Glancing up from his day planner, Dr. Marvin Sands frowned irritably at the wall clock above the window. One of the reasons he so disliked new clients taking the last appointment of the day on Friday, was because when they were no shows - as they often were - he was forced to prolong the start of his weekend until he was sure the appointment had been broken. So far The Closters were only six minutes late, but even so he couldn’t help but feel peevishly annoyed. The appointment had been made last minute as it was - directly through his website rather than by referral - and he made an internal note not to accept such a booking again, at least not unless payment for the session was made in advance.
At 6:15 exactly Sands began stuffing client files into his briefcase. He was just about to switch out the desk lamp when the buzzer for the eternal door sounded, and tamping down his annoyance, he pressed down the button for the intercom,
There was a moment of ear-splitting static and then a smooth male voice replied,
“Dr. Sands? Hi. It’s Peter and James Closter.”
They were both tall men. Not freakishly so, but tall enough that Sands couldn’t help but feel intimidated as they entered the room together and took turns shaking his hand. The first Mr. Closter was a little closer to his own height, but nevertheless exuded a palpable self-assurance, his cool blue eyes seeming to look right through to the back of his skull when he met his gaze.
“I’m so sorry we’re late. James had trouble finding a parking space.”
Behind him, the other Mr. Closter’s lips stretched in an easy smile as he extended his own hand,
“This is entirely unacceptable of us, Doctor. I do hope you’ll accept our apologies.”
His accented voice as he spoke was soft and exotic, something European perhaps, but his physical bearing was every bit as confident as his husband’s. Looking from one to the other as they took their seat on the couch, Sands found to his surprise he could not easily discern who was the dominant partner in the relationship, a judgement he normally made immediately on meeting a couple for the first time.
Taking a seat opposite them, he took a moment or two to collect himself before speaking. Despite having been a therapist for well over a decade, he was confused to find himself on edge as he opened his notebook and wrote the day’s date at the top of a new page.
“So…” he began, raising his head, and almost immediately lost his train of thought.
Both Peter and James Closter’s eyes were fixed on him with an intensity that was both unusual and somewhat unnerving. Normally couples who came to see him for therapy were uncomfortable about being in his office, nervous or self-conscious, but these two men looked anything but. If anything they seemed openly fascinated by him.
Clearing his throat, Dr. Sands let his eyes drop back down to his notebook,
“So…shall we begin by talking about why you made this appointment, uh…Peter?”
From the corner of his vision as he pretended to write, he saw the younger of the two men - Peter Closter - lean back in his seat and extend one arm along the back of it. He hummed thoughtfully in the back of his throat,
“I wouldn’t say it was one thing in particular. More an accumulation of things.”
“Things you’ve been reticent to talk to James directly about?”
Sands looked up and saw the other man’s lips curve upward in a wry smile,
“Oh I talk to him, Dr. Sands. He just doesn’t always listen.”
At the other end of the couch, James Closter tapped long elegant fingers on the cushioned arm and mirrored his husband’s smile identically.
“Peter feels that, more often than not, I agree to his wishes only to circumvent them at a later date,” he lifted one pale eyebrow, “He considers me manipulative.”
“Oh I don’t consider you anything.”
His husband’s voice had the edge of something mocking in it, and suddenly feeling on firmer ground, Sands nodded, smiled as he made another note.
“It seems as if the two of you have some unresolved resentments. How long have you been together?”
“Married? Just a year,” Peter’s tone was suddenly lighter again, “Together…?”
He turned in his seat to look at his partner, his expression amused, and the older man returned his smile fondly before answering.
“Almost three years, although we were involved for some time more before that.”
“Involved?” Sands lifted his head, “You mean you were having an affair?”
Peter Closter’s mouth stretched wider into a grin,
“You might say that, yes,” he licked his lips, appearing on the verge of laughter, “Certainly it was…clandestine.”
“You were both in relationships with other people?”
“I was married. James was…” the dark-haired man inclined his head, “…involved in something he couldn’t easily escape from.”
“So how did that resolve itself? How did you finally come together?”
“In the end, it was Peter’s decision.”
Leaning forward, James Closter reached to brush dust from the leg of his pants, before again fixing his eyes on his partner with a heated intensity that made the therapist feel distinctly uncomfortable.
“But I think it would be fair to say that - ultimately - we made the leap together.”
Sands nodded again, and bending over his notebook, he frowned as if in thought. Although both men had apparently agreed that they required his help, at the moment it was difficult for him to see where their points of conflict lay, and what was more he couldn’t shake the feeling that there was another conversation going on in the room that he was not party to.
Attempting to regain control, Sands decided to try another tack, one that - in his experience - always worked with clients who were trying to direct his sessions themselves.
“What about sex?”
To his immense discomfort though, both men turned their eyes simultaneously to rest on him with mirror-image expressions of amusement.
“What about it?” Peter Closter asked. His eyelids lowered fractionally, long dark lashes brushing his cheekbones, and for a moment he looked almost flirtatious.
“I imagine Dr. Sands is attempting to ascertain if we are both satisfied in our sex life.”
Extending both his arms along the back of the couch, James Closter’s smile widened even further as Sands’ cheeks began to heat under their twin scrutiny. Without moving his eyes, the older man lowered his voice to address his partner directly, the intimacy of his tone sending a creeping shiver down the therapist’s spine.
“What would you say? Would you consider yourself fully satisfied, my love?”
Peter Closter’s voice was amused, his reply almost breathless,
“Oh - immensely. And you?”
The older man lifted his chin, gifting his husband with a brief sideways look - a dazzling sharp-toothed smile - before returning his gaze yet again to their therapist’s face. He crossed his legs and a hank of silver blond hair fell charmingly across his handsome features, before being swept back into place.
“Utterly, my love. I cannot imagine being more so.”
Feeling his cheeks burning now, a deep red flush spreading from his jaw to his hairline, Sands feigned a coughing fit before taking a sip from the glass of water beside him. He felt unreasonably annoyed suddenly - annoyed, embarrassed and entirely out of his comfort zone -and making a sudden decision, he closed the notebook he’d been writing in and laid his pen down on the table.
“Well gentlemen, I must confess that I’m at a loss as to know why it is you’re here.”
His voice sounded quite smooth and controlled to his ears now, and feeling quite pleased with himself for so quickly recovering his equilibrium he continued,
“To my mind, you both seem very well suited. You speak and act in harmony. It’s obvious you have a huge amount of respect and - uh - affection for each other, and that despite a few minor irritations between you, you are more than capable of resolving your issues together. I’m afraid to say that I’m struggling to see why the two of you feel you need couples therapy at all.”
“Oh, we don’t.”
Turning to him, he saw Peter Closter’s eyebrows drawn together in a soft frown, his expression almost theatrically apologetic, and leaning forward he steepled his fingers on his knees.
“I’m so sorry Dr. Sands, it seems that you’ve rather misunderstood our purpose for being here. We’re not here for ourselves. We’re here for Eva Cantrell.”
“For - “ the name stuck in Dr. Sands throat like a bramble, and for a moment he thought he would choke on it, “Eva - I’m sorry. I don’t…”
“Oh come now, doctor. Surely you must remember her?”
To his left, James Closter drew himself upright in his seat and suddenly the width of his shoulders, the strength of his arms became horrifying apparent. The mild-mannered gentleman who had seated himself ten minutes earlier was gone, and in his place sat a golden-eyed predator, every angle of him suddenly seeming coiled to pounce. And at his side sat a man who now seemed - if it were possible - even more horrifying. Peter Closter’s cloud-coloured eyes bored deep wormholes into him, and it was unnervingly as if he could feel him digging through the soil there, pulling away the branches and leaves he’d used to cover up the girl's body.
“Perhaps we might refresh your memory.”
Reaching into his pocket, he drew out a photograph,
“Eva Cantrell. 23 years old. Reported missing three months ago by her roommate. No family to speak of. No real friends. But you saw to that didn’t you, Dr. Sands?”
Laying the picture down on the table between them, Peter Closter's expression was suddenly curious, questioning,
“What did you tell her, Marvin? Did you convince her there was no-one else she could trust. That no-one else understood her like you? How long did it take? She was seeing you for less than three months, that’s pretty fast work wouldn’t you say?”
The question wasn’t directed at him, but sideways towards his partner. Pursing his lips, the older man gave a grudging nod,
“Very fast work. I’d offer you my congratulations Dr. Sands, but I suspect that your seduction of Ms Cantrell was less a result of your skill as a therapist - which I find sorely lacking - than it was her extremely fragile physical and mental health,” he sighed, “Unluckily for you my husband has somewhat of a weakness for strays. And is somewhat judgmental when it comes to those who mistreat them.”
Sands’ heart thrashed in his chest like a bird, and looking from one man’s face to the other he swallowed down the nausea that filled him at what he saw there, what he had somehow completely failed to see before this moment.
“You’re…killers,” he said, and the whispered words were less a question than a statement.
The man who called himself James Closter smiled,
“Perhaps not such poor intuition after all.”
His husband grunted a sound of agreement, and reaching into his coat he withdrew a neat black folding knife which he snapped open to rigid attention in his hand. There was a momentary pause in which Sands ceased to breathe, and then the younger man spoke again, his tone slightly reproachful.
“I do kind of feel as if we may have missed an opportunity here though, don’t you?”
Getting wearily to his feet, the older man reached out and calmly caught hold of his collar, twisting it in an iron grip that instantly cut off Sands’ air supply.
“No, hear me out! We could at least have spent half an hour or so of the session on the whole...dog thing.”
Sands’ vision started to darken as he heard a deep rueful sigh,
“My darling, I told you. It is not a thing…”
“It’s a thing. Who the hell doesn’t like dogs? It’s abnormal.”
“My sweet, we’ve been over this…”
“Yes! With no resolution.”
And as he lost consciousness, the doctor couldn’t help but notice that the last words he heard were tinged with genuine irritation.
“It’s like I said to him before, Hannibal, I talk to you but you just don’t listen…”