well, Roy. Frankly, it’s all a bit grim. Maybe not the best subject for a cocktail party.”
“Come on, doc. Try me.”
Over the course of the next two hours, Mel shared with Roy his thoughts on criminal minds, and the typical mistakes they committed when planning their crimes. Mel focused on his particular speciality – homicide.