There’s No Such Thing as Crazy, part eight

As he greeted them and invited them into his office, Mike introduced his partner, Jenna Smith, to Juan and Laura.  Laura barely acknowledged Jenna. Her face was pale and her hands were shaking. When the four of them sat, Laura put her feet on the seat of the chair and wrapped her arms around her legs. For a brief time, no one spoke.

Juan broke the silence. “Were you able to get Laura’s dental records? Do they match?”

Mike shook his head grimly. “I did get Laura Kinser’s dental records. They do not match the ones Doctor Welz took.”

A loud, long, anguished “No!” burst from Laura’s mouth. She began to weep—not quiet tears, as Juan had seen before, but noisy sobs, occasionally broken by a gasp for breath.

“I’m sorry, Martha,” Mike said kindly. “It was a matter of time before the truth appeared. This is just about the best way it could have happened.”

Juan sat in his chair, stunned. Jenna rose to her feet and crossed the room to give the woman Juan knew as Laura a hug. “There, there, Hon,” Jenna cooed. “Things will be fine. It’s not so bad. You’re gonna be alright.”

Laura continued to cry, and Jenna continued to try to comfort her. “Let’s switch to the other office,” Mike suggested to Juan. As if in a dream, Juan stood on his feet, followed Mike across the hall to Jenna’s office, and found a seat.

“Where should I start?” Mike asked himself after he had closed the door and settled into Laura’s desk chair. “It struck me as strange that the woman was so hesitant to see a dentist and denied having seen one any time recently. Hollywood people generally are faithful to their dental appointments. It’s a professional necessity.

“It had already occurred to me that the federal investigators working at the airport probably had requested dental records for Laura Kinser. That guess was correct. I contacted them and traded the information about Ron Lawrence for a copy of the records. They came digitally, of course, and over lunch I took them to Doctor Welz. In next to no time he found three clear differences between the two sets of images—fillings in different places, wisdom teeth present in one set and missing in the other, and, um, I’ve forgotten what the third difference was.”

Laura’s sobs still rang through the building, even through the closed door. Juan found it difficult to concentrate. He clenched his fists. His heart ached for her.

“The crash investigators called me back about an hour ago. They were able to find Mr. Lawrence, and he surrendered peacefully to them. I guess he was having a hard time with the insurance companies—or rather, they were having a hard time with him. He wanted his money quickly, and they were waiting for the results of the investigation. So Ron opened up and told them the whole story.

“That woman across the hall is named Martha Jones. She and Laura met while they were both receiving in-patient treatment in the same ward. Both of them noticed the similarities in appearance, and for a while they were both equally amused. They exchanged contact information and promised to keep in touch.”

While he spoke, Mike was toying with a bottle of water. Now he stopped and took a sip. “Martha became obsessed with Laura. She pumped her for every scrap of information about her life. When Laura stopped responding to her questions, she began reading everything she could find about Laura. Her doctors could see that she was identifying with Laura in a way that was not healthy. They tried to work with her, but they had little success.

“Ron had met her once while Laura was still in the hospital. Now he went to visit her again. That required her permission, but of course once she knew who he is, she accepted. Without any details, he asked her if she would be willing to double for Laura. She accepted quickly. Monday morning he returned and signed her out of the hospital for the day. I don’t know how he convinced the doctors to let him do that, but he managed. From there, I think you know the rest.”

Juan nodded. “I wonder what his plans for Martha were after the explosion. And I also wonder what’s happened to the real Laura Kinser.”

“The real Laura Kinser is out of the country on a long vacation. I gather that wherever she is, they aren’t paying attention to news from America. I wasn’t told the details of why Ron wanted so much money or what he was going to do when Laura returned.

“As for Martha, he said that he was planning to return her to the hospital on Wednesday when she escaped him. We’ll never know whether or not he told the truth about that.”

Juan nodded again. Martha’s weeping was becoming quieter. “What’s to be done with her?” Juan asked, gesturing in Martha’s direction.

“Just before you got here, I made arrangements with the hospital. They’ve been searching for her all week. They will find transportation to return her; I said they could pick her up here.”

Juan thought for a minute. “I can drive her to the hospital, so long as she stays calm—and if she wants me to.”

“That’s mighty generous, under the circumstances. Are you sure you want to, though?”

Juan nodded yet again. “Yes. I want to.”

“Well, let’s check with her then.”

The men crossed the hall. Laura had stopped sobbing, but her eyes were red from crying. She looked up at Juan. “I’m so sorry,” she said, her voice catching in her throat. “I’m terribly, terribly sorry.”

Juan shrugged. “I’m not going to hold any grudges. In fact, it’s probably better this way. I don’t know if I could handle being friends with a real celebrity.”

“You actually want to be my friend… after all the lies I told you?”

“I do indeed. This week has been quite an adventure.”

Martha smiled weakly. “I had you fooled the whole time, didn’t I?” Juan nodded. Martha sighed. “For a little while, I actually got to be Laura Kinser.”

Juan didn’t stop to consider whether his next words would help her recovery or slow it. He truthfully told her, “In my heart, you will always be Laura.”

The End. J.

No Such Thing As Crazy (was Flashback 1986), part seven

Juan refused to sleep in the same bed as a married woman. He decided that instead he would sleep on the floor. This led to an argument with Laura which ended when Juan grabbed a pillow and a spare blanket and walked down to the motel lobby. The clerk at the desk eyed him curiously. “Had a fight with the Missus,” Juan said. He chose the most comfortable-looking chair, pulled off his shoes, and tried to get a few hours of sleep.

He managed to slumber fitfully until the morning staff began setting up the complementary breakfast. Juan put on his shoes and returned to the room. He quietly unlocked the door and stepped in. Laura was asleep on the bed. Juan grabbed some fresh clothes from his suitcase along with his toiletry kit and went into the bathroom to take a shower.

When he was clean and shaved and dressed, he turned and saw Laura, wrapped in a sheet, sitting on the bed and looking at him. “Breakfast is ready,” he told her. “We can dawdle over it; my friend’s office doesn’t open until nine.”

Laura yawned. “You go on ahead,” she said. “I’ll join you after I’ve had my shower.”

Juan was sipping his second cup of coffee when she made her appearance. She had managed to find an outfit much like her usual garb, complete with large earrings. Juan smiled at her, and she smiled back. She ate a light breakfast with fruit juice—no coffee—and then asked, “What else can we do to kill time until nine o’clock?”

“You could satisfy my curiosity about something.” Juan paused, uncertain how to phrase his questions. “This husband of yours—Ron—where did you meet him and why did you marry him?”

Laura laughed. “OK, fair enough. Ron is an amateur stand-up comedian—very amateur,” she emphasized. “But he has a way of getting what he wants from people. Like the police uniform you saw him wearing—that was just a costume, as phony as the search warrant.”

“So he’s not a police officer?”

“Right. Well, one of his friends managed to get him a job as an extra on the show I’m in. He was only in two episodes, but he took the opportunity to talk with me. He can be very charming, and he was with me. We had dinner together a couple of times, and then—out of the blue—he proposed to me.”

“And you accepted.” Laura nodded. “Why?”

“I know it sounds funny, but he swept me off my feet. Other men seemed to be drawn to my looks or my fame or my money. Ron made it seem as though he cared about the real me. We had a Las Vegas wedding, and soon I discovered that looks and fame and money were all that mattered to him when he was with me. Especially the money. I stayed with him three months. I should have left sooner.”

“However did he manage to involve you in that stunt at the airport?”

“A lot of fast talking, some threats—I won’t tell you what they were—and the thought that, after this, I might never hear from him again.”

Juan shook his head. “The whole thing still confuses me, but the most confusing part is this: how could any man treat you like this?”

Laura smiled weakly. “Partly it’s his disorder, and partly it’s my insecurity. I’m sure when he met me—maybe even before he met me—he could see the word ‘victim’ written all over me.”

The two chatted for the rest of the hour. Shortly before nine o’clock, they went out to Juan’s car and he drove them to the private detective agency.

Mike Johnson had been trained as a police investigator, but after a few years with the force, he decided to move to Westfield and go into business for himself. Much of the work was tedious—for example, getting details about one of the parties in an impending divorce—but every so often a case came along that made the job worth keeping. Juan expected that Laura’s predicament would be one such case.

The two friends shook hands. Gesturing toward Laura, Juan said, “And I believe you know who this is.”

“I would need to see some identification,” Mike said, always the cautious one, “but I will say that she bears a striking resemblance to the actress, Laura Kinser.”

“Not only does she resemble her,” Juan boasted. “She is her.”

“Given the news of the last few days, I definitely want to see some identification. But first, won’t you take a seat.”

“Thank you,” Laura sad as she sat. Mike settled into his chair behind his desk. Juan also found a chair and sat. “Identification is the problem. All of mine was lost with my airplane.” She described to Mike the plan Ron had invented to blow up her airplane and collect insurance money, a plan which ripened when Harvey learned of his terminal state of health. In words almost identical to those she had spoken to Juan, she explained how Ron persuaded her to accompany him to the airport. “I thought that, within hours of the explosion, he would get me out of there and I’d be off to some private resort. Instead, he left me there, locked up, for two days. When he came back for me, he had a gun. I panicked. I ran. Juan helped me to hide, and he’s been helping me ever since.” She smiled warmly at him.

“I figured a man in your position would be able to help Laura prove her identity,” Juan interrupted. “There must be something that will work—fingerprints, maybe, or dental records; a DNA sample, or a voice print….”

“All excellent thoughts,” Mike said, “but if you want to do this quickly, we can rule out DNA and voice prints. Fingerprints would be great if we already had an authenticated set of Laura’s prints. Trying to obtain such a set would be difficult after several days, though.” He peered over his glasses at Laura with some amusement. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever been arrested, have you?” She shook her head no. “Too bad,” he said in a cheerful voice with a twinkle in his eye. “That would have been convenient.

“Dental records are our best bet, then,” Mike continued. “Laura, tell me who your dentist is, and I’ll arrange to have your last X-rays delivered to my computer. Meanwhile, there’s a dentist here in town who can take a set of X-rays this morning or this afternoon. He and I will compare both sets and see if we have an answer.”

Laura’s face was increasingly pale as Mike said these things. “I’m sorry,” she said softly, so softly both men had to lean toward her to hear her. “I haven’t been to the dentist in more than two years.”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” Mike assured her. Even if they’re five years old, or older than that, we can still use them.”

“But I don’t even remember who the dentist was, or where his office was.”

“Now, that is a problem, but not too big for me to handle. Tell you what: I’ll track down your last dental records. All you have to do is visit Doctor Welz for X-rays. I’ll make an appointment for you right now.” Mike picked up the phone.

“No, wait!” Tears welled in Laura’s eyes as she said, “I can’t do this. I’m very much afraid of dentists.”

“Laura,” Juan said gently. “This isn’t a full dentist appointment. This is just X-rays. They take hardly any time at all.” He smiled at her. “He isn’t going to clean your teeth or examine them.”

She shook her head. The tears began to flow down her cheeks. “Isn’t there some other way?” she demanded. “I’m scared of dentists.”

Mike set down the phone. “Laura,” he said. “I want to help you. But you have to do this my way. The dental records will prove who you are. If you refuse to do this, I won’t help you, and neither would any other investigator.”

Still crying, she pleaded, “Wouldn’t be easier to start over with a new name, a new identity?”

Mike laughed, but his laughter was kind. “Not in this century!” he exclaimed. “I might be justified in putting you into a Witness Protection Program, but even they would need to have firm evidence of who you were before they changed you into someone new. Now let me call the dentist and get this started.”

Juan added, “Laura, you have to do this!”

She smiled at him through her tears. “If you say I have to,” she said, “I have to.”

Mike placed the call and set an appointment for 10:30 that morning. “Come back at three,” he said. “I may have something for you by then.”

They began to stand, prepared to leave, when Mike said, “Oh, one more thing. I probably should track down this Ron Lawrence. Can you tell me where to find him?”

Laura dropped back into the chair. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. In a monotone, unlike her usual voice, she slowly recited an address. Mike thanked her and dismissed them again.

Heavy clouds were moving in as Juan and Laura returned to the car. They decided to drive around town until Laura’s 10:30 appointment. “How did you get to know Mike Johnson?” she asked as they traveled.

“We were neighbors when I was growing up,” Juan answered. “He was a police officer then—he hadn’t become a private investigator. He’s the reason I decided to take a job as security guard. I was thinking I might join the police force someday, just like him.”

At 10:15 they stopped at Dr. Welz’s office. His receptionist welcomed them and assured them that Mike Johnson would pay for the X-rays. A hygienist led them to the examination room. Laura began to cry again, so Juan took her hand. “Stay with me,” she begged him. Juan knew that the X-rays posed a small health risk, but he was willing to take bigger risks than that for Laura. She squeezed his hand tightly as the four images were taken.

“Mr. Johnson will be by later to look at these with Doctor Welz,” the hygienist said. “That’s all we need; you’re free to go.”

A shower had left drops on the sidewalk and on the car during those few minutes, but it was not raining as Juan and Laura returned to the motel. Almost immediately she turned on the television and absorbed herself in the program. The two of them had a light and leisurely lunch from the food Laura had packed in Juan’s kitchen. Occasional rain splattered on the room’s windows while they waited. Eventually, the time came for Juan and Laura to return to Mike Johnson’s office. There they would discover what the investigator had found.

Flashback 1986, part six

When they went out for dinner, Juan had left his phone behind in the room. Returning, he saw that he had missed two calls from the same number, a number he did not recognize. Laura switched on the TV, so Juan walked down to the motel lobby. He made sure that his phone was programmed not to reveal his location, and then he returned the call.

“Hello,” a gruff, half-familiar voice answered.

“Yes, hello,” Juan responded. “You phoned me earlier this evening.”

“Is this Juan Rivera? The airport security guard?”

“It is indeed.”

“Juan, my name is Ron Lawrence.” When Juan gave no indication of recognizing the name, the voice continued, “I’m Laura Kinser’s husband.”

“I… I didn’t think she was married.”

“She is. We are. You can look it up on the internet.”

“Assuming for the moment that you’re telling the truth, why did you call me?”

“I had a long conversation with your boss this morning. I found out who you are, and he told me that you suddenly claimed a vacation. Tell me this, is Laura with you?”

“I don’t think I have to answer that question.”

“Don’t bother. I’m sure she is. If this was just about her, I wouldn’t care. But I called to warn you. You are in extreme danger right now. Not from me—from her.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“Listen. Laura is a very sick woman. Not physically ill; just sick in the head. She does crazy things. People get hurt because of the things she does. If she is with you, you are not safe.”

A light dawned in Juan’s mind. “You’re the man who was chasing her at the airport the day she escaped.”

“Yes, that was me. Now we know each other.”

“And are you the one who claimed that the woman at the airport wasn’t Laura, that she only thought she was Laura.”

Ron sighed. “I should have told the whole truth. I needed people to believe that she is crazy and dangerous, and saying she wasn’t really Laura seemed like the best way to get cooperation.”

“And then you came to my apartment dressed as a policeman.”

“I am a policeman, Juan. I know I screwed up with the phony warrant, but I was in a hurry. Believe me, I’m trying to protect you.”

Juan thought quickly. “Laura hasn’t done anything crazy since she’s been with me.”

Ron laughed. “That whole thing at the airport—that was her idea. I don’t know how she talked me and Harvey into helping with her scheme. It started when Harvey told us that his doctor said he would die soon. Laura started talking about going out with a blaze of glory. Soon she had us playing along with her plan to have Harvey switch clothes with her at the airport and blow up her airplane. I should’ve known better, but it all made sense at the time.”

“But why would she want to do that?”

“Kid, when you’re crazy, you don’t need a reason. She’s been like this as long as I’ve known her. Even the two of us getting married was an impulse on her part.”

Juan made a decision. “Ron, I have your number. If anything bad starts happening, I know how to get ahold of you. Meanwhile, I’m going to do my best to help her get her life back.”

“You’re making a big mistake,” Ron told him. “She’s a dangerous woman. She’ll destroy you.”

“Thanks for the warning, “Juan said, and then he pressed “end.”

Before he went back to the room, Juan Googled Laura Kinser and found her on-line biography. She was indeed married to a man named Ron Lawrence.

When he returned to the motel room, Laura was still watching TV, although she had changed clothes and was wearing a bath robe she had bought that afternoon. Juan suspected she was wearing little, if anything, under the robe, and he tried not to stare.

“I just had an interesting phone conversation,” Juan started. Laura muted the TV and looked at him quizzically. “He said his name was Ron Lawrence. He said he was your husband.” She did not respond, so Juan added, “Laura, I didn’t know you were married.”

“’Was’ and ‘were’ being the key words,” she responded, bitterness in her voice. “How did he find us here?”

“He only has my cell number. He doesn’t know where we are. Laura, you being married changes a lot about what we’re doing here.”

Laura snorted. “Ron and I are separated,” she said, “and we are not getting back together. Especially not after this week.”

“Ron says you planned the whole scene at the airport.”

I planned it? That’s preposterous. Why would I plan something like that?”

“I asked him that. He said you didn’t need a reason. He said that you’re crazy.”

Laura shook her head. “Let’s get a couple things clear,” she said. “First, there’s no such thing as crazy. The diagnosis is borderline personality disorder. Second, I’m not the one with the disorder. He is.”

“He is,” Juan repeated. “But why the scene at the airport?”

“Insurance fraud,” Laura answered. “Both life insurance and the insurance on the plane. Ron needed a lot of money fast, so he staged the whole thing. Harvey was about to die anyhow, so he was easy to convince. I had a lot of objections, but he basically forced me to do it. He said that I would be kept hidden until he could repay the life insurance, and then I could make a dramatic reappearance and be the top news item everywhere. But when he ‘hid’ me by locking me into a room at the airport, I began to realize that my life wasn’t so important to him after all.”

“That’s when you escaped.”

Laura smiled. “That’s when you saved my life.”

AUTHOR DISCUSSION: That is as far as the story got in the novel. The private investigator Juan knows in Westfield was away, working on another case which was also part of the plot. I added a few things (like the cell phone, of course), but to this point, this fairly represents what I wrote more than thirty years ago.  On the other hand, I have had time to think of an ending for the story and to start writing it. That ending will appear next week. J.