The Curious Case of Rebecca Murdoch: Pt 1, First Impressions

           In all of the years I’ve known her, I have never truly understood Rebecca Murdoch. She never seemed to look precisely right, but it was quite difficult to pin down what was so strange about her manner. Her emotions always seemed somewhat stunted, but she almost always had a strange, somewhat forced looking grin on her face. Her eyes were never quite focused on me, instead always looking off to the side or somewhere behind me. She could hold a conversation, but she didn’t quite seem to get the nuances of what I was telling her. Now, I’ve counseled several people on the spectrum before, so I was quite used to seeing these signs. But, it wasn’t just her affect that came across as odd.

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen her body or face move unconsciously. She could walk, talk, and sometimes even emote, but it was as if she had to consciously decide to move at all. The rest of the time, she stayed eerily still and stiff. Not to mention, whenever I looked at her, there was always some sense of artificiality about her. I can’t place it exactly. Something about her skin, her face, her hair, or her clothes just didn’t feel real. It was like something had tried to create a of a woman and almost succeeded.

              Overall, the best way I could describe her is doll-like. She looked mostly human, but she always reminded me of a mannequin or a robot. Nothing about her was wrong, mind you. She unsettled me a little when she first walked into my office, but for all of the time I knew her, she came across as an intelligent, sweet, polite woman. Yet, as pleasant as she was, she never lost that fake, doll-robot air. 

         I first met Ms. Murdoch during her first appointment three years ago. Now, it’s typical for patients to call me beforehand to schedule their first appointment. This, however, was not a typical experience. When I first heard about her, it was from a creepy, mysterious man in a black suit and sunglasses. He never gave his name, I don’t really even remember his face. I do remember how much he scared me. His inscrutable face and stiff movements didn’t bode well with me. He showed up and said that he needed to speak to me. I had just finished my last appointment, so I wasn’t keen on another conversation, but he didn’t take no for an answer. A few minutes later, I was serving coffee to this man, who had now made his way into my living room after following me home. He relished the coffee like I’ve never seen before, almost like he expected to never drink coffee again. Then, he got down to business. 

         He told me that he wanted me to counsel a particular woman, named Rebecca Murdoch. He said that it would need to be as soon as possible and that I was to provide counseling to her every week. I would’ve protested, but then he took out a massive envelope and handed it to me. Inside, there was a bundle of five thousand dollars! He said that as long as I continued to council her until she ‘finished’, that I would receive that much as payment for each session. He did add one more caveat, though. He made me sign a non-disclosure agreement, stating that I could not mention Murdoch to anyone, under penalty of prosecution and immediate termination of the payment. I knew how suspicious this whole thing was even then, but I agreed.

            I’ll never forget that first appointment. When I first saw her walk into my office, I immediately shuddered. I had never seen her before, so the way she moved, the pastel pallor of her face and clothes, and that smile did not rub me the right way. Still, I wasn’t going to back out of the money I’d be making because she was a little creepy, so I sat her down and I asked her why she had come to see me. She cocked her head, otherwise remaining completely still. 

        “I’m having problems with my relationship with my father.” I’m not going to lie, I had to suppress a giggle. It was just such a common and mundane problem, and I half expected this woman to tell me she’d eaten a baby to stay young. I sighed and smiled a little bit.

       “Really? What sorts of problems?”

             She very smoothly and conspicuously put her finger to her chin in a pantomime of thinking deeply. After a few seconds, she said,

      “He’s very controlling. I only moved out of his house a few weeks ago, and he still calls me multiple times throughout the day. He has to know where I am and what I’m doing all the time.” She paused for a second, unmoving, before continuing. “He also demands that I show him every purchase I make, and he was to approve it first.”

            I nodded and closed my eyes, the smile gone. I’d done this sort of thing before. I wasn’t sure how healthy the relationship was in other areas, but I knew that this was clearly something she needed help with. 

         “Are you financially dependent on him in any way.”

      Her hands went to her lap, and her head straightened. “What do you mean?”

              “Does he lend you money? Does he handle your bank account? Does he fill out your insurance forms-”

        “What are insurance forms?”

     “…the point is, do you need him to handle your money?”

            She assumed that thinking pantomime again. “Yes. I don’t have a bank account. He gives me my allowance for working at Julia’s Java and pays for my apartment.”

        Okay, this was not right. “I see. Is there any chance I can talk to your father?”

     She nodded, and I soon got the phone number for one Alex Murdoch. The rest of the appointment was mostly irrelevant, just filling in her general background. I kept the number for her father, though. I waited until she left, and I eventually decided that I would call him. I didn’t think it was my place to intervene directly, but this time, it was about more than just what she said. The man who’d told me about her was still fresh in my mind, and I was dying to know what this Alex Murdoch had to do with the affair.

          Slowly, like my phone would explode if I got a digit wrong, I dialed the number. I don’t know why, but my finger hovered over the call button for a solid minute. I thought that it was irrational, but my heart was still racing. I felt like this was something I shouldn’t be meddling in. I felt that if I called Mr. Murdoch, my life would change, and not for the better. Nevertheless, I swallowed my fear and, after a moment, pressed the call button.

      There were two rings. Then someone answered.

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