With two college-bound teenagers and pile of post-due bills, Suki Jacobs finally has the case that could make her career as a forensic psychologist: evaluating the sanity of Lindsey Kern, a convicted murderer claiming to be innocent—and clairvoyant. Suki's professional determination will either free Lindsey, who insists the real killer is a ghost, or find her criminally insane for life.
This case soon takes on an eerie similarity to Suki's own life when her 17-year-old daughter, Alexa, has a premonition that her ex-boyfriend is dead. The very next day the boy is murdered—and Alexa becomes the prime suspect. Desperate to prove her daughter's innocence, Suki will turn everywhere for answers except to Lindsey, the one woman whose own haunted past and psychic insights might save Alexa. Can Suki go beyond the boundaries of her reality to see the truth before it's too late?
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"Wonderfully crafted, beautifully written and solid as a rock."
—Robert B. Parker
"It's been a long time since a book kept me up until 4:00 in the morning. Suki Jacobs is marvelous new character and voice. Blind Spot races along like a locomotive gone wild. Barbara Shapiro's best yet. You won't be able to put it down."
—Steve Womack, Edgar-award winner author
"A terrific, terrifying, ripping read—this is a thriller you won't put down. Shapiro is the new queen of suspense."
—Deborah Crombie, Agatha-award winner author
"Put Blind Spot on the top of your nighttime reading list, though I have a feeling you'll be keeping the bedroom light on long after you close the covers of this book."
—Jeremiah Healy, award-winner author
"Shapiro provides us with a tight plot and a lot of interesting information about clairvoyance and psychological profiles. The tension builds as the different strands of the story spin tight and tighter in a race against time. The pages fly toward the end of the book. Don't start this too late at night!"
—Kate's Mystery Newsletter
"Barbara Shapiro uses an exciting and different tack in her newest thriller, taking an already taut suspense tale and giving it a strange and eerie paranormal twist."
MCI-Watkins sits on an asphalt island between the north and southbound lanes of Interstate 95 like a barricaded rest stop from which there is no exit for those who reside within. This prison houses only women inmates; its male twin is about twenty miles down the road. No matter how many prisons Suki visited, she always had the same reaction. As she came within sight of the building, every law she had ever broken came roaring back at her: the marijuana she'd smoked in college, the time she'd accidentally made two IRA contributions in one calendar year, the expired inspection sticker currently attached to her windshield. As Suki carefully parked between the two yellow lines of a designated visitor's spot, she cast an apprehensive glance over her shoulder. Guilty as charged.
Although she hadn't had enough time to prepare for this meeting—nor, if she decided to take the case, was she going to have the pre-trial preparation time she usually demanded—she was more resigned than concerned. Resigned, because as a forensic psychologist with a fairly new private practice, a non-supportive ex-husband, two teenage children and maxed-out credit cards, she wasn't in the position to be too choosy about her clients. Unconcerned, because over the years she had conducted more initial assessments than she could count: in courthouses, in psychiatric hospitals, in fancy drug rehab centers—and in just about every prison in New England.
Yesterday afternoon, Mike Dannow, possibly the best defense attorney in the state, had called. "Know this is short notice," he told Suki in the clipped way he always spoke, as if he were just too busy to complete his sentences. "But I need a favor. Big one. Got a major murder trial coming in three weeks. Retrial of one of my own from a decade ago. Very complicated. Interesting. But my shrink's leaving the country to receive some big mucky-muck award in Oslo, or some such place, and I need a replacement. Need the best. Need you." Suki didn't ask why he hadn't hired her first.
According to Mike, his client, Lindsey Kern, had always maintained a ghost killed her boyfriend, but he hadn't allowed this into evidence during the first trial, fearing an insanity verdict and assuming—incorrectly—that the jury would accede to his argument of accidental death. It had taken him almost ten years, but he managed to dig up a piece of evidence the prosecution had failed to disclose, and then use it to petition the court for a new trial. No one ever said Mike Dannow wasn't a smart operator. "And now Lindsey's gotten worse," he had explained to Suki. "Nine years in the can and she thinks she's clairvoyant. Floats around seeing things going on miles away. Believes she knows what'll happen tomorrow."
As Suki recalled Mike's words, the shadow of the boxy prison fell over her and she shivered in the early spring air. He had no way of knowing how close this case cut, nor how frighteningly seductive it promised to be. Pulling her coat tightly around her, she looked up at the barbed wire riveted to the top of the mean-looking metal fencing, then hurried to the entrance.
The front door to the prison was unimposing, and Suki entered a room which was strongly reminiscent of a small town bus station with its vinyl flooring, plastic chairs and row of vending machines. But the corrections officer—for some reason, in Massachusetts, the designation "guard" was considered politically incorrect—at the front control was also behind a wall of bullet-proof glass. He spoke through an intercom which made his voice sound as if he were five hundred miles away. "Dr. Suki Jacobs?" he muttered, pulling out a grimy piece of paper. He ran his hand down the typed list. "No Suki Jacobs here."
"How about Suzanne Jacobs?" she asked. Her real name was Suzanne, but her father had nicknamed her Suki when she was a toddler and it had stuck.
The officer patiently read his list once again. "Still not here," he rasped through the static.
"I'm taking over for Dr. Nathan Breman," she pressed. "I have an appointment to meet with one of the inmates at two o'clock. Lindsey Kern."
"Shrink, huh?" he asked with a slight smirk.
Suki pointed to her watch. "It's almost two."
"I suppose it's possible you have an appointment, Miss," he said, emphasizing the "Miss" in omission of the "Doctor." "But I can't let anyone in whose name isn't on my daily roster." He touched his finger to the bill of his hat in a way that clearly indicated she was dismissed.
Suki reached into her briefcase and pulled out an envelope. She pushed it through the small space below the window. "It's from Superintendent Rizzo," she said, "authorizing me to visit Ms. Kern at any time I wish." Suki had played this game long enough to know to come prepared. Even in a women's prison, it was a male world, and neither women nor psychologists were highly regarded.
The officer skimmed the letter and grunted, then said he would have to check. While he called the superintendent's office Suki walked to the bank of pay phones next to the vending machines and called her service. She asked that they hold all her messages, with the exception of emergencies, until further notice. Suki felt it was rude, as well as therapeutically undesirable, to allow one patient to infringe on another's time. Just as she hung up the phone, the officer called her name and motioned her through the metal detector. She retrieved her letter with a smile. He ignored her.
After the metal detector there was a trap, a small room in which the door in front of you can't be opened until the one behind you is locked shut. The air in the trap was overheated and stale. Suki was glad when an officer ushered her through, even though he immediately barked, "You don't have to go to the john, do you?"
When Suki said no, the officer softened. "It's real easy to hide drugs around plumbing," he explained. "If you had to go to the john, you'd have to go back to the front area and then I'd have to take you in again." He shook his head. "Bill always forgets to ask people before he sends them through." Then he led Suki down a corridor lined with small interrogation rooms. He pointed into one. "They'll bring her to you in a couple of minutes."
Suki looked into the room. It was dark and small, and held nothing but two chairs. There was no window. Although Lindsey Kern, with her college degree, middle class upbringing and single offense rap sheet, was one of the "better people"—eloquent prison vernacular for the more accomplished inmates—Suki was not about to go into a closed room with a convicted murderer. Complacency could be lethal. Watching your back at all times was a requirement of the job. "I'd prefer a room with a desk and a panic button," Suki told the officer. "Is there one available?"
The man shrugged and led her further down the hall. He opened another door and bowed sarcastically. "The button's at the end there, Doctor, " he said, then turned and left her alone.
Suki found the panic button under the edge of the old wooden table. After assuring herself the button was in easy reach, she flipped the catch on the window to open it. Only then did she sit down and begin pulling papers from her briefcase. She had hoped to squeeze in a few hours to review the Kern files earlier in the day, but between Alexa's insomnia the previous night and a suicidal patient first thing this morning, the time had just not materialized. Initial interviews were both difficult and intriguing: part psych intake, part legal assessment, part therapy session, part dancing lesson.
After fifteen years of working in the forensic trenches at Roxbury District Court, assessing the competency, sanity and criminal responsibility of Boston's hardest core, Suki left public service to set up a practice in forensic consulting and post-traumatic stress therapy—a combination more compatible than might appear at first glance. It was hard work with no regular paycheck, but Suki loved the entrepreneurial freedom and excitement, and she was beginning to develop a reputation for impartiality in the courtroom and sensitivity in the office that permitted her to pay most of her bills. The call from Mike Dannow was a sign that the envelopes with "past due" stamped across their faces might soon be a thing of the past.
Mike wanted her to develop an opinion as to Lindsey Kern's state of mind at the time of Richard Stoddard's death. This opinion was to be rendered in a multi-section report called a forensic evaluation, followed, if Mike found her conclusion appropriate to his defense, by court testimony. So Suki had less than three weeks to determine whether Lindsey was legally sane or insane at the time of the alleged crime, a determination that came down to answering two questions: Could Lindsey understand that killing Richard was wrong? Could Lindsey stop herself from doing it? It was that simple—and that difficult.
Suki retrieved a blank evaluation form from her briefcase; she had developed this twelve-page forensic questionnaire about ten years ago. She began filling in the top portion with the little bit of information she knew from Mike's materials: name, date of birth, attorney, charges, correctional facility, date of the alleged offense(s).
She had only been able to skim Lindsey's files, but still, it appeared to Suki that Mike's case was weak. Based on the testimony of Edgar Price, an eye witness who claimed he saw Lindsey push her boyfriend, Richard Stoddard, down the stairs, Lindsey had been convicted of second-degree murder. But Mike had petitioned the court for a retrial after he unearthed a statement of Price's which had not be shared with the defense during the discovery process, as was the law. The statement acknowledged that, previous to Stoddard's death, Lindsey had told Price she was seeing ghosts, an incident Price never mentioned at the first trial, an incident he refused to discuss when Mike visited him at his office.
Mike's strategy was to convince the jury that Lindsey's belief that a ghost killed Richard was proof that, at the moment of the crime, she had been unable to form the requisite intent to commit murder, to tell fact from fiction: not guilty by reason of insanity. If, as was so often the case, this defense failed—NGRI was rarely used and even more rarely effective—Mike would exploit Price's previous lack of full disclosure to undermine his credibility as an eye witness, thereby raising the question of whether Stoddard's death had been murder or accident, and establishing reasonable doubt as to Lindsey's guilt. As he had failed with the accident argument during the original trial, Mike's tactic this time around was to go the insanity route first.
Suki was impressed with Mike's daring, though far from convinced it would lead to success. Presumably, her verification of Lindsey's current ESP fantasies would add credence to his insanity claim. Although Suki was painfully aware that belief in one's clairvoyance was associated with mental illness, she reminded herself that this was professional, not personal.
Just as Suki was zipping her briefcase, a tall woman in a faded orange work shirt and matching pants was led in. She was handsome in an unusual way, her deep-set gray eyes wide and haunting, her large nose and mouth keeping her from classical beauty.
"I'll be right outside the door," the officer said.
Suki nodded and the officer closed the door behind Lindsey, leaving them alone in the tiny room.
"So I hear Nathan's deserted me for some big time conference," Lindsey said when Suki rose to shake her hand.
Suki smiled and returned to her seat. "About as big time as they come."
Lindsey sat down across from her. "Nathan and Mike say you'll be able to do as good a job for me as he would—what do you think?"
Suki liked Lindsey's directness. "I don't know Nathan, but Mike's got good instincts."
"Do you think sane people can see ghosts?" Lindsey asked without preamble.
Suki regarded Lindsey closely. As much as she wanted to delve into Lindsey's story—and even more, Lindsey's explanation for that story—time was tight, and if she was going to collect all the data she needed, a lengthy metaphysical debate was not an option. She hoped to complete her questionnaire in three or four interviews. Anything more than that and she wouldn't be able to meet Mike's deadline. Yet, she felt the irresistible tug of Lindsey's challenge. "Do you?"
"The shrink's classic trick: when in doubt, answer a question with a question." Lindsey's voice was colored with wry amusement. She crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. "Do me a favor and level with me. What do you really think?"
Although Suki's counseling style was to mix and match all sorts of theories and models, honesty was one of her consistent principles. She chose her words carefully. "I guess I'd have to call myself agnostic on the subject: I haven't seen any evidence to conclusively convince me either way."
"That sounds good. . ." Lindsey looked at her with a probing gaze. "But I sense some confusion, maybe even a bit of fear, beneath your carefully chosen words."
"This isn't about what I think, it's about what I'm going to learn."
"I hope so. I really do—more for your sake than for mine."
"Lindsey," Suki said, shifting the interview back on track, "you do understand that although I'm a psychologist, I'm not actually your therapist? That I've been hired by your lawyer?"
Lindsey stared over Suki's shoulder.
"It's important that this is really clear," Suki said. "What we discuss here is confidential, unless Mike decides it furthers his case, than it might be used as evidence."
"Whatever." Lindsey shrugged.
One of Suki's professors had speculated that communication was 10 percent words and 90 percent "other." Today Suki hoped to complete the clinical observation segment of the evaluation: emotional tone, mental status, cognitive state, ability to concentrate. What was Lindsey saying with her "other?" Suki waited, and watched.
Lindsey shifted in her seat. "This whole retrial thing was Mike's idea. And my mother's—she hates me being in here. I told her not to, but she sold all her stocks to foot the bill. I've tried to convince her that gotten used to the place. I work in the library. Mostly get left alone. With some luck, I'll be out in fifteen. . ."
"But you're willing to go along with the retrial?"
"I guess." Lindsey shrugged. "To tell you the truth, in some ways I'm more afraid of going to Bridgeriver with an indefinite sentence than staying in here."
Suki nodded. Quite often, inmates preferred a limited prison term to open-ended hospitalization. But as long as Lindsey was willing to cooperate, her preferences were not Suki's business, evaluating her mental state was. "How about we get started?" Suki asked, pointing to the questionnaire.
"I never used to believe in ghosts," Lindsey began. "I used to think I could control it all. That everything made sense. That science was king. Then I met Isabel."
Suki looked up from the questionnaire. "Isabel is the ghost you think killed Richard Stoddard?" she asked.
"The one I know killed Richard."
"Do you still see her?"
Lindsey shook her head. "That's been one of the strange parts of this whole experience, of my opening up. I've grown so much, come so far, learned incredible things. . . But Isabel's never come back. Despite everything, I'd like to see her again."
As Suki listened to Lindsey, she continued to watch for signs of what wasn't being said. Malingering, faking, was not uncommon in cases of this type. Lindsey's claim that she wanted to remain at Watkins could be part of her scheme to get released. Yet, Suki's gut impression was that Lindsey really did believe in her ghost. "Why don't we put Isabel aside for the moment?" Suki suggested as she picked up her pen. "I'd like you to remember four items. I'll tell them to you now, and then ask you to repeat them in about five minutes: microscope, red, baseball and love."
"Serial 7's backward from 51," Lindsey countered. "Fifty-one, 44, 37, 30, 23, 16, 9, 2. There are 12 items in a dozen. Athens is the capital of Greece. The pope lives in Rome."
"You've been through this before?" Suki suppressed a smile, but when she glanced down at her questions—questions she had developed herself from a virtually limitless set of items—she saw that Lindsey's responses were the answers to what she was preparing to ask. What had made Lindsey think of sevens, instead of eights or nines? Why Greece instead of England or France?
"Concentration and mental acuity," Lindsey said. "Orientation to person, time and place. It's Thursday, the twentieth of April. Apples and oranges are both fruits. A clarinet and a guitar are both instruments. The proverb about crying over spilt milk means you can't do anything about what's already happened."
Suki put her pen down. This woman's concentration and mental acuity were just fine—as was her ability to guess what Suki was going to ask next. Suki cleared her throat. Maybe she had more time than she thought. "You wanted to tell me about ESP?"
Lindsey smiled in triumph. "Ten years ago I would've told you there wasn't a chance in hell I'd ever be into this stuff. But after Isabel—after being in prison—everything changed. I changed. And I guess, using the half-full optimist model of the world, it's been one of the few good things—perhaps the only good thing—to come out of the whole mess."
"I'm taking correspondence courses in parapsychology at the University of Edinburgh. Graduate courses toward a master's degree. I've been communicating with other psychics, learning how to expand my powers of precognition and clairvoyance. Increase my sensitivity to both people and events."
"Expand your powers?" Suki prompted.
"Through dreamwork," Lindsey explained. "And astral projection. The ability to remove oneself from the confines of the physical body is a powerful enhancer of both. Not to mention, it gets me out of prison."
Suki laughed out loud.
Lindsey grinned wickedly. "You think I'm nuts, don't you?"
Suki appraised Lindsey, trying to assess the seriousness of her question. "This isn't about snap judgments," she said. "I've lots more work to do before I start making determinations of mental competency." If she decided to take the case, Suki added to herself. Despite the fact that she was drawn to Lindsey, and to her story, there was much here she found disturbing.
"Studying parapsychology—the paranormal, ESP, whatever—is all about expanding mental competency, expanding one's vision. One's ability to believe and to know." Lindsey leaned her elbows on the table, pressing herself toward Suki. "You think what you see is all there is, but there's so much happening beyond your field of vision, so much you just don't let yourself believe. . ." She paused and pointed to Suki's hand resting on the table. "May I?" Before Suki could respond, Lindsey pressed Suki's fingers between her own. She stared into Suki's eyes; Suki stared back. After a long moment, Lindsey abruptly let go.
Suki put her hand in her lap, uncomfortable with the memories Lindsey's behavior was stirring: her mother pressing her fingers to Suki's right temple, her mother staring for hours into a shiny piece of black obsidian, her mother curled into a fetal position behind the dining room credenza. "What did you learn from holding my hand?" Suki asked.
"More than I wanted to know," Lindsey said softly. "Much more."
"And what you just found out," Suki asked, "you believe is true?"
Lindsey nodded. "I've learned this the hard way—the hardest way there is. Reality is at the edges of your awareness, you just need to let yourself turn sideways a bit to see it." She leaned back in her chair and watched Suki watching her.
In her eighteen years of clinical practice, Suki had heard many strange declarations, declarations far stranger than Lindsey's, but this woman unnerved and intrigued her in ways that probably weren't good for either of them; it was growing clear that Lindsey might be better served by someone without Suki's personal baggage.
Still, not quite ready to let go, Suki waited for Lindsey to continue. Silence was a psychologist's greatest ally. But Lindsey didn't say any more, she just stared past Suki's shoulder, a sense of expectancy, of calm anticipation, to her muteness.
Just as Suki was about to speak, the pager hooked to the strap of her purse beeped. She glared at the offending little box. There must have been a shift change at her service. "Sorry," she said to Lindsey as she reached down to read the message.
Lindsey nodded as if she had expected the interruption.
"Detective Pendergast Witton Police Call immediately," the message read. It was followed by a phone number.
Suki pressed the memory button and, as the message disappeared, she wondered which one of her patients had gotten into trouble with the Witton police. It was strange though. She knew she didn't have any patients who lived in Witton. She was certain of this because that was where she lived.
When Suki looked up, Lindsey was watching her. "Trouble with one of your children?" she asked.
Suki shook her head. "What makes you say that?"
Lindsey didn't answer, she just stared, unblinking, at Suki. "Did you want to talk some more about enhancing clairvoyance through astral projection?" she finally asked.
Although Suki nodded and continued to record her clinical observations, it was at that moment that she decided she would call Mike and turn down the Kern case. It was far too loaded for both of them.
When Suki reached her car, there was a neon-orange citation for her expired inspection sticker fluttering under the windshield wiper. She mentally added another item to her endless to-do list and pulled the citation from under the wiper. She stuffed it into her purse and unlocked the car. All the phones in the prison lobby had been in use so she now removed her cellular phone from its housing and punched in the number for the Witton police. She ran her finger along the dusty dashboard of her ten-year-old Celica as she waited to be put through to Detective Pendergast, hoping this had nothing to do with her suicidal patient of this morning.
"Not to worry, Mrs. Jacobs," Detective Pendergast said as soon as she had identified herself. "But we have Alexa down here—"
Suki jerked up in the seat; Alexa was her seventeen-year-old daughter. "Is she all right? Is she hurt?"
"She appears to be much better now," the detective said in a soothing voice. "She's right here in my office, I'll let you speak to her in a—"
"What happened?" Suki interrupted again. "Has there been an accident? Did someone hurt her?"
"No, no," he said quickly. "No one's hurt her and no laws have been broken. I, ah, I just found her wandering along River Road. She was upset. A bit disoriented. . ."
"Wandering. . . Disoriented. . ." Suki sucked in her breath.
"She thought she saw a murder."
"A murder?" Suki was incredulous. "Someone was murdered in Witton?"
"Well," the detective said, obviously choosing his words carefully, "that doesn't quite appear to be the case. . ."
"There wasn't a murder?"
"I had a few of the guys check the area Alexa indicated, and there's no sign of any body or any blood and anything amiss in any way."
The car grew very warm and an uneasiness reminiscent of childhood gripped Suki's stomach; for a fleeting moment she thought she smelled Chanel #5. "Can I speak to Alexa please?" Suki asked with a calmness she didn't feel.
"Alexa, honey, are you okay? What happened?"
"It's, it's Jonah. Jonah, he's he's. . ." Alexa's words trailed off and she began to sob.
"What about Jonah?" Suki asked. Jonah Ward had been Alexa's boyfriend sophomore year. He had broken up with her this past fall, and Alexa had taken it quite hard. She hadn't recovered until she started dating Brendan—and even now, Suki wondered if the recovery was complete. "What about him?"
"I saw him," Alexa cried, her voice rising with each word. "In the woods. He was shot. It was awful. There was blood everywhere. All over the leaves."
"Alexa, honey, you've got to calm down," Suki pleaded. "The detective said the police didn't find anything. Did anyone call Jonah's house?"
"Mrs. Ward says Jonah's at a basketball game, but I know that he's not. I know, I know. . ."
"I'm on my way," Suki said. "I'll be there in about—"
"I want to go home," Alexa wailed. "I don't want to be here."
Detective Pendergast came on the line. "Why don't I take Alexa to your house?" he suggested. "I'll stay with her until you get there."
"I'll meet you in twenty minutes. Maybe less."
"The boy's mother is on her way over to the high school. She promised to call as soon as she gets there," he said. "But, as we've no reason to believe he's anywhere but on the basketball court. . ." He cleared his throat and Suki waited for him to continue, but he didn't say any more.
"I'm a psychologist, Detective," Suki finally said into the awkward silence.
"Oh, good." The relief in Pendergast's voice was obvious.
As Suki hung up the phone, she glanced up at the prison, at the rows of barred windows marching down the long concrete facade. She thought of her mother, of her mother as she had last seen her, almost a dozen years ago, her eyes blazing with the same wild intensity she had heard in Alexa's voice on the phone. Blazing with insanity.