“My client is feeling very insecure this week,” Stebbins said, swinging his feet up onto the leather couch, leaning his head back against the paper antimacassar, and lighting up a large cigar.
“Yes?” the doctor said, in a deep baritone rumble from somewhere behind Stebbins. “And what has he been thinking and feeling?”
“Frankly, he’s worried about his mother’s visit,” Stebbins said, glancing at the little blue notebook he had propped against his rising and falling waistline. “His mother’s visits always remind him of his sister-in-law who came to stay with the family when he was three. She was always put up in his room, and he had to sleep under the front stairs with the brooms.”
“Brooms?” the rumble noted. “Any associations?”
“Dirt,” Stebbins said quietly, and then he paused, as if reluctant to go on. “You’re quite right, doctor,” he said, turning to flip an ash from his cigar into a saucer placed on the floor beside him. “With the life he’s been leading lately, he feels that somehow he has been snuffing the candle at both ends. On the one hand, he wants his mother to stay with him, but on his other hand, he feels that every time she comes, he has to take her to a Broadway musical, and that costs. His father, as we know,” Stebbins continued, consulting his notebook, “used to beat him with a silk scarf whenever he spent his allowance too fast. Money is still a big problem.”
The rumble broke into a deep cough. “I’ve been meaning to ask you,” it said, with just a trace of its Venezuelan accent, “that is, I mean, to ask your client—Mr. L., my patient...” (More coughing) “Naturally, I was wondering about his strong resistance to my fees. This whole problem with money... perhaps, as a start, you could tell me how much he pays you for your services?”
Stebbins sat bolt upright on the couch. “Please, doctor,” he said. “There is one thing that I will not have. My financial arrangements with my client are a matter of strictest confidence. There will be no discussion of these matters. None! I’m sure you understand. As a professional man yourself...”
Jack Stebbins had been, in one capacity or another, a professional stand-in since he was six years old—when his parents had rented him out to childless couples for visits to the Children’s Zoo. At eight, he had been a back-stop babysitter for older children too busy to care for their charges on Saturday nights. At nine, he had walked dogs for other people; and at ten, he had served as a delivery boy for a diaper service during the Christmas rush. Throughout his high school years, he had willingly loaned his civics papers and chemistry laboratory reports to younger students, and on one occasion, he helped his sister pass Home Economics by knitting her mid-semester argyles, and baking an A-minus Linzer Torte final. At college, he often stood in for his roommate on blind dates arranged by the roommate’s myopic great-aunt in Detroit; and twice, he put on dark glasses and make-up to sit in at language examinations for his friends. (It was at this point that his fees began to constitute a modest livelihood.)
Upon graduation, Stebbins managed to avoid the draft by borrowing a portfolio of x-rays from an uncle with flat feet, and the following summer, he sublet a bachelor apartment in New York, where he picked up spare cash in the evenings by holding a place in line for hungry standees outside the Metropolitan Opera House. His big break came when one of the regular standees confessed that someone had given him tickets to that evening’s recital by the Electric Moog in Bryant Park, and asked Stebbins, not only to hold his usual place in line, but also (for an additional sum) to attend the opera for him.