‘Ren,’ said Colin. ‘Call for you on one. She wanted to speak with a female. She didn’t give a name.’

Ren picked up the phone. ‘This is Special Agent Ren Bryce. How may I help you?’

‘My name is Catherine Sarvas. I’m calling from El Paso, Texas. I saw your Most Wanted List on line this morning…’

Ren slid her notebook across her desk. She picked up a pencil. ‘And do you have something you’d like to tell me, ma’am?’

‘I…yes,’ said Catherine. ‘Yes, I have. I do. I…’ She paused. ‘I’m sorry…I thought I could do this.’

She hung up.

‘Short call,’ said Robbie.

Ren nodded. ‘Weird.’

‘What did she want?’

‘To give me a little flicker of hope on a dreary Monday.’

‘Are you going to call her back?’

‘I’ll give her a little while. El Paso…What’s going on down there?’

Ren spent Monday lunch-times in the offices of Dr Helen Wheeler. The psychiatrist all lunatics should have: intelligent, warm, caring, wore great shoes you could admire while avoiding your issues.

Until Ren was diagnosed bipolar at twenty-six, she had never guessed that there was anything wrong with her. Mental illnesses were for the mentally ill. It seemed like one minute she was the youngest FBI agent to go under deep cover and blow apart an organized crime operation and the next, she was lying in her pajamas on the sofa, eating junk food, crying, not answering her phone, drinking, obsessing about all the regrets she had in her life, wondering what point there was in doing anything again. Ever.

Her older brother, Matt, suggested she get help. But he already knew what was wrong with Ren. So he brought her to his computer one evening and gently opened a checklist on a psychiatry website that covered her symptoms: the despair, the exhaustion, the sofa, the hopelessness. Ren had looked up at Matt and shrugged. ‘That’s just depression, though. Everyone gets like that.’

Matt had scrolled down to the mania checklist: I have lots of energy. I feel amazing. I want everyone else to feel amazing. I want to go out and party. I love everyone. I know everything. I feel creative. I’m working hard. I’m talking too quickly. I’m loud. I’m impatient. I’m exercising. I’m alert. I’m swearing. I’m invincible. I’m hypersexual. I’m overspending. Check, check, check, check, check…

Ren had cried her heart out. ‘This is so depressing. My entire personality can be reduced to a checklist. If I buy lots of shoes, it’s because I’m nuts. If I’m having sex five times a day, it’s because I’m nuts. Me and two million other losers. And it’s not that I thought I was special or unique, but there is something so grim about fitting into this formula. It’s like we’re some fucked-up alien race. I mean, did you read all that shit? It affects every part of my existence. And there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t be fixed.’

Matt had cried too and explained that it may not be fixable, but it was treatable. He told Ren that she was unique and smart and loving and funny and generous and all women have too many shoes and that she was beautiful and he loved her to bits. And she loved him too. Because Matt had also read that telling Ren all this could come back and bite him. Because there was a high risk that someone bipolar would shoot the messenger; at some point, maybe not the same day or maybe not the same year, they would turn to the person who wanted to help them the most and scream, ‘This is all your fault. If you hadn’t told me all this, I would never have known, and I would have been happy just the way I was.’ And then they would scream, ‘You. Ruined. My. Life.’

Before that year was out, Ren had fired every one of those razor-sharp words at Matt and they had struck his heart. Ren did, indeed, shoot the messenger. And with a true bipolar flourish, had come back six months later, laden with guilt and gifts, to apologize.

Ren had tried different psychiatrists and psychotherapists since then, but when she met Helen Wheeler two years ago, Ren knew she had found her savior. Helen was in her early sixties, with a cultural awareness that spanned decades and created a bridge to all her patients. On Ren’s first visit, Helen had told her, ‘I am a psychiatrist, not a mind reader. What you tell me is what I will know about you. And you can leave your brave face at the door. If you’re having a bad day, my office is the perfect place to have it in.’

Ren checked her watch as she waited to be called in to Helen’s office.

Hurry up. Hurry up. Hurry up.

Helen leaned her head out the door of her office. ‘Come on in, Ren,’ she said. ‘How are you today?’

‘I’m…good,’ said Ren, sitting down.

Helen smiled. ‘OK…’

‘I don’t know,’ said Ren. ‘Did you see the news? It’s Most Wanted time…which is fine. It’s just…this year, it’s got Domenica Val Pando on it and I feel I’m being taken back years and…’ She hung her head.

Helen waited.

‘It’s just…’ said Ren, ‘I guess…I was diagnosed at the end of that assignment and some part of me, I know it’s not rational, but some part of me thinks that if it wasn’t for that, I would be fine, there would be nothing wrong with me. And then…then there’s another part of me – and it’s so screwed up – that wants to be back there, because I was oblivious, I didn’t know how lucky I was to be sane. Or at least to think I was sane.’

Helen smiled at her. ‘Ren, you are sane. And those feelings are understandable.’

‘But what makes no sense is that paranoia is the worst part of bipolar disorder for me, yet undercover work is a whole world of paranoia. You are lying all day every day and you’re never sure if you’re going to be found out. Give me depression over paranoia any day. Because I just…I feel paranoia is what will ultimately bring me down.’

‘Ren, nothing is going to bring you down,’ said Helen. ‘You are in control of all of this. And you are not alone. You have an entire team working with you. Good people, from what you tell me. So, rely on them, Ren.’

Ren nodded. ‘I can’t stop thinking about the assignment, though. I told this terrible story to gain someone’s confidence and get into her life – I sat on a park bench crying to Domenica Val Pando, telling her I had lost my four-month old baby…’

‘That is part of undercover work, Ren. You were doing your job.’

‘I know, but I look back sometimes and I think “How could I have done that?”’ Ren shook her head. ‘Nothing to do with Val Pando personally – she’s a piece of shit – just, me. How could I have done that?’

‘It was your job.’

‘I know it’s what I signed up to do,’ said Ren. ‘But I guess I get scared at how easy it was for me to do it. Undercover work is such a rush – the better you are, the greater the high. The more you find out, the more you want to find out. It’s addictive. You go to bed at night, you write notes, you give them to your contact agent. He’s making a case, he’s happy, you’re happy. But I was still playing the role of Remy Torres, a fake name in a fake life. She was like part-me, part-stranger. So…in a way, you never know what she’s capable of.’ She paused. ‘And when it’s over and you bring your real self into the equation, when you’re away from whatever group of dirtbags you’ve been investigating, you’re faced with how good a liar you were and how well you manipulated people. And you tell yourself that the ends justify the means. But sometimes the means just make you feel dirty.’

‘OK, take some breaths.’ Helen handed her a box of Kleenex.

‘Thanks,’ said Ren. ‘Oh sorry, I’ve pulled out the whole lot. It must be a sign. I’ll be here weeping all day.’

‘I’m sponsored by Kleenex,’ said Helen. ‘It’s written on the back of my blouse.’

Ren laughed through the tears. ‘I honestly don’t know why I’m crying.’

‘Ren,’ said Helen gently, ‘Remy Torres did not take you down with her. Here you are, Ren Bryce, over ten years on, successful, stable, still pursuing these people, not turning into them.’

‘Still pursuing,’ said Ren. ‘Exactly.’

‘You are so hard on yourself,’ said Helen. ‘You’re doing great. Stop beating yourself up. Get back to that office this afternoon and kick some butt. Like you always do.’

‘Thanks. I’ll try.’

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