Maggie has agreed to help with the Park Slope interviews. But no one told her her first interview will be with Andrew, aka Brad Steadman. It's a fight between Andrew's mental block and the worst the serial killer Lee can throw at him.*
*This chapter contains strong language, lots and lots of blood, tea and some brains.
11. In The Mind Of a Killer
The thick black column of smoke that they’d delighted in showing on the news had dwindled to a trickle of gray.
It still looked pretty damn ominous.
I had to take deep breaths through the tightness in my chest as I flashed my renewed ID to the officer at the guard shack.
He was a five, though the way his eyes bored into me, comparing my ID to my face, I felt like he could read past my calm expression.
No reporters getting through on my shift, he told himself. “Go ahead doc, all the way around the circle to Lot E,” he said in a high voice, holding out my ID.
I accepted the laminated card and then took my forced tour of the carnage. The deco styled main building was half gone, surrounded by official vehicles and a lone fire truck watching over the remaining smoke. The projector wing winked silver on its little hill like a voyeur, bright in the wake of destruction. I looked away from it. That was where I drew the line with Carl. No projectors. It wasn’t much of a line to draw since it turned out that none of them had seen anything. Still, it felt like a little victory after my mouth betrayed me by agreeing to do this. And then my hands followed suit, jotting down the directions to the office where they reissued my ID. Little victories mattered when the rest of me was about to fly apart.
I parked and sat in the car for a few minutes taking deep breaths, clearing my mind with a quick building exercise. I pictured the woods, adding layers of detail, amorphous trees gave way to oaks and aspens with their white trunks and yellow leaves. The leaves fell on ferns that made a thick blanket covering the ground. Rabbits or deer?
I hit my knee hard on the steering wheel when Carl tapped on the window.
I got you tea. Rabbits huh? I figured you for squirrels. He set the two styrofoam cups he was holding on the hood and opened my door.
“I was going to go for deer. What do you pick, skunks?” I asked over my surprise, rubbing my knee as I got out. Jerk. You scared the crap out of me. How did you even know I was out here?
He handed me the tea after I got my briefcase and locked the car. “Earl grey.” The guard called me when you came in. There was anxiety under his smile and his free hand twitched against the hood of the car.
I leaned against the car next to him and took a sip of my drink. “Not bad.” Now tell me what’s bugging you before we go in. I nudged him with my shoulder, looking out over the tree-lined grounds.
For some reason he was both pleased and nervous that I’d asked. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” he asked.
I shrugged. “I don’t know.” I had taken it as a good sign that I was more worried about my deteriorating clinical skills than Lee’s lurking presence, but maybe I had re-channeled my fear of Lee into something more acceptable. Something less frightening. What if he really had made it impossible for me to go back to work? I was up half the night thinking about this and I want to try, I told Carl as confidently as I could.
He put his arm around my shoulder and gave it a quick squeeze. He was worried, but so was I. “Let’s get you inside then. There are plenty of nuts to go around.” He pushed off the hood and led the way toward the building. “I might have to head off site later for a meeting but I should be back before-” Shit, he thought a second before a door opened in front of us.
“Thank god you got here in time. Jerome is trying to ship Steadman off before you’ve had a chance to see him,” Freda said in one breath, her unnaturally vivid red hair flopped over her low forehead and into her eyes. She’d come barging out like a runaway train but she stopped a few feet away and looked shy. Her thin fingers pushed the hair out of her eyes. How are you?
I was glad Carl had warned me about her when he called. It gave me time to have all my explanations in a row for the moment she cornered me. But it wasn’t going to be now, with Carl here and this urgency brewing in her. I smiled and closed the distance between us to hug her. Our cheeks brushed and I got a flood of anxious anticipation. She really had been worried about me. I’m fine. It sounds like I’ll be busy though. “Who’s Steadman?” I asked, pulling away.
Her eyes went from misty to sharp in an instant and that glare went straight into Carl. You didn’t fill her in?
I felt him flinch away from us without actually moving. I understood why he’d been happy to stay outside, to lean against the cold car and talk. I frowned at him and held out my hand. So, fill me in.
There was a moment of surprise from both of them at my bluntness then Carl sighed and grabbed my hand. I was worried, he told me before he offered up lightning bursts of the investigation so far. Steadman was the one who’d gotten Mathews out. Steadman was the one no one could crack. And Steadman was the one Carl was determined I shouldn’t see.
There was more but that was all I could focus on right away. I released his hand and rubbed the tips of my fingers together. “Have any other tacs tried him?” I asked as I worked through everything Carl showed me.
Carl shook his head. Didn’t work, he trashed-
“Diane tried it, but I think this needs a lighter touch.” She went in like a sledgehammer, Freda interjected with a hint of a challenge.
I don’t believe you. Carl shook his head at her in disgust.
I held up my hands. He knew as well as I did that she was trying to get my competitive streak going. Knowing didn’t keep it from working. “Let’s go in and take a look at the guy, ok?” I said, opening the door and waiting for them.
Freda smirked and went through the door, leading us inside. Her heels clicked sharply against the linoleum and her shoulders were straight under her brown blazer as she led us down one turn after another. “We’ve got one more,” she said with a tone of smug triumph as she pushed open a light blue door at the end of a short hall.
There were close to ten people standing around what looked like a break room and they all turned to look at us. Most of them were agents in gear, thick black vests and weapons. One of them was in a suit and he frowned with heavy black eyebrows that made an almost unbroken line over his eyes. Just had to work in another shot? He directed at Freda. “You must be Dr. Lochlan,” he said, his tone pleasant as he beckoned us in and offered me his hand.
I set my cup on the nearest table and moved forward. “Maggie, please,” I shook his hand briefly, confronted with a confused mill of frustration, flickers of a pale man’s placid face and a real and unexpected satisfaction in meeting me.
“Jerome. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” My old supervisor Grayson was telling me about how you handled the Lessing case. Maybe we could talk about it later. His smile was all charm and showed the faint lines around his eyes.
I found myself smiling back. “Have you worked on many serial cases? I find-”
“Do we have time for small talk?” Freda barked. Sure you’re not sneaking Steadman out the back door? Her tone was acid and it made me wonder if there was something personal between them.
He let a flash of annoyance escape. Then he turned back to me, charming again. “Want to take a crack at him, Maggie?” he asked with the air of someone offering a real treat.
Between his enthusiasm and Carl’s worry I wasn’t sure what to think. “I’d like to talk to someone who’s tried him first. If there’s time of course.”
Jerome frowned. We can’t keep him here long. “We’re continuing his questioning at Seneca this afternoon.” There was nervousness under his worry about a delay. Someone big wanted Steadman out at the base. Fast.
I held up my hand and wiggled my fingers. “I can be quick.”
Jerome’s eyebrows went up almost to his steel gray hairline. Then he smiled. “I guess it won’t take long.” He frowned again, scratching the back of his head thoughtfully. Too bad the other tac already went home. That would probably be more use to you.
I smiled but I didn’t laugh. Don’t worry about it. “Anyone you have that’s tried to read him will do.” I felt almost physical relief that I wasn’t going to have to read an upset and defensive Diane.
“You can use me.”
All of us, transport agents included, looked over at the thin guy in the corner who was watching us with his long arms folded over his chest. He wasn’t in a suit or a vest but he didn’t look out of place in his striped polo shirt. He looked angry, but I knew it wasn’t for me. He was staring hard at Jerome.
I recognized him from what Carl had given me of the investigation. I gave Carl a questioning look.
Don’t ask, Carl cautioned. “Alan, Maggie, Maggie, Alan,” he said gesturing toward the other man, his hand interrupting Alan’s line of sight to Jerome. They both blinked and looked at Carl. “Alan’s heading up the police investigation,” Carl told me.
Alan dropped his arms and came over, the tension drained out of him or very well hidden. “Not for long. The feds were stepping in just as you got here.” He smiled but didn’t offer his hand.
I was relieved by his politeness, or caution, it was impossible to tell which it was. I never liked shaking hands and I’d be reading him soon enough.
His eyes searched my face for something and I knew that even though we hadn’t met, he knew about Lee. I felt a flash of annoyance at Carl, but it was possible Alan only knew about it from the television coverage when Lee got the death penalty. “Should we do this in another room?” Alan asked, looking toward the door to cover that he’d been caught staring.
I nodded, willing to overlook it. “Is there somewhere nearby? I think Jerome is worried about his schedule,” I needled him to get his mind off whatever he thought he knew about me. I didn’t need one more concerned ‘friend’ in the room.
Alan flicked his eyes in Jerome’s direction. “If you could excuse us for a few minutes?” he suggested, his voice loud enough to carry to everyone listening in. This is closest and then you can get in there with Steadman, he told me, his smile grim.
Jerome had a triumphant air leading his little troupe out of the room. Freda and Carl seemed determined to be the last ones out, both of them hovering at the door waiting for my attention, both minds a worried jumble. I turned to look at them not hiding my amusement. What?
Carl frowned at me and then down at Freda who barely reached his shoulder. “I’ll be down at the other end of hall if you need me.” And I’m sending Hal down here to make sure you get anything you need, he added, turning and moving around Freda to get out the door.
“You shouldn’t go in on your own,” Freda said her mind tinged with embarrassment that probably had to do with the way Alan watching her. I’ll go in with you if you want.
Alan’s attention shot up with surprise and I knew I had to bail her out before she said something that embarrassed one or both of us.
“I’m sure Alan won’t let me get into any trouble,” I said lightly. Drop it, I added when she hesitated at the door.
Her expression folded from concern to irritation. There were more lines around her eyes than the last time I had seen her. “I need to go get the update from Dr. Whitnail,” she announced, letting the door close hard behind her.
“You two really know how to push each other’s buttons,” Alan observed. Known her long?
Long enough, we used to work at St. Luke’s together, I told him; not wanting to elaborate. I turned to find him sitting at one of the small round tables near the vending machines. His hands were palm down on the surface of the Formica. His arms and fingers were relaxed, only their artificial arrangement betrayed his nervousness, his mind was smooth and calm.
“This has been a pretty big mess. I was following on the news,” I commented to distract him as I pulled out a chair and sat down. I settled my satchel next to my feet. Have you and your team gotten much sleep?
He shook his head. “I don’t think any of us will get much sleep until we get Matthews back.” I don’t need you to build up a rapport with me. Let’s just get this over with. His hands flexed against the table top.
I wasn’t aware I had fallen into the old soothing mode. I wasn’t happy about having it pointed out either. I already felt as though I was rushing into something too big for me, I didn’t need to question my ability to steer a subject. “It’ll be easier for both of us if you aren’t so tense,” I said more sharply than I intended.
His look was sheepish. “Sorry. I just don’t want to lose the chance to crack this guy.” He frowned at the word ‘crack’. That word belonged to someone else and someone he didn’t like. Let’s do this before Jerome gets to him. He turned one of his hands palm up.
I rubbed my hands together to warm them up. More old habits. The physical shock of a cold touch could make a subject tense up and block. I guess this is as relaxed as we’re going to get, I thought more to myself than to him.
He looked away when I reached for his hand and before I even touched him I knew the look on his face and the way he turned his head was identical to the way he did it when he was getting blood drawn. Don’t watch the needle coming and don’t anticipate the pain. It made me wonder who the last tac was that touched him. Maybe there would be time to find out later.
I settled my fingertips into his palm so his curled fingers touched my palm too. Besides the vague nervousness that was already obvious I didn’t get anything else. I felt myself skating over the top of his mind. Warm hands or not, he was blocking. I didn’t dig and put him on the defensive, I just let myself be still. You have to help me out here, Alan. Just focus on what happened. You were in the room with Steadman, you tried to read him… I trailed off.
It didn’t occur to me that Alan didn’t want to remember what happened. But reluctant or not I felt a steady push under the surface of his block. There was a moment of expectation when I wasn’t sure if he’d let it out or not and then we were there.
The point of view was higher than I was used to; Alan was standing over Steadman, looking down at his head where his scalp was shiny under the fluorescent lights. We’d better just do it together, Alan told the other cop who was sitting on a chair that had been turned around so he could rest his arms on the back.
There was a moment of nervous hesitation and then, “Sure.” I’m not even sure he’d notice until we were in. Does he even know we’re here? the younger officer asked, resisting the urge to poke Steadman’s slumped shoulder.
“He knows, don’t you Brad?” Alan said in a taunting voice as he sat down across from the glassy-eyed suspect.
“Of course,” Steadman agreed in a distant tone that barely touched his mind. There was a ghost of a glimmer of apprehension but other than that nothing, like he wasn’t even in the room.
The younger cop was taken aback by the reply but subsided at a sharp look from Alan.
“Let’s do this then,” Alan said in a firm voice over his tightening stomach. There was a loosening sensation in Alan’s mind and an echo of it from the young cop beside him. Both of them were darting in and out, coming close to Steadman’s mind and backing away, catching what was on top. Observations about the room, worry, a touch of smugness.
When Steadman lashed out it happened so fast that I pulled my hand away from Alan’s in shock, leaning over the table and breathing hard. There had only been maybe half a second’s warning, a pushing from Steadman and then this breathless hollow embarrassment.
I shook my head and looked up at Alan who was pale. I was sure I was just as white. That’s one hell of a block.
He nodded. They’ll probably get around it with psychotropics at Seneca. There was a certain amount of satisfaction in that statement.
There wasn’t anything appropriate to say to that. “And this happened to everyone that tried him?”
Alan nodded, his features fierce now, reminding me of an eagle or some other bird of prey. “All of them. We tried solos, groups, projectors, had him distracted. It happened every time.” You should have seen the other tac after he got through with her. Sometimes I got the impression he was toying with us.
I could feel a bit of sinister pleasure that this had happened to Diane. It was petty but better than focusing on what that block felt like. “Did he try to read any of you?”
Alan blinked in genuine surprise. “You know, he didn’t. I’m not sure there was enough of him outside the block to do it.” It’s weird, don’t you think?
I shrugged. “It depends on what his goal is. He might be too focused on trying to hide information to be worried about getting any from you. It’s also possible that he’s reading you in the time you’re incapacitated by his block.”
Alan looked very worried for a moment and then shook it off. “Couldn’t have. We had six of us the last time my guys tried. Four to try and get in and then the other two were ready as backup. They got hit just as bad. There was no way he came out to play.”
I had my breath back but I didn’t argue. “I think it’s time to go see him.”
Alan stood up and led us out the side door he’d been standing near earlier. Out in the hall we almost ran into a nervous guy whose eyes seemed to take up half his face when he saw me. “Dr. Lochlan. Agent Childers sent me down.” He didn’t offer his hand either but he was too flustered to remember.
Alan rolled his eyes. She’s fine, Hal.
“What did Carl send you down for exactly?” I asked, amused at the way Hal couldn’t quite be still. He was either moving his hands or shifting on his feet or stretching his neck.
I’m the gopher. “You know, go for this, go for that,” he elaborated when neither of us said anything. And you know, Agent Childers wants to know when you’re done with Steadman.
I don’t know if I’m going to kick Carl or hug him. “Well, let’s get this train moving. Alan, which way to Mr. Steadman?”
Alan smirked at Hal and led us down the hall.
I ignored them both as I followed behind Alan, sifting through what I had from him and from Carl. There had to be some novel approach to Steadman that they hadn’t tried yet and one that didn’t involve drugging him into insensibility. He had to either open up on his own, which might not happen, or he had to be coaxed into it.
I bumped into Alan who had stopped in front of me. “He’s in here,” Alan said with his hand on the door handle. “There are two rooms, the recording equipment is in the outer room and he’s on the other side of the glass. We can wait for you in there or we can monitor you from the security station down that way.” He gestured down the hall with his head.
They were both tense at the idea of being sent away and I knew better than to have help more than a few feet away. “You two should wait in the first room just in case I need a hand.” I nudged Alan aside and pushed the door open. I shot a look back at Hal. Could you possibly get me some tea? Bring it right into the interview room. It might break his concentration.
Alan was skeptical but Hal nodded and bolted down the hall eagerly either from relief at being useful or relief at getting away from Steadman.
I could feel Alan organizing something to say, building up to saying it. I won’t be alone in there, I assured him. “Just promise me you’re not going to try and tag-team him. I don’t think the bait and switch is going to work at this point.”
He shook his head. “Already tried it, I’m not about to do it again.” Are you sure you don’t want me to go in and introduce you at least?
“No, I know who he is and he knows all he needs to know about me. I’m just another interrogator, right?” I turned away from Alan and opened the door without looking through the glass first. I went straight in, pulled out a chair and sat down.
The eyes across the table didn’t look as glassy as they had to Alan. He was pale, his hair fell over his forehead and a livid bruise at the base of his neck disappeared into the v of his shirt. We sat there and looked at each other, felt each other out without reaching for anything. Tried to read each other’s eyes like fives would. I was reading myself too, surprised to find that I was more curious than worried or afraid.
“My name is Dr. Lochlan. I’m here to ask you a few questions.” Are you going to come out and play Mr. Steadman? I asked, hand resting casually on the table as I leaned back in my chair.
The chair creaked loudly in the quiet room.
“You’re sure you don’t mean you want to read me?” he said with that same flat inflection he’d used with Alan. It gave the impression, with his pale skin and his near blank mind; that he was made of plastic, not real at all, just constructed and programmed and waiting.
“I’m sure we’ll get to that,” I said. I sifted through what I’d been shown about the case and came up with my first question. For now I’d like for us to talk. You could start by telling me why there is no record of you at the facility you were transferred from.
His head cocked, like he was waiting for more. Either he hadn’t read what I thought or he was and was doing a remarkable job of hiding it.
“Can you tell me why the,” I paused searching for the name of the place, “Halifax Institute, has no record of you being a patient there?” I repeated my question, letting myself open up, steering clear of that amorphous mass in his mind where he was hiding. I caught some of Alan’s attention on the far side of the glass but he was doing his best not to distract me, directing nothing my way.
Steadman blinked and allowed a hint of annoyance to seep out. “I don’t know.”
Annoyance was fine. It was good. It was something at least. “Well your transfer papers say you were there for three years. Do you suffer from amnesia as well as bi-polar disorder?” I asked, all of the sarcasm in my mind.
His lips twitched into a brief frown. It was hard to know if he’d picked up on the sarcasm or was annoyed with me for asking questions he’d been asked dozens of times already. “You’ll have to keep guessing, Doctor,” he said in a measured tone.
The word ‘guessing’ struck me, he was playing with me. “Were you kidnapped by aliens?” I asked. Or maybe that’s the agency you work for, has Area 51 branched out?
There was a spike of something, it wasn’t quite anger, but it was there and gone so fast it was hard to pin down. Whatever it was it wasn’t good. And I still didn’t know if he was reading me at all. “No,” he said quickly, or at least it seemed quick. And his tone seemed less distant.
Maybe he didn’t like that I was questioning him like he was deluded. “Is it the government, some big conspiracy forcing you to do this?” A secret government agency controlling you through your dental fillings? I asked, sympathetic on the outside, derisive on the inside.
He slid back mentally, making me realize that he had been more open than I thought. But he also betrayed another flash of annoyance and that not-quite anger. “No,” he said.
“Are you sure? There are a lot of governments out there that could be using you.” I spread my hands, gesturing in his direction. “It takes connections, training, to break into a place like this.” They’d printed him, run it through the databases and so far there was nothing, criminal or otherwise. Either he was very new and didn’t have a record or he was very good and the records were gone.
He was quiet for so long that I started to worry I had said the wrong thing, that he’d just stonewall me for another half an hour and I’d have to admit defeat. When he did speak his voice was low and defiant. “That sounds paranoid, Doctor.”
His face was so bland and the insult delivered in such a deadpan tone that after a split second of surprise I laughed.
Alan’s open astonishment and the tightening around Steadman’s eyes just made it funnier. I had to bite the inside of my cheek to stop. I sniffed; glad I hadn’t teared up too much and ruined my mascara. Making a quick decision I said, “Mr. Steadman, I’m having someone bring me some tea, would you like anything to drink?”
He blinked at me, face forming into an expression, surprise. “Water.”
The answer was short but he felt more open and that was the important thing. I looked around at the two-way mirror where Alan was watching us. “Could we get two bottles of water in here when Hal gets back?” I asked, knowing the recorders were picking me up.
There was a brief crackle over the speakers. “Sure thing.” I was grateful Alan was so quick. Whether he understood that I wanted to seem open with Steadman or not, it didn’t matter. Either way it showed presence of mind.
“So, Mr. Steadman, there’s something else I’m curious about. How did you expect to fool over three hundred telepaths into thinking you were just a patient?” I can’t imagine how you could have gotten past Whitnail and his pyschotropics if he hadn’t been on vacation.
“I managed,” he answered with a touch of pride.
I nodded and smiled. I knew that he was open enough to read that I was pleased, as long as I didn’t focus on why it was safe to let him feel it. “Still, you would have had to play the manic side eventually, euphoric, full of confidence and ideas, talkative,” I teased. I would have gone with uni-polar depression. Only one set or symptoms to act out.
His eyebrows lifted. “A bi-polar patient can have periods of months or even years between manic episodes. You see, I did my reading too.” His voice was slow, but that didn’t keep it from being smug.
“Yes you did,” I agreed, sitting back in my seat as I felt Hal and Alan talking in the outer room, then Hal was gone again. I kept my eyes on Steadman as the door clicked behind me.
“Thanks, Alan,” I said, accepting my tea from him. I could feel Steadman retreating, but I felt confident I could bring him back out. I watched Alan set two bottles of water in the center of the table and realized that he must have called Hal when I was concentrating on Steadman. It made me wonder where he’d sent him now. Maybe to give Carl an update on our progress. I wondered what Hal would report.
“Sure thing,” Alan said. You’ve got all the time you need, I talked to Jerome, he added with a touch of satisfaction.
I reached for a water, moving into the area between Steadman and myself. If I could casually work into his space I might be able to touch him with his guard down. I cracked the bottle open and took a sip before I set it next to my tea. I shot Alan a look of annoyance and hoped I wouldn’t have to tell him to leave.
His eyebrows went up but he retreated without saying anything else, his enthusiasm fading.
I wasn’t too worried about his enthusiasm. I didn’t need him reminding Steadman that we had a timetable or that there were other people waiting to see what would happen here. Not when I had a new question. I took a long sip of tea, it felt almost scalding after the cold water. “Did you ever read Dr. Pernkoff’s paper on the influence of expectation on telepathic perception?”
I was taunting him. I expected bafflement or wariness. What I got was enthusiasm. He looked present for the first time since I came in. “Pernkoff is amazing. Did you read, ‘What We Know’? I loved that chapter on filtered perception and the absence of fact.” He writes very clearly for lay people.
I had expected to lead him along a conversation about how his being admitted as bipolar made him seem bipolar to the hospital staff. This was much better. If I could keep him interested he would lose more of that iron concentration on his block. “I have that book. I thought it fell apart in the section about telepathic intelligence.” The idea felt tacked on.
He nodded in agreement, reaching naturally across the table to take the second bottle of water. His hands stayed on the table and I had to force myself not to look at them, to keep my own hands from twitching. “It was a late addition. He was trying to slip it past his publisher, back when McGill didn’t want to do that kind of book. I hear that he’s writing one all about path intelligence now.” He took a swig of water and was almost smiling.
He was reading me, we just had to go a little farther. His block was there, looming dark under his words, somehow clearer in its presence now that he was more relaxed. It made me think of a crouched animal, a predator coiled and waiting. But I was sure I could get through it. I thought fast, trying to decide which way to steer him, when it happened.
I saw Steadman twice. Once as a patient and once as a threat. Lee saw a threat and he lashed out.
For a second the room was gone, I lost it, only able to see what Lee was seeing. We were in the old familiar space, the tile floor with the drain in the center; the holdovers from the old mortuary suited him just fine. The air was cool, like a refrigerator or a meat locker and Steadman was taped to the maroon dentist’s chair. Twisting while our hand reached out to wrap in the hair on top of his head, holding his scalp taut while the scalpel cut into the skin just above his ear. The skin pulled away from the muscle and bone with a wet sticky sound.
Not now, not now, not now. I blinked hard, trying to fight it back, gripping the table, trying to focus on anything else. I could see Steadman staring wide-eyed at me. Over that we were back in the cold room, standing over the chair, changing gloves, they were too wet with blood and now the skin and hair in a patch the size of a hand was gone revealing the wet gleaming bone at Steadman’s temple. The saw started abruptly in our hand, the vibrations going all the way up my arm as I brought it down against Steadman’s skull. Across the table and in Lee’s vision of things Steadman’s eyes rolled in the same way, like he was trying to follow the action of the saw.
There was a pause and I could feel my heart hammering in my chest but Lee wasn’t done.
To spite me, to scare Steadman, to prove that he was the biggest threat in the room, or just because he could, Lee went further. I could feel the rough edges of cut bone under my hand. There was a hole, along the temple, exactly where they used to cut away for temporal lobotomies back when that was the treatment for path psychosis. My hands were in the hole, gloved fingers pushing against the jelly of the brain. It pulsed against the gloves, the rough edges of bone pricked at the latex. Steadman was staring, eyes rolled far up in his head to see where my hands were going and then there was a bunching feeling in my chest and I knew what I was about to do wasn’t even possible. But that didn’t make it seem any less real for that split second when I wrenched my hands in opposite directions and Steadman’s head came apart in shards of bone and bits of brain.
When the cool room cleared and I was back in my own skin I could see Steadman again. He was laid half across the table just like I was, clutching the metal surface, leaning against it, panting and sick.
Oh my god. Oh god. Oh god.
It took a second to realize it was coming from Steadman and not me. He was staring at me in absolute shock, his mind completely open.
I lunged for one of his hands.
Then everything happened much faster.
Cringing disgust over all the blood, confusion, fear, horror, and panic.
And then there was shame.
I've done something terrible. I've done something so wrong that I won't be able to walk outside anymore. Everyone will know. And they'll look and they'll stare and walk on the other side of the street and cringe from me in their minds.
And I'll deserve it.
What will I tell mom and dad? They'll know and make me leave. Even dad can't take this. He'll make me go. No early morning walks. No more bad horror movies. No more hugs with that Stetson cologne that always makes me feel ten years old.
I'll deserve that too.
This is why Robin ran away. Why she went a thousand miles away to marry another shrink who didn’t tear people up in her head.
And I'll run home to dad but there's nowhere to go this time. I'm wrong, I can't be trusted and now everyone knows.
The dogs will know. That damn beagle will bite me if it gets the chance.
“Maggie?” Come on, look at me.
I didn’t know I’d had my palms pressed against my eyes until Carl was gently pulling them away. His eyes were worried and I couldn’t quite meet them.
He didn’t let go of my hands and his worry flooded into me. It’s ok, this part passes. It’s just the block.
I saw from the other side of the glass, Carl’s view of what had happened, Steadman and I leaning on the table, both struck by Lee, and then my wild lunge. I’d grabbed his left hand in both of mine. A second passed, Carl fighting not to read us and interfere, Steadman not pulling away from me, me not moving. And then I was pushing away from the table, stumbling over the chair and falling to the floor. I stayed there while Carl and Alan manhandled the unresisting Steadman out of the room.
He got you good, Carl thought and released my hands.
I let him help me up from the floor and realized that he hadn’t tried to read either of us while he watched. Smart and scared. “Can we go outside and get some air?” I said in a shaky voice that didn’t sound like mine. I think I need a few minutes.
“Not a problem.” I’ll fend off Jerome and Alan until you’re ready.
He was already turning toward the door when I tugged on his sleeve. “Come with me?” I asked. I felt fragile and unworthy. What right did I have to ask for help?
His eyebrows contracted and then he smiled. “We’ll take a walk.” They’ll just have to wait, he said and threaded my hand through his arm.
Out in the hall Carl waved off everyone that waited for us, full of tense interest. Even Freda didn’t try and follow as he led me outside.
I sat down on the low wall that bordered the sidewalk and Carl sat next to me. He forced his focus away from me and watched the crews that sifted through what was left of the main building. His eyes lit on the Projector Wing and then shifted away. What a mess.
I looked down at the sidewalk, settling into myself. I felt the pressure of my feet against the unyielding concrete, the texture of the bricks under my hands, the cold of both and the chill on my eyes and in my nose as I took a deep breath.
It was more quick and dirty than building-based focus exercises but I felt more like me when I looked over at Carl.
I nudged him with my shoulder. “Jerome will have better luck when he’s drugged.” I hope he warns whoever’s trying next.
He’d better. “This is going to put you off consulting isn’t it?” His tone was light but there was a real worry there. And guilt. He was sure he’d blown the chance to get me back to work.
But I knew enough about myself to understand I wouldn’t be sitting next to him if I hadn’t wanted back in. I could’ve just hung up on him when he called, said no, rolled over and gone back to sleep. “I don’t know about that. It wasn’t-“ I paused. Andrew, not Drew.
Carl looked at me. ”Who?”
I shook my head and held up my hand. Wait. I knew Steadman’s name was Andrew. “Andrew, not Drew and never Andy,” I said, the words fell from my mouth without thought. I put my hands against my eyes and tried to concentrate. Somehow I’d read him. “Do you have a pen?” I asked, not daring to open my eyes. I knew I couldn’t afford any distractions.
Carl caught on fast and fumbled for a pen and a notepad. “What’ve you got?” His excitement was a bubbling brightness in his mind. We’ve got him.
I felt like I was trying to catch smoke in my hands. I could feel the memories from the interview room float by but when I tried to concentrate on them they were gone. Calm, calm, have to be calm. I knew about having alien memories floating around. I couldn’t run at them. I forced back my excitement and made myself still. I was sitting in the swirl and I’d take what came. For long minutes there was nothing but some of my own fear, and shame over Lee mixed up with the shame from Andrew.
“The mission was set up, no, that’s not right, um, requested, by a guy, his boss, Craig. Andrew thinks Craig was trying to get rid of him. Or trying to discredit him, thought it was impossible to retrieve Matthews,” I said out loud as the information came to me, each word cemented the memory in my own mind, solid blocks fell into place. I waited for more.
I saw Andrew, younger, looking closely at his own face in a mirror, turning from side to side. There was a certain amount of disappointment and resignation. “He thinks his nose is too long. Tries to convince himself that being average looking gives him an advantage as an agent.” I grasped the word agent but there was nothing else, nothing about what he did, just old flotsam about his insecurities.
“He drives a lot and doesn’t like it. The van he usually uses doesn’t have very good speakers.” I could almost see him wincing at the crackle of Coldplay played over blown speakers. His hands tapping impatiently on the steering wheel. I have to get Jamie to fix this, he told himself, frowning down at the Ford logo in the center of the steering wheel. Cheap piece of crap. “He drives a Ford van for a lot of his work. There’s a guy in his group named Jamie who takes care of the vehicles,” I told Carl, trying to solidify it in my head.
I waited longer but nothing else came. I dropped my hands, blinking at the light distortions I’d made by pressing on my eyes. “I think that’s all.” I felt wrung out.
Carl sighed next to me. “Well, it’s more than we had.” He closed his notebook and stowed it back in his pocket. If you remember anything else, come find me. There was a lot of tension there and I wondered how hard his boss was riding him about this. His hand twitched against his leg and I could the familiar itch for a cigarette.
I leaned toward him and he put his arm around my shoulder. “Do you think I’ll lose my contract if I don’t do any more interviews until tomorrow?” I asked. I’m a little wiped.
His surprise was huge and projected. I flinched away at the intrusive emotion.
Wow, I didn’t think you’d want to; it’s great that you do, but you don’t have to. Really they shouldn’t have called you in in the first place because you’re on disability, but when they heard you were in town I knew they’d ask, and I knew your license renewal would be a snap. “Yeah, I don’t think anyone here could give you any crap over leaving early,” he said when he realized he was babbling.
The mention of my license made me frown. Carl saw me back in my practice. Back behind my desk, in my book-lined office, drinking tea out of my lucky mug. Everything back to normal.
I saw patients running screaming from my office in mid-session.
This job I could do, it was a different situation here, if I scared them as an interviewer that was fine.
But that was no way to conduct therapy.