Dr. Frank Phelps
Present day – Fort Worth, Texas
Dr. Frank Phelps rushed down the hall and squeezed between the elevator doors just before they closed. He took a quick breath, reset the computer bag on his shoulder, and then pressed the button for the third floor.
The medical conference in Geneva had been a treasure trove of both practical psychiatry and theoretical psychology. He'd been able to obtain a series of audio lectures on cutting-edge psych research. A now familiar Swiss accented voice spoke through his earbuds and explained the latest hypothesis on counter-intuitive diagnoses.
He caught sight of his disheveled image in the reflective elevator door.
I should have stopped by the house.
He ran a hand through his thinning brown hair and straightened his jacket and glasses. Thankfully, he had no appointments—just a quick check-in with Marcia, and he would have the rest of the day and weekend to himself. Ding. He adjusted his collar as the elevator doors slid open.
When he entered his office, his receptionist, Marcia Brice, rose to her feet and hurried around her desk. Her wide, blue-eyed gaze and pale face stopped his progress through the reception area.
He pulled out the earbuds and his pulse quickened. “What's wrong?”
“You've not seen the news?” Her eyebrows rose toward her hairline.
He shook his head and flinched when the phone rang.
Marcia ignored it and after two rings the tone discontinued. “The service has picked up our calls for the last five days, on advice from the attorney.”
“Whose attorney? What's happened?” Dr. Phelps set his shoulder bag on a chair, never taking his gaze from Marcia.
“One of our patients, Courtney Veau, was found inside an abandoned property in Denver. She's dead, Frank.”
This doesn’t make sense.
“I saw her but two weeks ago.” His mouth went dry and his pulse quickened when he recalled the photo of a house and the map of Denver she had placed on his desk.
“I tried to reach you.”
“I don't have international calling. I switched off my cell.”
“I left messages at your hotel.” Her voice rose as the phone rang again. They both ignored it.
“I never checked—” Dr. Phelps ran his hand over his face. “When? When did this happen?”
Marcia picked up the remote and turned on the DVD player. “Courtney's... body was found on the twenty-third. Her funeral took place yesterday, here—in Fort Worth.”
Dr. Phelps directed his attention to the television. The flat-screen showed a distance shot of the residence, the house cordoned off by police tape. A small crowd gathered to watch the officers work. The house appeared a perfect match to the photo Courtney had slapped on his desk.
Marcia handed him the remote. “Greta said I should record this news report and have you watch it when you returned to the office. She wants to speak with you before you take calls from reporters or the Denver detective.”
“Greta?” He echoed—heart still racing. “Detectives?”
“Greta James, Courtney's attorney. Well—former attorney. Just watch.” Marcia pointed toward the flat-screen.
“This was the scene last week when the body of Russell Veau's daughter, Courtney, was found in an abandoned house near downtown Denver. Our viewers may remember Russell Veau from his 90s hit TV show, The Psychic Connection.
“On an anonymous tip, police were sent to this address on Pence Street in Denver, where the young heiress was found and pronounced dead at the scene.”
The screen changed to a familiar blonde-haired woman in the newsroom. “That was Kent Davis, our reporter on the scene last week at the house where the body of Courtney Veau was discovered. The Denver police have ruled out homicide, and are waiting for toxicology results to confirm if this was a possible suicide or overdose.
“As our viewers will remember, Courtney Veau, a Fort Worth resident, sustained serious injuries earlier this month in an automobile accident. She was admitted to the hospital for observation, then released three days later.”
Dr. Phelps sank into one of the waiting room chairs and increased the volume. “Her injuries weren't serious,” he muttered at the television.
“The staff physician at JPS, Dr. Milton Chambers, released Courtney for follow-up care to a Dr. Frank Phelps. Dr. Phelps, a psychiatrist and psychologist, has been unavailable for comment. Police have confirmed that prescription medications were found on the scene, but they will not confirm if a suicide note has been discovered.”
“Who's on Courtney's HIPAA?” Frank whispered as Marcia slid into the seat beside him.
“Greta James. Her attorney.”
“Did she ask for my notes on Courtney's visit?” He turned to Marcia and decreased the volume on the set.
“You know she did. It's the first thing she wanted.” Marcia's cell phone rang, and she pulled it from her pocket. She held up a finger to Dr. Phelps. “Hello? Yes. Yes, he is.” She looked at her boss and handed him her cell. “Greta James, for you.”
“I think I should speak to our own attorney first.” Dr. Phelps stared at Marcia's cell.
“Then just listen to her,” Marcia suggested. “You've done nothing wrong, and she gave me advice when I couldn't reach you.”
With reluctance, Dr. Phelps took the phone and held it for a moment to his ear before he spoke. “Hello?”
“Dr. Phelps?” a soft professional voice responded.
“Yes. Ms. James, is it? How may I help you?”
“I hoped we might meet. I have information—not released to the public—which may interest you regarding Courtney Veau's death. You have two voicemails from her I would like to hear.”
He heard the familiar elevator chime in the hallway and through the phone. His eyes turned to the office door. “I’m unaware of any messages, Ms. James. If you'd like to make an appointment to meet, I'll hand you back to Marcia. She maintains my schedule.” He rose from the chair just as the office door opened.
Greta James smiled at Dr. Phelps, closed her phone and dropped it into her briefcase. “No need to bother Marcia, unless she would be willing to make a pot of coffee.”
Greta stepped across the waiting room and held out her hand to Dr. Phelps.
He returned the phone to Marcia and shook the attorney's hand. “Ms. James.”
“Please, call me Greta.” Her smile was filled with concern, and a touch of grief.
She was tall. Almost as tall as his own six-foot height. He glanced at her shoes and confirmed she wore a high stylish heel. Her calves were toned. Her modest length skirt flared around her knees, but tightened along her slim hips. By the time his gaze made it past the curve of her silk blouse and crescent moon necklace, to her amused hazel eyes and full-lipped smile, he was convinced there was some sort of mistake. Women like this didn't walk through his door and ask to be called by their first name.
Greta tipped her head toward his private office. “Shall we?” She released his hand, smiled at Marcia, and strode into the next room. Her shoulder strap slid down her arm as her leather case landed in the guest chair. “Oh, and Marcia? Please lock the front door.” Her gaze switched to Dr. Phelps. “I apologize for giving orders in your office, but Detective Hernandez is in town to speak with you. You should expect a visit from him today.” She took a seat in the other guest chair, crossed her legs, and then turned her head to meet Frank's eyes. “This shouldn't take too long, but I don't want to be interrupted.”
Frank tore his gaze away from Greta and looked toward Marcia. “Courtney's file?”
“On your desk.” Marcia changed the time on the 'We'll be back at' sign on the door to noon, then locked the door and stepped to the coffee maker.
Frank took a moment to gather his senses.
What the hell have I come home to?
The unexpected and upsetting events left a hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach. His young patient was dead—one who had been vibrant and full of life.
Is her death my fault?
He lifted his black framed glasses with the back of his hand and rubbed his tired eyes, then gripped his case and walked into his office.
Courtney Veau's file sat in the middle of his desk. He took his seat and flipped open the file. He didn't need to read his notes; he could remember his conversation with Courtney word for word.
“Let's start with the messages she left you,” Greta suggested, her voice soft.
Dr. Phelps nodded, but didn't reach for his cell phone. Instead, he focused on the woman across the desk. She was dressed to distract him, and her smooth cultured voice had an almost hypnotic quality to it. Soothing. Manipulative. He used hypnosis and distraction enough to know when he was being coerced. Ms. Greta James certainly had game, but she appeared far too young to be Courtney Veau's trust attorney. Despite how lovely she looked, she didn't add up.
“I think not, Ms. James.” He raised his hand to forestall her protest. “I'm sorry—Greta. I've not heard those messages myself. I'm sure you understand my need to be cautious. Malpractice lawsuits are rampant, and I must vet everything I hand over to my client's—former client's attorney. Please understand, I've only just learned of Courtney's death.”
Greta nodded and ran the heel of her hand across her cheek and her nails along her temple, dislodging a few auburn strands of hair. As though a mask fell away, her fatigue became apparent. “I understand, and I do apologize. I've simply been on my feet since Detective Hernandez contacted me a week ago. Why don't I go first, then?
“My family has worked closely with the Veau family for years. I became Russell Veau's attorney when my father took on other clients. Even before any direct contact with the Veaus, I grew up with their—peculiarities—through my father's practice.”
She paused as though considering her words. “When Courtney's parents were killed in the plane crash, I became the estate and trust manager. Courtney has always been more to me than a mere client.” She reached over, pulled a tissue from her bag, and then dabbed her eyes and nose.
“I'm sure this is difficult for you—”
“As I said, I'm just tired.” The tissue disappeared into her fist, and liquid gray eyes assessed him. “Dr. Phelps—”
“Call me Frank.”
“Thank you, Frank. Let me assure you; Courtney's death is not your fault. There’s nothing you could have done to prevent her from making this decision.”
Frank's breath caught for a moment. “You believe it may have been suicide.”
Greta shook her head. “No, not precisely.” Her voice remained slow, considerate. “Courtney comes from a long line of powerful mediums—spiritualists, if you will. Their power is inherent. In the normal course of events, she would have learned these skills from her father, but she never had that chance.”
They paused while Marcia brought them coffee. When she left the office, she closed the door behind her.
Greta set her Styrofoam cup on Frank's desk and cleared her throat. “Let me tell you what I know, and what I gleaned from several sources. Correct me if am mistaken.”
Elbows on his desk, Frank laced his fingers and rested his chin on his thumbs. “Go ahead.”
Greta sat forward. “Courtney Veau barely survived a serious car accident. Her heart stopped twice. Both the EMT's and the ER staff feared she had sustained a traumatic brain injury, but the MRI scans came back clean. She spent the next three days in the hospital under observation, but was released with only a deeply bruised leg, facial abrasions, and a black eye.”
Frank nodded and shifted in his chair. “The rounding doctor was Dr. Chambers.”
“Yes, I've spoken with him.” Greta smiled and nodded at Frank's interruption.
“Dr. Chambers referred Courtney to me due to emotional instability. He felt the imbalance could have been caused by her near-death experience. I've done several research papers on the subject. He thought I might be able to help her.”
Greta shook her head and raised her eyebrows. “But it wasn't a typical near-death experience, was it? Courtney claimed to have returned to a past life. She even brought you proof in the form of a photograph and map to a house in Denver.”
“Yes.” Frank pressed his lips and looked away. “She didn’t reveal her plan to travel there.”
They were both silent for a moment, and then Greta spoke. “The detective told me they've preliminarily dismissed drug overdose as the cause of death—pending the toxicology report. There were no marks on the body and the prescriptions in her possession were practically untouched. I know they've had the MRI’s reviewed by their own experts. Nothing was missed. COD is likely to remain a mystery.”
“Unless there is something on my phone that could tell us what happened.”
Their gazes locked. The fatigue and grief he recognized in her eyes made him reach for his phone. “All right. This goes against my better judgment, but I'm curious as well.” He turned the device on. As soon as the screen lit up, he touched the voicemail icon, turned the speaker on, and hit play. There were ten messages. The first two from were men. He paused and passed them. On the third recording, they heard Courtney's voice.
“Uh—Hi, Dr. Phelps? This is Courtney Veau. Don't be upset, but I wanted to let you know I'm in Denver.” Her voice went up a pitch and her words tumbled out with excitement. “I found the house—the one in the picture I showed to you—and they had a room for rent—so I took it. I can't believe I'm really here. The landlady said the rent was month-to-month when she gave me the key. I'll call you when I get back to town. Buh-bye.”
Frank's gaze lifted from the phone to Greta. “They said on the news the house was abandoned.”
“It is. I've read the police reports. They don't know how she got in and out. The doors were locked and so corroded they had to bust them down to gain entrance. They did find a single silver key in her purse, but it didn't fit any of the locks. A landlady, she says. That's interesting.”
Frank skipped three more calls, and then heard Courtney's voice again.
“Hi, Dr. Phelps. It's me again.” Her voice was slow and strained this time—nasally, as though she had been weeping. “I'm hearing voices, well... one voice. He whispers to me—I mean to Nichole. I have my father's journal, and I've tried to make Merril hear me, but it hasn't worked. I know he loved me in my other life. I know the time I spent there was real. But I don't know what to do now. I think I might come home. Call me when you get this.”
Frank covered his mouth with his hand and shook his head. Courtney's words pierced him.
Could I have stopped her death with a phone call?
His chest ached, and his eyes burned. “She doesn't sound good.”
Greta didn't appear to notice his distress. She tipped her head to try to read his phone. “No, she doesn't. What is the date on the message?”
He looked at the screen. “April twenty-first.” The glass on the phone went dark and he slid it into his bag. “So, what happened between the twenty-first and the twenty-third?”
Greta ran her fingers across her brow and sat back in the chair. “She found the photo.”
Frank's head came up. “What photo?”
“The official police report states they found Courtney in the attic, an old photo clutched to her chest. The report goes on to describe the photo, but here—” She reached into her bag and withdrew an antique framed oval photograph. She laid it on the desk in front of him and pointed to a woman, seated between two standing men. “This is Nichole Harris. The photo appears to have been taken in the early 1870s.” She tapped the raised glass above the tall gentleman on Nichole's left. “I suspect this handsome young man is Merril.”
“How did you obtain this?” He glanced from the photo to Greta.
A shadow of a smile moved across Greta's face. “There's no official crime scene. Nothing held as evidence. The building, and all the items in the attic, including this photo, belong to The Hawthorn Group—an investment company. I reached out to THG and offered to repair the doors that were damaged when the officers entered the house in search of my client. In return, I asked to purchase this photograph—an out-of-court settlement. They agreed.”
“Why would you want it?” His gaze returned to the photo. The blonde woman's eyes seemed to draw him in. He took in every inch of the photograph.
“I don't. It's not for me.”
The tone of her voice drew his attention back to her face. Her eyes smiled first, and then her lips. “I read another report, filed by an officer who never entered the house. This officer maintained crowd control and checked ID badges of those who required access to the house during the site investigation. According to his report, an elderly black woman approached him. She informed him, in no uncertain terms, that the photograph 'in the poor girlie's hands’, should be given to her doctor for the long table under his clock.”
Frank's gaze shot to his credenza beneath his office clock and then back to Greta. “How is this possible?”
Greta shrugged. “By the time Detective Hernandez read the report, the elderly woman had vanished. I'm surprised the officer even mentioned her comment. The old woman must have made quite an impression on the young man.”
Greta closed her bag and stood. “Thank you for your time, Frank, and for sharing Courtney's phone calls with me.”
“You're welcome.” Frank came to his feet. “You seem relieved. Do you have a better understanding of what happened to Courtney?”
“Actually, I do.” She gave him a genuine smile. “You remember, I told you her spiritual powers were inherent. Although she never trained with her power, she really only needed two things—desire and belief. We know she had the desire.” Greta tapped the oval glass above the photo. “When she found the photo, it suspended her disbelief and she knew she could find her way back to him.”
“Then, you’re saying that—” Frank blinked and shook his head. “You believe Courtney returned to her previous life?”
Greta shrugged, picked up the long strap of her bag and hung it on her shoulder. “I have no reason to believe otherwise.”
“But, that's not possible.” He rounded his desk and stared into Greta's gray eyes.
She smiled. “Suspend your disbelief, Frank. You didn't cause this, and you couldn't have averted the outcome.” Greta picked up the photograph and placed it in Frank's hands. “Courtney's gone back to her life as Nichole. She returned to Merril, and she wanted you to have this.”