Phantom Limb: A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery #4

Phantom Limb: A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery #4

Psychologist and Pittsburgh Police Department consultant Daniel Rinaldi has a new patient. Lisa Harland, a local girl, once made a splash in Playboy and the dubious side of Hollywood before ...

About The Author

Dennis Palumbo

Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter, Dennis Palumbo is now a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. He’s the author of a mystery ...

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The last time I saw Lisa Campbell, she was naked.

That was almost thirty years ago, when I was in junior high and she was the latest Hot Young Thing, smiling invitingly out at me—and thousands of other lonely guys—from the pages of Playboy Magazine. Barely nineteen, sprawled seductively across rumpled satin sheets. Every horny adolescent’s fantasy. Perfect breasts, perfect ass, perfect teeth.

Now, as she stood in my office waiting room, cashmere sweater folded neatly over her arm, I had to admit that the years since had taken their toll. Her face—though still comely, fine-boned—was lined, leather-tanned. Framed by thick chestnut- brown hair, lightly streaked with silver. Strained, weary eyes burned behind fashionable wire-rimmed glasses.

She’d been standing at the waiting room’s single window when I came out to greet her. Her still-shapely body turned away from me, she stared out at the cool light of early spring. Five floors up from Forbes Avenue, the view included the University of Pittsburgh’s urban campus—its gabled buildings, chain stores and local hangouts—as well as the new green shoots on the venerable maples and oaks lining the sidewalks. Plus the familiar cacophony of car horns, downshifting semis, and shouting students crossing against the streetlight, hurrying to make their last classes of the afternoon.

At first, Lisa didn’t seem to register me. Then, as if reluctant to pull herself from the sights and sounds beyond the window, she turned to face me.

I felt her shrewd, guarded gaze as we shook hands. Her undisguised appraisal of my looks, my clothes, my apparent social status. I returned the favor, taking in her designer-label blouse, slacks, and heels, her five-hundred-dollar haircut, the expensive diamond bracelet and matching wedding ring.

“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Harland,” I said. “I’m Daniel Rinaldi.”

“Obviously.” Her lips tightened. “And don’t use my goddamn married name. Nobody else does. I’ll always be Lisa Campbell.”

I nodded stiffly, then led her into my office.

I knew her story, of course. At least the public version. Most people here in Pittsburgh and environs did, too. Especially in her hometown of Waterson, about a hundred miles east of the city. Her career journey, from small-town beauty contestant to Playboy Playmate to sexy film actress, had been a long, well-publicized one. Accompanied by the shrill carping of Waterson’s outraged local press, excommunication from her church, and the painful yet predictable estrangement from her pious, deeply conservative family.

It didn’t help that, once she’d moved to Hollywood, her acting career consisted mostly of roles in low-budget horror films, in which she was frequently naked, and invariably tortured and killed. She also developed a reputation as a reliably freaky party animal, clubbing every night with the rich and trendy, showing up late and disoriented for work, sleeping with the usual mix of celebrities and Eurotrash.

Until her very public second divorce, a protracted and ugly drug scandal, and a series of embarrassing box office flops pushed her out of the glare of the tabloid spotlight and—seemingly overnight—into the purgatory of semi-obscurity.

At least, that was how her story was told in a two-part feature the Post-Gazette ran on Lisa when, almost a decade ago, she abruptly returned to her hometown. “With her tail between her legs,” as one self-satisfied neighbor had put it.

According to the paper, Lisa claimed she tried to reconcile with her family, but was flatly rejected. As broken in spirit as she was financially, Lisa had no choice but to seek work here in the city. After six weeks, she landed a job as a clerical assistant in the CEO’s suite at Harland Industries, a Fortune 500 favorite. After six months, she landed the CEO himself.

Lisa Campbell and Charles P. Harland, thirty years her senior, were married in a private ceremony in Barbados. Accompanying the feature story was a series of photos of the happy couple, now back in Pittsburgh, relaxing in the expansive, manicured gardens of the billionaire’s gated estate in tony Fox Chapel. A few people thought the marriage was romantic—a damaged, unhappy woman’s dream come true. Most thought it was a scandal. Or else a cruel joke played on a deluded old man.

Regardless, in the years since, Lisa and Harland had become a fixture among the city’s wealthy and powerful, hosting charity events, attending lavish premieres, jetting off to vacations in exotic locales. Blending in quite easily with the heirs of the Mellons, the Scaifes, and the Carnegies, until, apparently, some undisclosed illness landed Harland in a wheelchair.

Since this was hardly my crowd, everything I knew about Lisa and her life nowadays came from the occasional news item that caught my eye, or some piece of gossip excitedly shared with me by one of my more starstruck patients.

Which was why now, ushering the sharp-tongued, middle-aged woman into my office, it was difficult to match her name to that of the seductive young girl I recalled from the magazine. To be honest, the present-day Lisa Campbell looked like any number of proud, arch women in designer clothes who stride purposely through newly gentrified Shadyside, kids long since grown and flown, resigned to the inattention of their workaholic husbands, defined by their jewelry.

Lisa paused before taking a seat, giving my office the same kind of cool appraisal with which she’d favored me. The antique marble-top desk, cherry wood cabinets, my battered Tumi briefcase. Books jammed into wall shelves, psych journals piled in more or less tidy stacks in the corners. Another broad picture window, slightly opened to let in the late March breeze. The pale, diffused sunlight. The muffled sounds of the street life below.

Finally, sitting upright on the chair opposite mine, she com- posed herself into a picture of grim determination. Jaw set. Legs demurely crossed. Only her clear hazel eyes, blinking, betrayed any anxiety.

A long silence.

“I must admit,” I said finally, “I was surprised when you called for an appointment. How do you know about me?”

“Don’t be so fucking coy, okay, Doc? It’s very unattractive in a man.” Her gaze narrowed. “And I might as well warn you up front, I got a real mouth on me.”

“Duly noted.”

“The thing is, I know about you because everyone knows about you. The famous trauma shrink.”

“I’m not a shrink. I’m a clinical psychologist.” “Either way, you must have one hell of a publicist.” “Sorry to disappoint you, but—”

“No shit? That is a surprise, Dr. Rinaldi. Given how often you’ve been on the news…”

“Not by choice, I assure you. Last couple years, it’s mostly been a case of wrong place, wrong time.”

She shrugged, unconvinced.

“Whatever. Besides, I had my people do the customary due diligence before choosing you. Well, my husband’s people. So I know all about you.”

I risked a smile. “Really?” “Really.”

She reached into the Louis Vuitton bag on her lap, withdrew a single piece of paper and peered down at it through the bottom half of her progressive lenses.

“Let’s see. I know your father was a cop and an alcoholic, and that your mother died when you were very young. In your late teens, you became an amateur boxer, God knows why. Golden Gloves, Pan Am Games. Looks like you didn’t set any records, though.” She cleared her throat. “Then you went to Pitt, making it all the way through grad school. The first one in your family to even go to college. Though by the time you got your PhD in psychology, your father, poor bastard, had passed away, too. Cirrhosis of the liver.”

She glanced sharply up at me then, obviously to gauge my reaction. Whether due to my clinical experience or some innate stubbornness on my part, I didn’t give her any. Still, though my face was composed, I could feel the blood pounding in my ears. “I know you were married,” she went on reading from her notes, “and that you and your wife got mugged one night and she was shot. You both were, but she died and you didn’t. So you kinda went around the bend. Survivor guilt and all that. Now you’re a consultant with the Pittsburgh Police, treating victims of violent crime. Last couple years, your involvement in some high-profile cases landed you on the national news.” She sniffed, looked back up at me. “My opinion, you’re about ten minutes into your fifteen minutes of fame.”

After which, she casually folded the paper in half, dropped it back in her bag. “I miss anything?”

I’d felt my chest tighten, the dull pang of a rising anger, as she’d calmly laid out my story like it was some anecdote at a dinner party. Then, forcing myself, I exhaled slowly. Giving myself time to carefully choose my words.

“No, Lisa. You pretty much got it right.”

“My husband’s people are very good. Hell, they’re fucking bloodhounds. The final report ran to fifteen pages. But I just read you the highlights. None of the more…well…intimate details.”

“I appreciate your discretion.”

She snapped her bag closed. “Look, I don’t give a shit what you do in your private life. But a woman in my position has to be careful. I have to know who the hell I’m dealing with.”

“I can understand that.”

“Good. By the way,  they ever catch the prick who did it?

Killed your wife?”

I shook my head. “Just some kid. Seemed coked out of his mind. Probably needed money for drugs.”

“Christ, who doesn’t at that age? Though I never had to shoot anyone to score. Usually a blow job worked just fine.”

“I assume you’re talking about your time in Hollywood. In the movie business.”

“Assume what you want. Though you and I both know I could walk two blocks up Forbes Avenue, right now in the middle of the day, and carry out that exact same transaction. In some back alley, behind some bar. Cops know, everybody knows. The same holds true in my hometown. Sleepy little Waterson. Cheerleaders blowing jocks for a dime bag. It’s American as apple pie.”

I sat forward in my chair. Let my own eyes narrow. It didn’t take a psychologist to know Lisa Campbell was in pain, and keeping me at a distance with hard banter. With attitude.

Yet here she was, in my office. Which meant she wanted something. Needed something. From me.

“Look, Lisa, obviously you’re hurting, or in trouble, and I want to help. Has something happened to you?”

She placed a fist against her chest, over her heart. “Happened?” As her face paled.

“Something bad? It doesn’t have to be recent. Maybe some- thing that happened when you were out west, or even earlier. In childhood…”

“Has something happened to me?” Voice rising. Shrill, choked. “Has something happened?

Her hazel eyes had gone black, lasering into mine. A fierce, unbelieving, agonized look.

“Jesus, Lisa, I’m sorry if I—”

Then, with a slow, deep breath, she lowered her head. Let her fist drop to her lap, fingers still clenched.

“Lisa…?”

She just shook her head. I shut up.

Another thick, uncomfortable silence followed. Filled only by the rise and fall of the breeze sifting through the foliage beyond my window. The gentle rustling of leaves and branches. And nothing else. The street traffic below, for an odd, brief moment, suddenly hushed. Stilled. As though holding its breath.

“Okay, listen.” Her eyes meeting mine again. Voice even, almost flat. “I’ve made all the financial arrangements. I have the means at home, in my desk. A bottle of pills.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s a little after four. These sessions are what?—forty- five, fifty minutes?”

“Fifty.”

She considered this.

“All right then, Doc. Here’s the deal: I plan to kill myself at seven o’clock tonight. Which means you have fifty minutes to talk me out of it.”

Reviews of

Phantom Limb: A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery #4

“At the start of Palumbo’s twisty fourth Daniel Rinaldi mystery (after 2013’s Night Terrors), the psychologist, who consults for the Pittsburgh PD, receives a visitor one afternoon he last saw posing in Playboy almost 30 years earlier. Lisa Campbell, ex-starlet and current trophy wife to elderly, wheelchair-bound tycoon Charles Harland, plans to kill herself at 7 o’clock that evening. Daniel has only 50 minutes to talk her out of it. Soon after Lisa leaves his office, the police inform him that she’s been kidnapped. As a doctor who may have heard critical information that he’s ethically bound by confidentiality not to share, Daniel is in tricky position as he seeks to help the Harland family and the police get Lisa back. He serves as the perfect point of view character, central to the action without needing to clamor for attention. Daniel’s personal story continues to evolve in this satisfying entry, which ends on a cliffhanger.”

Publishers Weekly

“Amputees say a missing arm or leg can itch and demand to be scratched, as though it were still there. That’s a “phantom limb,” and its ghostly presence is one of the keys to this lively novel. The premise is conventional enough: a has-been film star, married to a gazillionaire coot, is kidnapped. The stock characters are present: the old boy’s bitter, boozy son; officious police and feds; a woman cop who chafes at not being taken seriously; and even the hero, the penetratingly analytical psychologist Daniel Rinaldi. A minor figure, who lost a leg in Afghanistan, waits in the wings as the plot races to its conclusion. But after the kidnap drama ends, there are about 170 pages to go. What follows is a reexamination of the evidence, when the phantom limb makes its nonpresence known. Could it be that the kidnap-ransom plot was really about something else? We’re on the psychologist’s turf now, and the revelations are more interesting than the author’s attempt to turn this into an actioner. It’s about fragmented people’s attempts to be whole.”

Booklist

“Dennis Palumbo’s Daniel Rinaldi books are cerebral thrillers of the first order, with twisting plots, terrifying villains, and a narrative driven by the insight and compassion of the psychologist at the center of it all.  If I ever find myself trapped inside a thriller, I hope Daniel Rinaldi can find some time in his schedule.”

Timothy Hallinan, author of the Junior Bender mysteries and the Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers

“Dennis Palumbo’s latest, Phantom Limb, keeps his adrenaline-soaked Daniel Rinaldi series going at full blast as the Pittsburgh cop/psychologist gets tangled up in a complex case of kidnapping, murder, sexual deviance, and so much more.  Fueled and lent gravitas by his tempered idealism and no-nonsense professionalism, Rinaldi is a joy to follow as he leads us on a top-notch, original and harrowing high-wire act of the first order.”

John Lescroart, New York Times best selling author of The Keeper

“Dennis Palumbo’s terrific, exciting, fascinating Daniel Rinaldi novels just get better and better! His latest, Phantom Limb, is a nonstop blast, with moments as gut-wrenching for the reader as they are for Dr. Rinaldi and his fellow players.”

Thomas B Sawyer, best-selling author of Cross Purposes and No Place to Run

“In ‘Phantom Limb,’ Dennis Palumbo has given us another fast-paced, suspenseful case in the career of Dr. Daniel Rinaldi. This time Rinaldi is up against an array of antagonists who will make your skin crawl, and it’s a pleasure to see him back.”

Thomas Perry, Edgar-Award-winning author of the Jane Whitefield series

“Phantom Limb is another of Dennis Palumbo’s remarkable tales set in our native Pittsburgh as told through the eyes of iconoclastic police psychologist Daniel Rinaldi. This time it’s monied old Pittsburgh society meets Hollywood glitz in a page-turner that has you racing to the end.”

Jeffrey Siger, author of the Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series

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