“Hi, Melvin. It’s Jared. Jared Quinby.” Already, Jared wished he hadn’t called. This was a mistake but it was too late to hang up now.
“Dr. Quinby, it’s been a very long time.”
Melvin Gastone had been a doctor at the clinic before a drug addiction had derailed his life and career. Office gossip had Melvin spending a court-ordered stint at a rehab ranch in Wyoming to dry out. That same court had striped him of his medical license, but Melvin had finagled a way to stay on at the ranch after his time was up, probably to avoid coming back to Washington, D.C. Jared had called in a few favors with the woman who now ran the clinic to get Melvin’s current number.
Jared wasn’t sure how Melvin would react to his request, so thought it would be better to start with a generic greeting. “How are you doing?”
“I’m fine.” A short laugh. “But I heard you had some excitement. Something about a woman patient and a gun? Naughty, naughty.”
Jared grimaced. With each passing minute, he was remembering why he hadn’t liked Melvin and his caustic sense of humor. “So I’ve been told.”
“Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? We were never buddies before my hiatus from the medical profession and I see no reason to pretend now. Why are you calling me?”
That sounded more like the old Melvin. Arrogant and blunt. Jared swallowed his retort and focused on the reason he was calling. Melvin was a good psychiatrist. “I wanted to run something by you, professionally.”
“You want my professional medical opinion on a case? You do realize they suspended my medical license. I can’t even counsel a cow, much less a real, live human being.”
Jared sighed. Melvin wasn’t going to make this easy on either of them. “I’m well aware of your lack of credentials. Frankly, you’re one of the best dissectors of written correspondence that I know.”
“Ah, you must be moonlighting with the FBI again. I would have thought you learned your lesson the last time. But I did think you were somewhat of a slow learner when it came to certain things.”
Jared lost his grip on his patience. “We can discuss my alleged shortcomings or we can talk about something much more interesting. You in or out?”
“Whoa, there. You were always so easy to tease and I’m glad to see you haven’t changed in that respect. I’m interested. Tell me more.”
Jared blew out a breath. “I have a set of chat transcripts that I’d like your opinion on.”
“I’m still listening.”
“A linguist has identified at least three different writers, but I think there’s more. What makes them seem like the same writers is how remarkably similar the conversations progress, like the writer was working from a basic script with little variations to make it seem more in real time.”
“Sounds like you’ve figured out a whole lot already. What do you need me for?”
“I’d like another set of eyes to read the transcripts to see if I’m right or just reading too much into it.” Jared took a swig of beer. “And to see if you can tell how many different writers there are.”
The silence on the other end lengthened. Jared only knew the call hadn’t been disconnected by Melvin’s breathing. He bit his tongue to keep from asking what was taking so long. Melvin hated being hurried while he made up his mind.
“For you, I’ll do this one favor. But only this once. You have to promise to lose my number after this. I cut ties to my old life and it needs to stay that way.” Another pause. “I can’t be sucked back into that life. If I do, I’m not sure I can stay away from the drugs.”
Jared heard the other man’s misery in those words and he realized he had been too harsh on him. Sure, Melvin could be a pain to work with, but he had been a colleague in need that Jared had ignored, too focused on his own problems. Jared felt a pang of regret that he hadn’t once asked how Melvin was doing when he went through rehab. He was ashamed to say that didn’t show a lot of charity in his blood. But he couldn’t tell Melvin this, so he settled for sticking to the purpose of his call. “Thanks, Melvin. Do you have an email address?” Jared jotted down the email address. “I’ll scan and send the transcripts to you tonight.”
“And I’ll look at it over the weekend and get back to you on Monday.”
A click indicated Melvin had disconnected without saying farewell. He could see that Melvin was the same rude man he’d been before rehab and for some reason that thought made him smile. At least his personality hadn’t been affected by the drugs, as Jared had sometimes wondered.
He walked over to his laptop and turned it on before heading to his bedroom for his portable printer/scanner combo. As he passed the kitchen, he turned up the radio. Might as well listen with the rest of the lonely hearts to Layla while he scanned in the chat discussions.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Phantom Love is copyrighted and cannot be used in any form without permission from Sarah Hamaker.