I know from the moment I meet her.
Well actually, I knew from the moment her two bosses came to me separately and told me:
"Be careful with Morgan, Doctor Ross. She's...fragile." Captain Laguerta, her eyes dripping with emotion that I think she actually thought was compassion. "I have plans for her, but I just need time."
"Be careful with Debra, Michelle. She's...special." Deputy Chief Matthews, his eyes gleaming with what was clearly anticipation. "I have plans for her. She's going places."
How can I resist playing with a toy two such powerful people want me to be careful with?
I know, I know, I should resist. I'm a licensed and trusted professional. I am looked up to, relied upon to put Miami Metro's finest back on the street after a shooting, but not until they're mentally and emotionally ready.
And I do that. And I will do that for Debra, too. I'd never, ever put the public good at risk.
But I like to have my fun. And Lieutenant Debra Morgan is already a pawn. Or maybe more a sacrificial lamb. Given the case she is investigating, that seems more apt.
Waiting for her in her office now, I can tell immediately what I am dealing with. Other than a slob, of course. I'm dealing with someone who has been in the lieutenant's office for long enough to unpack, to make it her own, and hasn't.
Massive insecurity. A sure sense of not belonging in this job. Suddenly both Laguerta's and Matthew's comments make sense.
When she comes in, she's a walking mass of defense mechanisms covering a flashing neon "Help Me!" sign. She's so easy to get to—hell, I don't have to work at all. She gives me everything I need. Tells me herself she is "fucked up."
Who does that if they've been dodging the shrink for weeks?
Debra Morgan, that's who.
This is going to be fun.
She makes it so easy to help her. After a litany of gripes, she says, "Did I mention I just broke up with my boyfriend, and I don't have a place to live anymore? So at the end of a day, I can't even go home. I'm living with my brother and his son—and don't get me wrong, I love them; it's just there's a reason I'm an aunt, and not a parent—and I just feel like I don't have a space to call my own right now."
"So maybe you should get some place that's your own." Duh, right?
And that's the look on her face—"Duh." I know right then I have her.
"For the first time I feel lost in a place that's always felt like home."
That's what gives me the idea. Well, to be honest, first it makes me feel sorry for her. I mean, who wants a police station to be home? But after that, I start wondering if this woman really has no other life than this? That's when I want to start digging. Of course I can't. Not within the scope of certifying her after a shooting.
But I'm very good at making myself indispensible. I have a private practice, after all. She could seek me out—if she wanted to.
"For a shrink, you're not that annoying," she says, after I help her figure out a few basic life skills she should probably already know.
I hand her my card. "Not that you'd ever need a shrink, but you might need a bookmark." Although the idea of Debra Morgan actually reading a book hurts my head.
Debra is here. In my outside office, of her own free will. Well, and pushed by the death of Lisa Marshall no doubt, although she says she just needed a break. It takes very little to get her going.
"I mean I show up, right, to question her about her brother, and twenty-four hours later"—the woman was set up like the Whore of Babylon; I saw the reports on the news—"I can't help but feel responsible."
That's because you are responsible to some extent-cause and effect, Debra. But that doesn't mean you were wrong to question her. She may have been harboring a murderer. I say nothing, though.
Deb isn't forgiving herself. "You know, I knew that there was something she wasn't telling me."
"Do you think she knew that her brother was involved?"
"I think she knew something was up with him, and I think she was trying to protect him, which is what a good sister does, and then he ends up killing her. Jesus, are all brothers assholes?"
"Who are we talking about now?" As if I didn't know. I talked to her brother briefly after the shooting. Very closed off person. Not hostile, but guarded.
"Who else? Dexter."
Ding, ding, ding. "So you think he might kill you?"
The nervous laugh that erupts from her is fascinating. Her expression is one of true amusement, but she looks away, to the side. Something she's not facing.
I can use that. I can twist that.
"No, I don't think he's going to kill me.' Her face is extraordinarily peaceful. I can see that Dexter is the one person in whom she has faith.
It's cruel, really, for me to screw with that.
I'm fully cognizant of that. Does that make it less heinous of me to do it?
Thought not. Oh, well.
"I think he treats me like shit." There. There it is. The face of the perpetual outcast. The swearing, the tough as nails attitude, the screw-you clothes—they all hide this little girl that is terrified the world is going to hurt her.
That is terrified her big brother doesn't love her.
She's a bit of a tough one to love, if you ask me. Needy as shit, not the brightest bulb in the pack when it comes to presenting herself, but a good investigator according to Matthews. Laguerta sees her as too rough, oversensitive, too concerned with being part of the gang.
Then again, Laguerta is a total bitch who's threatened by any woman with a brain and good looks, so who cares what she thinks. Matthews is usually a better judge of character, but I don't know why he picked Morgan for this job. She's not ready. She's not seasoned enough. And she's falling apart before my eyes. And before the eyes of her team.
Although I am helping her with that part. I may be screwing with some parts of her life, but I can still help her with others. That's part of the game, after all. Never get caught mucking around in a psyche. "Based on what she told me, my assessment was reasonable," I could tell any board. "And look how much I helped on this and this and that."
I've done this before, you see. And never had to go before a board. But if I'd had to, I'd have been ready.
"He shuts me out," she says. "He won't tell me things. Like really important things."
"Sounds like you two are having a little trouble communicating lately." I should be shot for lame-ass statements like that. Part of the job, I'm afraid.
"We aren't having trouble communicating. He's the one that's keeping all the secrets."
"But normally you're pretty open with each other?"
"Yes. I tell him everything. I tell him about boyfriends, work. I tell him about everything."
"Sounds like a lot of talking about yourself." There's a shocker.
She's actually pointing at me. "Aren't you supposed to be on my side?"
"I'm just telling you what I'm hearing." You self-centered brat.
"Okay, yeah, we talk about me. A lot." She laughs, and then looks off to the side as she seems to tend to do. I assess her as she does it. She's a beautiful woman. The kind men love, even if she's too skinny, all hard edges and steel toed man boots and abominable clothing choices. Her face is arresting, her eyes are the kind that stop you and make you go back for a second look no matter what your sex, and her mouth is strong. But her expression is so wary, so pissed off usually, that some of the beauty is lost in the anger and tension. "But that's what I'm saying. I can't get him to tell me shit all about jack shit."
Articulate as ever, our Deb.
And here I go. I don't even pause to think as I launch.
"Or," I say, the little pause giving me extra sensitivity, "maybe he doesn't think there's any room in the relationship for his needs. Maybe next time you get together, you could just make some effort to focus on him? His issues."
She looks pissed at first. But she's processing. Because she loves him and I've hit her where she lives.
A slight nod. All I get but it's all I need.
Here we go.
"Dexter's allowed to have a private life, but is it too much to ask for a little give and take?" She has a pillow over her lap—classic defense mechanism.
"Would you say that your brother has always been guarded?"
"Well, yeah, that's the problem."
"But if he's always been this way, why would you suddenly expect him to change?" God, I love asking that question.
"I don't know but—"
"Would you expect a chair to suddenly become a table?"
"No, because a chair is a—"
"Dexter is who he is." She smiles. "You're good."
I am good. "How does it make you feel when he shuts you out?"
She doesn't expect that. She thought I was giving him an out. "Alone."
"Where do you think this comes from? This feeling of being alone?"
"I don't know. My mom died when I was a teenager."
That explains the clothing. "That must have been hard. Becoming a woman with no mother figure."
"Would have helped if my dad had paid me any attention. That's probably why I fell in love with someone twice my age. He was shot in front of me. Did I mention that?"
"No." Jesus. The baggage this woman has. How the hell does she get up in the morning?
"I was probably looking for someone safer after being engaged to this really great guy who also turned out to be a serial killer."
The Ice Truck Killer. I know all about it. I work very hard to keep that fact from my face, keep my expression as sympathetic as I can. "Would you like it if we started seeing each other more than once a week?"
She lets out a huff of relieved air. Again the small little nod.
For the first time, I only feel a little bit of pleasure that the game will go on.
"Are you serious? Bowls of blood dropped on my head? It's like a perfect fucking metaphor for my perfect fucking life. I'm not even sure I believe in God, but I'm pretty sure he hates me." She looks ready to explode.
I can't really argue with how much having copious amounts of blood dropped on you must suck, so I decide to throw her a curveball. "Losing your parents is difficult. Having a loved one shot in front of you is unthinkable. Finding out that your fiancé is a serial killer is—"
"Did I mention that he was Dexter's biological brother?"
I know I show surprise. That's not in the files. I've checked. "No, you did not. So wait a minute, the Ice Truck Killer was your brother?" I know he's not. I've done some snooping through my own sources. But I want to hear it from her—have to hear it from her, to get her down the path I need her to go.
"No, Dexter was adopted so we're not blood related."
"Oh." Then I wait.
"What. What does that 'Oh' mean?"
"You mentioned that your father didn't pay much attention to you. What was his relationship with Dexter like?"
"They did everything together?"
"And without your mother..."
"I was left behind."
"You can move forward, Debra. But it's going to mean taking responsibility for your feelings and your choices."
"What does that mean?"
"Please don't misunderstand me. I am very sensitive to the trauma and the tragedy that you've experienced, but as far as your failed relationships are concerned..."
And here we go... "We are responsible for the partners we choose." This part is truth, whether or not I end up screwing with her.
I give her my best "I mean it" look.
"How the fuck was I supposed to know that Rudy was the Ice Truck Killer? Are you saying that I chose to be with a serial killer on purpose?"
"I think you have a history of choosing inappropriate or unavailable men."
"Well, what the fuck do you want me to say? That my life is a train wreck of a disaster? That my life is a shit hole? Well, I already know this. This isn't news to me, okay? I know that I am broken."
"Do you know that you don't have to be? You can pick up the pieces."
"By making different choices. By breaking your patterns. Debra, it's going to be hard. But you can make yourself whole again."
She looks at me like she's just too tired. But I can see it in her eyes. She's too tired not to try.
"I had a freak-out at a crime scene today."
"Is that unusual?"
Deb looks amused with me. Open and trusting, and for once, I actually like her—it's crucial that I like them when I play this game. It won't work if I don't.
She smiles wider. "Yes, that's unusual. I've seen a lot of fucked up shit and it usually just rolls right off."
"But not today?"
"You know what's even weirder is the stuff that usually fucks me up didn't even faze me today."
"Like Laguerta trying to swing her dick around in the briefing room. I handled that like a champ."
I give her a real smile because I can't stand Laguerta. If my little girl here can beat her back a little, then go, Deb! "Well, that's fantastic."
"So why did I lose my shit when I walked into that church?"
"Does church have some kind of significance for you?"
"I don't know—the only time I go to church is to go to a funeral, you know? My mom, my dad, boyfriends, my sister-in-law."
"So, you associate church with loss?"
Work with me here, Deb. It's not rocket science.
"Whatever, doesn't matter. My brother showed up. He calmed me down."
"Dexter?" Important to get the name out there. Even if I know she has no other brother to show up and calm her down. Move past the brother thing. Make him a man. Dexter. The man. "Was it something that he said?"
"I guess." She thinks about it. "Not really. It was more just him being there. Come to think of it, every time the shit hits the fan, I go to him."
Yes, you brainless twit, because he's the only real friend you have. And that's because he's family and doesn't have a choice. I, of course, don't say this to her.
"I've even moved in with him a few times."
"He's your safe place."
"Yeah. Since we were kids. I used to have these nightmares and I would sneak into his room and curl up on the floor. He wouldn't even know I was there—is that weird?"
"I don't know. Do you think it's weird?" This. This is the moment I've been waiting for. I start playing the string out. See if, like the cat she looks like, she pounces on it as if it were true prey.
"Not really. He's my brother. I think it's sweet." And she does think that. She's not taking the bait.
I could leave it alone right now. I could let her be. I could work with her in other ways, mold her and fashion her into something that would give Laguerta nightmares. But that wouldn't be as fun. Because if she gets strong, she'll stop coming to me.
Whereas if she goes this other route I envision for her, she'll be mine. Forever probably.
But I take the moment. Leave it? Change tactics? Stay the course?
It's a short moment. The course is set. Full speed ahead.
But I let her leave today still thinking it's sweet she slept in her brother's room.
And, of course, it is.
The department is abuzz with what happened earlier. The Doomsday Killer attacking us, a chemical gas attack. Dexter stopping it, standing by the door and holding it closed while the woman wearing the chemical gear perished in the exam room—got exposed himself, I heard. The last guy I'd pick for a hero, but then that's often the case.
I'm very glad he was there to save us.
Deb has had a lot on her plate.
"You've been talking a lot about your department this morning," I say. "How are you doing since the attack?"
I give her a skeptical stern look.
"Pretty much. I mean, I'm worried about Dexter. He wouldn't go to the hospital. He keeps saying he's okay."
"You must be very proud of him."
"He saved everyone's life. Including mine."
Yes, Debra, you are part of everyone. I want to shake her sometimes. For her ability to simultaneously exhibit narcissism and low self-esteem.
She is clearly shaken, though, by what happened. "It all happened so fast. You know if that canister had gone off any sooner..."
"Your brother holds a very important place in your life." Deb does not seem to notice the more than obvious u-turn back to Dexter. The finesse needed for this is, at times, minimal.
"He's really all I have."
As I said.
"You think I'm crazy now, oh, I can't even imagine what a fucking mess my life would be without him."
"I don't think you're crazy." Not yet, anyway.
"Can I get that in writing?"
"From what I do know about you, you feel things very deeply. Like your bond with Dexter. What do you think that stems from?"
"Maybe because he's the only guy in my life that I haven't dumped or cheated on or isn't dead."
"Is it possible that your feelings for Dexter are the reason that you have chosen men in the past who have been either inappropriate or unavailable?" Have to be careful. I could lose her here so easily.
"Because they're what? Not Dexter?"
Then again, maybe I'm giving Deb too much credit.
She thinks about it. A lot. Finally seems to get it. "That's insane."
"Is it?" I don't look away.
She doesn't either.
And I can see it. She's already seeing the path. She is not opposed to this path. She may never have consciously considered this path—hell, she may not have subconsciously considered it. But her ability to pick the wrong partner every single time will now allow her to screw up the one relationship that really matters.
"He's my brother." She's trying to sound angry. She doesn't sound angry, though.
"Yet you're not biologically related."
Her mouth is open, her eyes are dilated. It's almost embarrassing how easy this is. "So?"
"It would be understandable, given the past traumas the two of you have shared for you to develop complex feelings for him."
"Why the fuck are we even talking about this?"
This is the most insightful thing she has ever asked me. I suddenly see why she might be a great detective. Her eyes are narrowed, her brain—obviously sharper than I have given her credit for—is telling her something is not right here. Path A should not have led us to Destination Z.
"You mention Dexter. He comes up in these sessions a lot. Aren't you curious as to why that is?"
"He's a huge part of my life. That's it." She's mad now. It'd be denial if she were really in love with him. If I hadn't planted the seed that she was feeling a moment ago. Now she's just...pissed. "End of story."
"You're getting upset." Fall back on the classics: State the obvious.
"Fuck, yes, I'm becoming upset, because you're making it sound like I want to...be with him or something."
Fascinating. With anyone else but Dexter, she would have simply said fuck him.
"Well, do you?"
Again that look. The open mouth. The eyes just so. Arousal. Then she stands. "Look. I love my brother. But I am sure as shit not in love with my brother, if that's what you're getting at. We're done here."
I don't turn to watch her go.
We're done here. For now.
She barges into my office at the station. "You were right."
Time to be firm. "Debra, we can schedule a time."
"I told him. I fucking told my brother that I love him, and he said 'I love you' back. Not 'Me, too' or something like that. He actually said 'I love you.'"
"Wow. That's big, isn't it?"
"Yeah, I mean, I don't think he understood that I'm in love with him, but still he said the actual words for the first time."
I feel sorry for her. That she can think that saying those words for the first time—a significant milestone indeed—is the signal to land this emotional bomb on her brother. But that's why I picked her. She doesn't have a clue what she's doing. She's going to completely ruin the only relationship she has in her life when he reacts as most people would. Especially a person as emotionally stunted as her brother appears to be.
And then what will Debra have left?
Well, me, of course.
I did mention I found her attractive, right?
"What do you think it means?" I ask.
"I don't know what the fuck it means, that's why I'm here." She takes a breath. "Is this just horribly wrong?"
"Does it feel wrong?"
"It makes my whole life—every man I've ever loved—make sense."
Yes, we call that rationalization.
"It's like I've always been looking for someone like Dexter. Or someone who's the opposite of Dexter."
Okay, so pretty much the whole male population, then?
"As a way to avoid the fact that I'm in love with him."
My work here is done.
"It's just clear to me now. And I want it to be clear to him. I want him to understand."
"Okay. You want to tell him how you feel in a way that he can hear you."
"Yes." She's crying. And smiling. And laughing. "Is this how it feels to be in control of your emotions?"
I smile. But then I let the smile fade. I want her to understand. She needs to know that I warned her. That I'm concerned for her. That this voyage of enlightenment was never about telling Dexter, and now that she wants to tell him, she needs to understand this one simple fact: "But you can't control his. You don't know how he's going to react."
Her good mood evaporates. She stands and walks out, and I know she's off to do it, because that's how Debra is. Ready, fire, aim.
She doesn't know how he'll react.
She'll be back to me. Sooner than she thinks.
And then we'll really get to work.
A pretty police lieutenant. A nice addition to the collection.