MY FIRST ENCOUNTER with the eminent Dr. Hubert Freundlich was the evening before the lift disaster, in the Innsbruck condo hot tub. It was twenty-five heart-stopping degrees on the icy deck where I stood clad only in my skimpy bathing suit, gazing with trepidation into the swirling cauldron of steaming water below. As a result of a couple of traumatic experiences in my past, I’m phobic about any body of water deeper than the ten inches I run every day in my bathtub. My inner child was shouting at me to get the hell out of there, but my adult self felt compelled to behave like the mental health professional I am, especially in front of my colleagues. I inhaled a lungful of frozen air that nearly paralyzed me, and took the plunge.

The jolt that electrified my body had less to do with the change in temperature than with the feel of a large male hand stroking my thigh. Rigid with shock, I struggled to find a logical explanation. Perhaps this was some new form of healing hands/touch therapy. Dr. Freundlich was, after all, a guru in the field of alternative medicine. Possibly he’d gotten me confused with his wife, an amply endowed Amazon who was standing only a few inches to his right. A considerable amount of alcohol had been consumed at the welcoming reception that afternoon, and although it wasn’t yet six o’clock, the moon had slipped behind the mountain peak, leaving us cloaked in a shadowy haze. Anxious to give the man the benefit of the doubt, I gently shook him off, submerged up to my neck, and floated six inches to the left. He placed his drink on the ledge, stepped on my foot to keep me stationary, and allowed the offending hand to settle on my hip and creep south. No confusion there.

Hubert Freundlich, Ph.D., QEEGT, CNP, BCIA, was this year’s key speaker and honoree at the convention of the International Association of Biofeedback Practitioners. A man of distinction, highly thought of in the professional circles in which I travel, Dr. Freundlich was renowned for his work using magnets combined with EEG Neurofeedback in the treatment of chronic pain. He’d published numerous papers describing his impressive results. As a biofeedback professional I’d been using EEG brain wave training primarily for my Attention Deficit Disorder patients, so I’d read his findings with a good deal of excited interest. My objective in coming to this convention had been to meet him and to hear him speak. The reason I was wearing a bathing suit in December, and having my body scalded while my nose turned the color of Rudolph’s, was because this had seemed like a golden opportunity to introduce myself and to learn something new. This new kind of touch therapy was not what I’d had in mind.

There are several methods of dealing with a man who is making an inappropriate pass. If, however, the pass-maker happens to be a respected individual who is coming on in a way that isn’t obvious to anyone but the recipient, your choices are limited. Screaming invectives while kicking him in the groin would be tacky. Imagine the gossip that would have generated among my fellow hot-tubbers, in addition to which they’d probably have concluded that it was wishful thinking on my part. I’ve been divorced for almost two years and Dr. Freundlich is a brilliant and famous man. And at an imposing six-three, with penetrating smoky blue eyes and silver-streaked blond hair, not at all hard to look at in the bargain. Letting one’s husband or significant other challenge him to a duel would have worked in the Old South, but this was the frigid North and my significant other, who happens to be a homicide cop, was four hundred miles away, keeping Bergen County, New Jersey crime-free while baby-sitting my twelve-year-old son, my fourteen-year-old daughter, and our four animals.

What to do? Grinding my fingernails deep into the offending extremity came to mind, but my nails hadn’t grown back since I’d bitten them to the quick the last time my stepmother visited. Besides, I didn’t want to antagonize the man. I’d come all this way to pick his brain. The problem was that at the moment, his brain didn’t seem to be residing where it should.

I opted to go with the mistaken-wife scenario even though he’d have had to be totally blotto to have mixed us up. Frau Freundlich is Germanically blond while my hair is brown, short, and curly; she’s about five-foot-ten to my five-three, at least ten years my senior, and definitely a cup-size or three larger.

Extracting my foot with some difficulty from beneath his, I nearly knocked over a frowning redheaded woman, with a build like a linebacker and lips like parallel bars who was standing on my other side. She turned a malevolent gaze on me.

“Watch it,” she snapped.

“Excuse me, sorry,” I apologized, grabbing for the wayward hand still creeping toward its destination. I yanked it to the surface and vigorously shook it.

“Dr. Freundlich,” I said, trying my best not to appear flustered. “I’m Carrie Carlin. I have a small biofeedback practice in New Jersey. I’ve read about your work and I’ve been looking forward to talking with you. And your lovely wife,” I added, determined to include Brunhilde in any discussions we might have.

There was a muffled snort of derision from the redhead on my left.

From his height a foot above me, Freundlich favored me with a benevolent glance, as though I were a schoolgirl with a crush instead of a female colleague with whose thigh he’d just become overly familiar. He removed his hand from mine and smiled, displaying perfect, had-to-be-bleached white teeth.

“You must come to my lecture tomorrow morning,” he said, taking care to enunciate clearly so as, I surmised, not to slur his words. “I’ll be speaking before the award ceremony and there will be a question-and-answer period following the demonstrations. If you suffer from any sort of chronic pain, please feel free to participate.”

Then he looked me full in the face and winked, making it clear exactly what sort of demonstration he had in mind.

“Actually, I’ve been lucky,” I replied sweetly. “I’ve never suffered from chronic pain.”

“Well, I’d like to participate,” piped up Nadine Claughton, my roommate for the conference duration, from her perch on the underwater bench across the tub. Nadine’s a psychologist in her late thirties, cheerleader cute, with ash-blond hair, peaches-and-cream skin, no encumbrances, and an eye for every eligible guy within a fifty-mile radius.

“I get migraines. Can’t figure out what triggers them. They’re cramping my style.” She smiled seductively. “If you can work some magic that’ll send me home cured, I’ll be your eternal slave.”

Freundlich focused hypnotic eyes on Nadine, drawing her to him like one of those powerful magnets he uses in his work. I’d be willing to bet that slavery was a concept he found as attractive as champagne and caviar.

“I promise no miracles,” he said, in a silky voice. “But I believe you’ll be amazed at the results.”

Nadine fluffed up her hair and floated over to us, wedging herself between Freundlich and me.

“I have to tell you,” she gushed. “I found your article on combining thermal biofeedback with EEG for migraines absolutely fascinating.”

I, too, was fascinated. I was wondering if, below the waterline, Nadine was receiving the same warm welcome I had. If she wasn’t at the moment, she was certainly setting herself up.

“My work will revolutionize the treatment of chronic pain,” Freundlich went on expansively. He leaned past his oblivious wife and splashed some water on a scrawny figure seated in the corner. “Isn’t that right, Scarborough?”

“Yes, sir. The pain work is extremely exciting,” came a robotic voice. It belonged to a small gnome of a man, about fifty, with a caved-in chest, sparse graying hair, metal-rimmed glasses, and a flat face that looked like someone had sat on it. He wasn’t smiling as he wiped hot water off his bifocals. I remembered seeing him standing with the Freundlichs at the reception. He hadn’t been smiling then, either.

“What you’re going to see tomorrow is cutting edge,” Freundlich continued. “An historic breakthrough. And I promise you, it will reverse forever the way our medical colleagues and third-party payers view us.”

I was all for that, provided he could deliver. My clients have to pay me out of pocket. Because I’m not an M.D. or a Ph.D., insurance companies look on me as though I were one step removed from a counterfeiter.

“Historic, my ass,” said the redheaded snorter. “Do you have controlled clinical studies this time, Doctor, or are your results all anecdotal as usual?”

Freundlich reached across me and cupped the woman’s face in his hand. I had to do a fast backpedal to avoid being knocked underwater, which almost gave me one of those panic attacks I treat other people for. I hooked my arm around a ladder rung to assure maximum safety in case the upcoming exchange got ugly.

“Ah, my dear Dr. Zimmer,” he replied. “I am well aware that you have come here to shoot me down, but believe me, after tomorrow, even you will be converted.”

“Hah,” snarled Dr. Zimmer, tossing her head and dislodging his hand. “When pigs fly.”

“Who is that?” Nadine whispered in my ear.

Suddenly it came to me. “Flo Zimmer,” I muttered. “President of DAHM.”

DAHM (Doctors Against Holistic Medicine) is an organization whose entire raison d’être seems to be to discourage any interest in alternative forms of medical treatment. Biofeedback practitioners who teach the theory of mind/body/spirit connection are number one on its hit list.

Liebling,” cooed Frau Freundlich, hoisting her full-figured body out of the tub and onto the platform without so much as a flinch as butt met ice. “Go ve must to dinner and zen early to bed. You need your rest. At half after eight in the morning you are speaking. Vat vill people say if you sleep through your award ceremony?”

“Can’t have that,” Nadine said, turning her back on Dr. Zimmer, thus leaving no doubt as to whose camp she was in. “He’s all that’s keeping these snow bunnies off the mountain and in the auditorium.”

She wasn’t kidding. We were less than one day into the convention and already it was becoming clear that the slopes were proving more enticing than many of the speakers. It was one of those rare Vermont weeks when the weather had cooperated, fulfilling every skier’s fantasy. Currier & Ives couldn’t top the view from our window. The snow had fallen heavily during the night, spray-painting the trees and blanketing the slopes with just enough soft powder to make turning one’s skis a snap even for the novices.

All of the condominiums at Snowridge are nestled at the foot of the mountain. Nadine and I are staying at Mountainside, the unit that Rich and I used to rent. The condo is located so close to the lifts, one can practically see the faces of the skiers as they zoom past the picture window. Staying there made me feel nostalgic for the old days. At least it did until Dr. Freundlich’s roving hands reminded me of my ex’s roving dick, and my nostalgia evaporated like snowflakes in the rising steam.

I joined my colleagues in a round of polite good-nights and watched, half-intrigued, half-repulsed, as Dr. Freundlich helped his wife on with her robe and ushered her inside as though he had eyes only for her.

“Coming, Scarborough?” he called over his shoulder, and the unsmiling man hauled himself out of the tub and followed his mentor without a word of good-night to any of us.

“Imagine heading early to bed with that,” sighed Nadine.

“Scarborough?” I asked, poker-faced.

“Yuck. Not him. The man himself.”

Be careful what you wish for, pal, I thought. The man’s magic wand is for rent only.

Joe Golden laughed. “He certainly is charismatic.”

Joe’s a psychiatrist and one of the few M.D.s I know who believes in biofeedback therapy as an adjunct to conventional medical treatment. He’s one of a small group of doctors who sends me patients. In his late thirties, he hides warm Bambi-brown eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses. Those eyes are a window into why he’s so good at what he does. When my husband left, he was the therapist who got me through the worst period of my life. Over the years we’ve become good friends.

“He’s as phony as a three-dollar bill,” said Flo Zimmer, coming up with her second cliché in fifteen minutes. “But then so are most of you.”

I couldn’t let it go. That sort of rudeness deserves a great put-down. None came immediately to mind, so I resorted to one of my father’s favorite proverbs.

“Dr. Zimmer,” I said haughtily. “A narrow mind has a broad tongue.”

She looked at me as though I were speaking Swahili. “What in hell are you talking about?”

“She’s telling you in a polite way to shut your mouth,” said Nadine. With women, Nadine doesn’t pull any punches.

Zimmer stared at her open-mouthed, which allowed water to flow in, making her choke, which effectively did shut her mouth.

Nadine nudged me aside and climbed up the ladder. “Come on, Carrie, let’s go eat. I’m famished.”

I boosted myself up onto the deck and grabbed my robe.

“Anybody know if the food at The Cove is any good?” asked Joe, the peacemaker, changing the subject before Zimmer could recover. Shivering, he followed me up onto the deck and wrapped himself in his towel. “Man, this is insane. We’ll all catch pneumonia.”

“Think of it as invigorating,” I replied through chattering teeth. “The Cove’s okay if you just want burgers, but I’m for pizza at The Boat Shack. If it’s still under the same management, I’ll vouch for the food.”

“Sounds good to me,” came a deep voice from the other end. I looked up and saw a good-looking string bean of a guy, who I guessed to be in his mid-thirties, materialize out of the mist. His hair and mustache were so Scandinavian light, they almost blended in with his fair complexion. In striking contrast, his eyes were the color of bittersweet chocolate, dark and brooding. He’d been introduced to me at the reception as one of Dr. Freundlich’s associates but I couldn’t remember his name. He was helping a pretty, twentyish brunette into her robe. She was the lucky possessor of one of those dynamite figures, the kind just made for the bikini she was wearing. I’d noticed the couple earlier, but they’d been deeply absorbed in each other and hadn’t entered into the general conversation.

The young woman gazed down at Flo Zimmer, who by now was holding a lonely vigil in the hot tub. “Why don’t you and your colleagues at DAHM open your minds for once, Dr. Zimmer?” she asked coldly. “Dr. Freundlich is a genius. You’re not going to refute his findings.”

“You think not?” retorted Zimmer. “Come and watch the show if you’ve got the guts. I’m going to take that egomaniac apart tomorrow morning.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ll be there with bells on.”

The blond guy took the girl’s arm and hustled her inside. “I wonder if Paul will,” I heard him mutter as he passed.