For one of the few times since he had become an analyst, Doctor Kleist felt something very close to euphoria. He smiled at the woman across the desk from him, savoring this moment. It was one of the good times. It was times like these that keep a man from going back to the more profitable field of surgery. A complete recovery like this is one that made a grim profession worth while.
“You’re certain, Doctor?” the woman asked, and there was an almost breathless pleasure in her voice.
Doctor Kleist laughed. “Yes, Mrs. Clinton, I’m quite certain.”
“And there’ll be no — recurrence?”
“No. Kleptomania has been one of my specialties for a number of years, Mrs. Clinton. I feel, in all modesty, that I know more about it than almost any other analyst to whom you might have come.” He paused. “I’ve never been more certain of a complete recovery. And, Mrs. Clinton — I’ve never been made happier by one.”
It was true, he reflected. He’d grown quite fond of Mrs. Clinton, and of her husband, and he’d always remember them warmly. Her husband had brought her to this office ten months ago, a lovely, cultured woman in her early thirties, a woman wealthy in her own right and married to one of the city’s most successful corporation lawyers — and the thief of worthless baubles from dime stores and bargain counters. On the day before her husband had brought her here, Mrs. Clinton had been arrested for stealing a thirty-nine-cent compact. The magistrate had released her in her husband’s custody and recommended Doctor Kleist.
“I’ll be forever grateful,” Mrs. Clinton said. “You don’t know how much —”
“But I do,” Doctor Kleist said. “I do indeed. I think it’s been a very rewarding experience for all of us.”
“I’m afraid I was pretty difficult to get along with. Doctor.”
He smiled. “Extremely.”
She laughed softly and stood up. “I can scarcely wait to tell Walt. The poor darling, sometimes I think he’s endured even more with me than you have.”
“Husbands often do,” Doctor Kleist said. “Especially someone like Walt. But that’s a thing of the past now. In a case like this, an analyst likes to feel he’s been responsible for not just one, but two recoveries. It’s a very pleasant feeling, I assure you.”
He came around the desk and walked with her to the door.
“It’s almost like being … well, reborn,” Mrs. Clinton said.
“This will be the last time, of course,” he said. “The last time you’ll have to come here. But I hope you’ll drop in now and then. And bring Walt with you, if you can. I like to admire my handiwork.”
For a long moment after they had said goodbye, Doctor Kleist stood quite motionless before the door, listening to the sound of Mrs. Clinton’s high heels fading away in the direction of the elevator. Then he turned and walked slowly back to his desk and sat down in the deep leather chair.
A wonderful woman, he thought, a truly wonderful woman. He envied her husband. A fine man, that Walt Clinton. He leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes, fantasying the way it would be with Walt at the moment his wife told him their mutual nightmare was over.
Then, humming softly to himself, he drew a ruled yellow pad from a drawer and began the draft of a paper he wanted to read at the next congress of the Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis. He had, in Mrs. Clinton’s case, gained new insight into certain facets of kleptomania, and he was anxious to share them with his colleagues.
He had been working steadily for over an hour when the phone rang.
He lifted the phone absently, still writing rapidly.
“Hello, Doctor. This is Walt Clinton.”
Doctor Kleist smiled and put down his pencil.
“Well, Walt. How are you?”
Walt, he was sure, had just received the good news and was calling to add his thanks to those of his wife.
“Doctor, is my wife still there at your office?”
“Why, no, Walt.” He glanced at his watch. “She left better than an hour ago.”
“Oh, Well, I just wondered. She said she intended to come straight home. We had an engagement, and … well, never mind, Doctor. She probably forgot. Maybe she stopped off to do a little shopping.”
He laughed, a little thinly.
“You know how women are.”
“I know,” Doctor Kleist said. “She’ll be along soon, Walt.”
“Sure. Well, I’m sorry I bothered you for nothing. Doctor.”
“No bother at all,” Doctor Kleist said. For a moment he debated hinting to Walt that there was a bit of wonderful news coming his way, but decided against it. That should be Mrs. Clinton’s show.
He had scarcely replaced the phone in its cradle when it rang again.
It was Mrs. Clinton. “Something ridiculous has happened. Doctor Kleist . . .”
“Really? What’s that?”
“Well, I went several places before I came to your office this afternoon. I’ve just finished revisiting the last of them, and — this is really ridiculous — I thought I’d better call and — well, the thing is that I’ve lost my cigarette case somewhere. I didn’t use it while I was in your office, and I don’t think there’s much chance it could have fallen from my purse, but . . .”
“I’m sorry,” Doctor Kleist said. “It isn’t here, Mrs. Clinton. You say you’ve gone back to the other places you visited?”
“Yes. I just can’t imagine … It’s one Walt gave me on our anniversary, and that’s why it’s so important.”
“There’s only one thing important today, Mrs. Clinton,” he said. “And that’s the news you have for Walt.”
She was silent a moment.
“Yes. Yes, I guess you’re right. It is silly to let such a small thing … “
“Of course it is.”
He said goodbye, put the phone down very gently, and then reached into his inside jacket pocket for the thin platinum case.
It was a shame he didn’t smoke, he reflected. But still, it would give him so much satisfaction, knowing it was there in his desk drawer with all the others.
~ The End ~