Broke, recently divorced, and a total deadbeat, Bob Wells has spent his life as a psychiatrist only doing good in the world. When one of his patients with clear paranoid delusions starts to lose a grip, Bob has no choice but to intervene. Emile Bardan is haunted by demons, and he believes that someone is trying to steal his most prized possesion, the legendeary Mask of Utu. Bob thinks it's all part of Emile's imagination until he discovers that Emile is telling the truth and that the mask is worth millions. It's Bob who may actually be the one losing his grip. He's tired of helping people for nothing, tired of being treated like dirt-and while he may have met the girl of his dreams, he doesn't want to lose her because he can't take care of her. There is only one thing to do:Bob is going to steal the mask himself: But doing so may mean making the biggest mistake of all-as he proceeds down a path into a dark abyss from which there is no return.
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In 1985 ROBERT WARD'S critically acclaimed Red Baker, which won the PEN West prize for Best Novel of 1985, drew the attention of David Milch, who asked him to write for Hill Street Blues. In 1988 he became a co-executive producer and writer of Miami Vice. He has also written for such shows as New York Undercover, The Division. He lives in Los Angeles.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Even after three vodkas and an Ambien, it had taken Bob Wells two hours to fall asleep. Now he lay in his bed dreaming that he was running through a maze of dark city streets, while sharp little stilettos of ice stuck in his chest. Somewhere ahead of him in the gathering dark, a voice screamed, "Terrorists. Terrorists . . . they're coming! The terrorists!" He knew that panicky voice so well, knew it nearly as well as he knew his own. He turned a dream corner and saw the screamer lying there, near a battered old phone booth, his sore-covered head hanging in the gutter.
Bob Wells woke up with a start. There it was again. The panic dream of ice rain. A lethal injection that fell from the night sky, accompanied by a high-pitched scream, the same scream he could hear for real now, somewhere out there on the wet city streets.
He got out of bed, went to his bedroom window, and with some effort pushed it open. The cold wind and sleet blew in from the harbor. Bob stuck his head out into the night and looked down the far end of Aliceanna Street. The homeless guy was there, just as he'd been the night before, the guy everybody called 911, lying in the gutter, right next to the battered and windowless telephone booth. Loaded on rotgut and crack, he held his wine bottle in the air and screamed: "Here they come! The terrorists! They're in the air! They're here! Terrorists! Terrorists!"
Bob listened to 911 rave, his hysterical voice cutting through his rapidly beating heart. Finally, he shut the window, sighed, took off his sweat-soaked pajama top, quickly threw on his old wool crewneck sweater, and reached for his black Levi's.
Bob buttoned his old navy pea jacket against the sleet as he headed down the slippery street. He was ten feet away when the terrified, wide-eyed, filthy man looked up at him.
"I know you," he said. "The fucking terrorist."
"Nah, Nine," Bob said. "No terrorists, man. It's just me. Bob."
The drunken, panicked wreck looked at him through rheumy eyes.
"Dr. Bobby?" he said. "Dr. Bobby, that you?"
"Yeah," Bob said. "That's me. What's up, Nine?"
"They're coming," 911 whispered. "They're coming. I heard it from my people."
"Right," Bob said. "So, if they are coming, maybe the smart thing to do would be to get off the street?"
911 bit his scabby lower lip and looked at Bob in a cagey way.
"So you might think," he said. "But then again, maybe that's exactly what they want me to do. After I get to the shelter, boom, the death strike hits there."
"I don't think so," Bob said, moving even closer. "You know why?"
"'Cause I talked to your people just a few minutes ago and they told me that tonight is just a street action. Anybody in the shelter is safe, Nine. Okay?"
911 looked frantically around like a frightened gerbil.
"Also it's cold and wet out here," Bob said, looking up at the sky. "You could get real sick and then you'd be playing right into their hands."
From beneath the street grime, 911 assumed a thoughtful stare.
"You're right," he said. "They would just love that, bro."
"Of course they would," Bob said. "Hey, the thing is, I gotta go to St. Mary's shelter right down on Broadway, so maybe you'd like to keep me company, huh?"
"Like riding shotgun on the stagecoach to Dodge," 911 said.
"Just like that," Bob said.
"Maybe we should go now, before they come," 911 said. Like he'd just thought of it. Like he was taking care of Bob.
"Let's do it," Bob said.
As 911 tried to unfold his bones from the street, Bob gently took his arm, a mistake he wouldn't have made earlier in the night, when he was less wasted.
911 pulled away quickly and kicked Bob squarely in the balls. Stunned, Bob went down on his knees, groaning and holding his crotch, as the homeless man scuttled away.
"Oh no, man. You can't fool me," 911 screamed. "You almost had me, dude, but I saw through you! You fucking terrorist son of a bitch!"
Bob fell over on his side as the pain shot through his stomach and lodged somewhere near his Adam's apple. He lay there and it occurred to him, for maybe the hundredth time that day, that he seriously needed out of this shit. Up, up, and away, like forever, for good. No more, baby. No more friend of the friendless. No more poor folks. No more 911s.
As the burning pain subsided, Bob Wells entertained a small, almost funny thought. If any of his neighbors looked out their windows just now, they'd see him there and think, Look at the poor, homeless son of a bitch out in this shit. Pathetic.
And they'd be right, Bob thought, dead right. Because this was it. This was his life. The grand and once near-glorious Bob Wells was lying in the street after being kicked in the balls by a madman. Not only that, but the madman was one of his own patients, a wretch he'd helped get off the streets time and time again.
Cold winter sleet raining down on his face, Bob began to laugh. It was perfect really, just fucking perfect. Slowly and with great delicacy, Bob picked himself up and limped up the dark wet street toward home.
Copyright © 2006 by Robert Ward. All rights reserved.
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