Victims, p.21

Victims, page 21

 

Victims
 


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  “With patients like that, it’s often impossible to know—”

  He waved me quiet. “Thanks for the attempt at empathy but you can’t know. That place was a city. The director was a do-nothing ass and that left me the mayor. The buck stopped at me.”

  Tears filled his eyes.

  I said, “Still—”

  “Please. Stop.” The soft voice, the sympathetic look. “Even if you are being sincere and not using rapport to crack me open, sympathy without context churns my bowels.”

  I said, “Let’s talk about him. What did he do at eleven that his home state couldn’t handle?”

  “Eleven,” he said, “and every bit a child. A small, soft, prepubescent boy with a soft voice and soft little hands and soft, outwardly innocent eyes. I held his hand as I led him to the room that would be his new home. He clutched me with fear. Sweaty. ‘When can I go back?’ I had no comforting answer but I never lie so I did what we mind-science types do when we’re flummoxed. I veered into bland reassurances—he’d be comfortable, we’d take good care of him. Then I used another tactic: peppered him with questions so I wouldn’t have to provide answers. What did he like to eat? What did he do for fun? He turned silent, and slumped as if he’d given up. But he marched on like a good little soldier, sat on his bed and picked up one of the books we provided and began reading. I stuck around but he ignored me. Finally, I asked if there was anything he needed and he looked up and smiled and said, ‘No, thank you, sir, I’m fine.’ ”

  Cahane winced. “After that, I resorted to cowardice. Inquiring periodically about his progress but having no direct contact with him. The official reason was it wasn’t part of my job description, by that time I was essentially an administrator, saw no patients whatsoever. The real reason, of course, is I had nothing to offer him, didn’t want to be reminded of that.”

  “He confused you.”

  Instead of responding to that, he said, “I did keep tabs on him. The consensus was that he was doing better than expected. No problems at all, really.”

  Bracing his hands on the arms of his chair, he tried to get up, fell back and gave a sick smile. When I moved to help him, he said, “I’m fine,” and struggled to his feet. “Bathroom.” Tottering, he trudged through the doorway that bisected his bookshelves.

  Ten minutes passed before a toilet flushed and sink-water burbled. When he returned, his color had deepened and his hands were trembling.

  Settling back down, he said, “So he was doing fine. Then he wasn’t. Or so I was told.”

  “By Marlon Quigg.”

  “By a senior staff member who’d been informed by an intern who’d been informed by a teacher.” He sighed. “Yes, your Mr. Quigg, one of those breathlessly idealistic young men who thought he’d found a calling.”

  “What did he report?”

  “Regression,” said Cahane. “Severe behavioral regression.”

  “Back to what brought the boy to you.”

  “Dear God,” said Cahane. He laughed oddly.

  I said, “Anatomical curiosity?”

  His hands pressed together. He mumbled.

  I said, “What was his original crime?”

  Cahane shook a finger at me. I expected reproach. The finger curled, arced back toward him, hooked in an ear. He sat back. “He killed his mother. Shot her in the back of the head as she watched television. No one missed her at the farm where she cleaned barns because it was the weekend. She didn’t socialize much, it was just her and him, their home in Kan— They lived in a trailer at the edge of the farm.”

  “He stayed with her corpse.”

  Nod.

  I went on, “Once he was sure she was dead he used a knife.”

  “Knives,” said Cahane. “From the kitchen. Carving tools, as well, a Christmas gift from her. So he could whittle. He used a whetstone she’d employed when she slaughtered chickens that she brought home for their dinner. She used to slaughter the birds in front of him, wasted nothing, reserved the blood for sausage. When the police finally found her, the stench was overpowering. But he didn’t seem to mind, displayed no emotion at all. The police were stunned, didn’t know where to take him and ended up using a locked room at a local clinic. Because the jail was filled with adult criminals, no one knew what would happen to him in that environment. He didn’t protest. He was a polite boy. Later, when one of the nurses asked him why he’d stayed with the body he said he’d been trying to know her better.”

  I described the wounds Shearling had left on Quigg.

  He said, “The troopers who brought him also brought crime scene photos from the trailer. When I’m feeling remorseful about something, I dial those images up and make myself downright miserable. The home was a sty, utter disorder. But not his room, his room was neat. He’d decorated the walls. Anatomical charts. Hanging everywhere. Where a child that age would obtain such things baffled me. The police hadn’t been interested enough to ask but I pressed them and they made inquiries. A physician, a general practitioner to whom the boy had been taken far too infrequently, had befriended him. Because he seemed like such a good little boy with his interest in biology. Might very well make a splendid doctor, one day.”

  “What do you know about his mother?”

  “Reclusive, hardworking. She’d moved to town from parts unknown with a two-year-old, got the job cleaning barns and kept it. The trailer she lived in was at the far end of a wheat field. Owned by the farmer and she was allowed to live there gratis.”

  “Was there evidence of premeditation?”

  “He shot her while she was watching her favorite TV show. Apart from that, I couldn’t say.”

  “Any remorse?”

  “No.”

  “How was she discovered?”

  “On Monday she didn’t show up for work. The first time she’d ever missed, she was dependable, you could set your clock by her. She had no phone so a farmhand went to check, smelled the stench, and cracked the door and saw her. The boy was sitting next to her. Exploring. He’d fixed himself a sandwich. Peanut butter but no jelly.” He smiled. “The details policemen put in their reports. They found a few smudges on the charts in his room, didn’t know what to make of that. My guess is he was looking for confirmation. Between what was on the chart and what he’d ... palpated. Her intestines, in particular, seemed ... of interest.”

  I said, “Homeschooling himself in biology. Kansas couldn’t deal so you got him.”

  “Several institutions were solicited and refused. We accepted him because I was arrogant. I’m sure you’re familiar with V-State’s history, all those terrible things carried out in the name of medicine. By the time I got there—the reason I went there—all that had been expunged and we had a well-justified reputation for being humane.” He studied me. “When you were there did you find indications to the contrary?”

  “Not at all. I got great training.”

  “Glad to hear you say that. Glad and proud ... there was the notion that he wouldn’t be safe in Kansas. Too much notoriety.”

  “What caused Marlon Quigg to be concerned?”

  “I’m sure you recall the beauty of our grounds.”

  Apparent non sequitur. I nodded.

  He said, “Pastoral was a term I heard bandied about quite often. Abundant flora and fauna.”

  I said, “Animals. He trapped them. Resumed exploring.”

  “Small animals,” said Cahane. “Analysis of the bones identified squirrels, mice, lizards. A garter snake. A stray cat. Birds, as well, we never figured out how he caught them. Caught any of them. He was clever enough to conceal his handiwork for months. Found a quiet spot behind a remote storage shed, conducted his experiments, buried the remains and tidied the ground. He’d been allowed to leave the ward for two hours a day, once in the morning, once before dinner. From the body count, we estimated he worked with one creature a day.”

  Tidying. I thought of the clean dirt at Marlon Quigg’s kill-site. “How was he discovered?”

  “Young Mr. Quigg
had grown suspicious and chose to follow him one evening. The chosen creature was a baby mole.”

  “What made Quigg suspicious?”

  “The boy had grown uncommunicative, even surly. Should someone else have noticed? Perhaps. What can I tell you?”

  “Teachers and nurses spend a lot more time with patients than we do.”

  “They do ... In any event, faced with a new set of facts, we needed to shift our paradigm but we weren’t sure how. Some of the staff, most vocally Marlon Quigg, agitated for an immediate transfer to Specialized Care. Others disagreed.”

  Cahane’s eyes shifted to the right. “I listened to everyone, said I’d take some time and decide. As if I was being deliberative. The truth was I was unable to make a decision. Not only because he posed problems I was ill prepared for. My own life was in shambles. My father had just died, I’d applied for positions at Harvard and UC San Francisco, had been turned down at both places. My marriage was falling apart. There had always been issues but I’d brought them to a head by straying with another woman, a beautiful, brilliant woman but, of course, that doesn’t excuse it. In a pathetic attempt to reconcile with my wife, I booked a cruise through the Panama Canal. Even under the guise of sensitivity I was being selfish, because sailing through the canal was something I’d always wanted.”

  He picked up his glass, changed his mind, put it down hard. “Twenty-four days on a ship, preceded by several weeks on the Outer Banks of North Carolina because Eleanor hailed from there. I was away from the hospital for forty-three days and during my absence, someone took it upon himself to deal with the boy. The psychologist who’d come to me with Quigg’s original complaint. He agreed with Quigg, viewed the boy as untreatable and tainted. His term. He was a foolish, authoritarian man, too confident in his own meager abilities. I’d long had my reservations about him but his credentials, though foreign, were excellent. As a state employee he had all sorts of contractual protection, had never made an error that would jeopardize that.”

  Cahane’s shaky fingers entangled in his hair. “Then, he did. And now this moment has arrived.”

  His eyes lost focus. “There I was, on a beautiful ship, dining, dancing. Marveling at the canal.” He poured bourbon, spilled some, studied the droplets on his sleeve. “Dear God.”

  I said, “The boy was sent to Specialized Care.”

  “If only that was all of it,” said Cahane. “That man, that overconfident ass, decided—on his own, with no evidence or prior discussion—that the boy’s problems were primarily hormonal. Glandular irregularity was the way he termed it. Like something out of a Victorian medical book. He prepared papers, had the boy transported to a clinic in Camarillo where he was operated on by a surgeon who lacked the judgment to question the request.”

  “Thyroidectomy,” I said.

  Cahane’s head jerked back. “You already know?”

  “A witness described a scar across the front of his neck.”

  He gripped his glass with both hands, hurled it awkwardly across the room. It landed on the carpet, rolled. “A complete thyroidectomy for absolutely no reason at all. After a week’s recuperation, the boy was transferred to Specialized Care. The quack claimed he was looking out for the boy—trying to regulate his behavior because clearly nothing else had worked. But I always suspected there was an element of base, vicious revenge.”

  “You like to operate, Sonny? See how it feels?”

  “One of the animals the boy had chosen to explore had been the fool’s unofficial pet. A stray cat that he fed from time to time. Of course he denied that this was all about helping the lad. I returned from my cruise, learned what had happened, was horrified, livid at my staff for not intervening. Everyone claimed they’d been unaware. I sat the bastard down, had a long talk with him, told him he was retiring and that if he ever applied for a position at another state hospital, I’d write a letter. He protested, switched to sniveling, tried to bargain, ended up making a pathetic threat: Anything he’d done had been under my supervision so I wouldn’t escape scrutiny. I called his bluff and he deflated. He was over the hill, anyway. Pushing eighty.”

  He smiled. “Younger than I am today. Some of us rot more quickly than others.”

  “Foreign credentials,” I said. “From where?”

  “Belgium.”

  My chest tightened. “University of Louvain?”

  Cahane nodded. “A fussy little twit with a fussy, comical Teutonic accent who wore ridiculous bow ties and slicked his hair and strutted around as if he’d kissed Freud’s ring.”

  “What was his name?”

  Unnecessary request.

  Cahane said, “Why the hell not? His name was Shacker. Buhrrrn-hard Shacker. Don’t waste your time looking for him, he’s quite dead. Suffered a heart attack the day after I fired him, collapsed right in the hospital parking lot. No doubt stress was a factor but those sandwiches he brought to staff lunches couldn’t have helped. Fatty pork and the like, slathered with butter.”

  “What happened to the boy?”

  “Did I remove him from Special-C?” said Cahane. “That didn’t seem advisable, given signs of impending puberty and the enormity of what had been done to him. Instead, I created a custom environment for him within the walls of Special. Kept him out of a barred cell and put him in a locked room that been used for storage but had a window and a nice view of the mountains. We painted it a cheerful blue, moved in a proper bed not a cot, installed wall-to-wall carpeting, a television, a radio, a stereo, audiotapes. It was a nice room.”

  “You kept him in Special-C because you expected him to grow increasingly violent.”

  “And he defied my expectations, Dr. Delaware. Developed into a pleasant, compliant adolescent who spent his days reading. At that point, I was a good deal more hands-on, visiting him, making sure everything was going well. I brought in an endocrinologist to monitor his Synthroid dosage. He responded well to T4 maintenance.”

  “Did he receive any psychiatric treatment?”

  “He didn’t want any and he wasn’t displaying symptoms. After what he’d been through, the last thing I wanted to do was coerce. Which isn’t to say he wasn’t monitored thoroughly. Every effort was made to ensure that he didn’t regress.”

  “No access to animals.”

  “His recreational time was supervised and confined to the Special-C yard. He shot hoops, did calisthenics, walked around. He ate well, groomed himself just fine, denied any delusions or hallucinations.”

  “Who supervised him?”

  “Guards.”

  “Any guard in particular?”

  “No.”

  “Do you recall a guard named Pitty or Petty?”

  “I didn’t know any of their names. Why?”

  “The name came up.”

  “With regard to?”

  “A murder.”

  “Quigg’s?”

  “Yes,” I lied.

  Cahane stared. “A murderous team?”

  “It’s possible.”

  “Pitty Petty,” he said. “No, that name isn’t familiar to me.”

  “What happened to the boy after the hospital closed down?”

  “I was gone by then.”

  “You have no idea?”

  “I was living in another city.”

  “Miami?”

  He reached for his glass, realized he’d tossed it. Clamped his eyes shut as if in pain, opened them and stared into mine. “Why would you suggest that?”

  I said, “Gertrude moved to Miami and men have been known to follow beautiful, brilliant women.”

  “Gertrude,” he said. “Did she ever speak of me?”

  “Not by name. She did imply she was in love again.”

  Another lie, blatant, manipulative. Use what you have.

  Emil Cahane sighed. “No, I moved down here, to L.A. It wasn’t until years later that I showed up at her doorstep in Miami. Unannounced, hoping she was still single. I emptied my heart. She let me down easy. Said that what we’d had was wonde
rful but that was ancient history, there was no looking back. I was utterly crushed but pretended to be valiant, got on the next plane back here. Unable to settle myself, I moved to Colorado, took a job that proved lucrative but unsatisfying, quit, and did the exact same thing. It took four job changes before I realized I was little more than a prescribing robot. I decided to live off my pension and give away most of what I owned. My charity has extended to the point where I need to budget. Ergo, my mansion.”

  He laughed. “Ever the narcissist, I can’t refrain from boasting.”

  I said, “Where would you guess the boy went after V-State shut down?”

  “Many of the Specialized patients were transferred to other institutions.”

  “Which ones?”

  “Atascadero, Starkweather. No doubt some of them ended up in prison. That’s our system, we’re all about punishment.”

  “Help me understand the timeline,” I said. “What year did the boy arrive at V-State?”

  “Just over twenty-five years ago.”

  “Eleven years old.”

  “A few months shy of twelve.”

  “How long did he stay on the open ward?”

  “A year and some months.”

  “So he was thirteen when he got operated on and transferred.” Right around the time Marlon Quigg had left the hospital and abandoned a teaching career.

  Had the switch been due to horror at what he’d witnessed behind the shed, or remorse over what his suspicions had led to?

  Either way, he’d been called to pay.

  I said, “What’s the boy’s name?”

  Cahane turned away.

  “Doctor, I need a name before other people die.”

  “People such as myself?”

  Ever the narcissist. “It’s possible.”

  “Don’t worry about me, Dr. Delaware. If you’re correct that he killed Quigg out of revenge, I can’t imagine any personal danger to myself. Because Quigg got the ball rolling, without Quigg none of the rest of it would’ve ensued. I, on the other hand, did my utmost to help the boy and he recognized that.”

  “Providing a nice room.”

  “A protective environment that provided security vis-à-vis the other patients.”

 
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