Read an Excerpt
She smiled, as usual.
From her chair she had a fine view of the ocean. This morning it was a wrinkled teal sheet gilded with sunrise. A triangle of pelicans reconnoitered overhead. I doubted she’d notice any of it.
She moved around a bit, trying to get comfortable.
“Good morning, Lucy.”
“Good morning, Dr. Delaware.”
Her purse was at her feet, a huge macramé bag with leather straps. She had on a light blue cotton sweater and a pleated pink skirt. Her hair was fawn-colored, sleek, shoulder length with feather bangs. Her slender face was lightly freckled, with great cheekbones and fine features ruled by huge brown eyes. She looked younger than twenty-five.
“So,” she said, shrugging and still smiling.
The smile died. “Today I want to talk about him.”
She covered her mouth, then removed her fingers. “The things he did.”
“No,” she said. “I don’t mean what we’ve already been over. I’m talking about things I haven’t told you.”
She squeezed her lips together. One hand was in her lap, and her fingers began to drum. “You have no idea.”
“I read the trial transcript, Lucy.”
“All of it?”
“All the crime-scene details. Detective Sturgis’s testimony.” Private testimony, too.
“Oh … then I guess you do know.” She glanced at the ocean. “I thought I’d dealt with it, but all of a sudden I can’t get it out of my head.”
“No, these are waking thoughts. Images float into my head. When I’m at my desk, watching TV, whatever.”
“Images from the trial?”
“The worst things from the trial—those photo blowups. Or I’ll flash on facial expressions. Carrie Fielding’s parents. Anna Lopez’s husband.” Looking away. “His face. I feel like I’m going through it all over again.”
“It hasn’t been that long, Lucy.”
“Two months isn’t long?”
“Not for what you went through.”
“I suppose,” she said. “The whole time I sat there in that jury box, I felt as if I was living in a toxic waste dump. The grosser the testimony got, the more he enjoyed it. His staring games—those stupid satanic drawings on his hands. As if he was daring us to see how bad he was. Daring us to punish him.”
She gave a sour smile. “We took the dare, all right, didn’t we? I suppose it was an honor to put him away. So why don’t I feel honored?”
“The end result may have been honorable, but getting there—”
She shook her head, as if I’d missed the point. “He defecated on them! In them! After he—the holes he made in them!” Tears filled her eyes.
“Why?” she said.
“I couldn’t even begin to explain someone like him, Lucy.”
“She was silent for a long time. “Everything was a big game for him. In some ways he was just like an overgrown kid, wasn’t he? Turning people into dolls so he could play with them.… Some kids play like that, don’t they?”
“Not normal kids.”
“Do you think he was abused the way he claimed?”
“There’s no evidence he was.”
“Yes,” she said, “but still. How could someone … could he really have been in some kind of altered state, a multiple personality like that psychiatrist claimed?”
“There’s no evidence of that either, Lucy.”
“I know, but what do you think?”
“My guess is that his crazy behavior at the trial was faked for the insanity plea.”
“So you think he was totally rational?”
“I don’t know if rational’s the right word, but he certainly wasn’t psychotic or the prisoner of uncontrollable urges. He chose to do what he did. He liked hurting people.”
She touched a wet cheek. “You don’t think he was sick.”
“Not in the sense of benefiting from a pill or surgery or even psychotherapy.” I handed her a tissue.
“So death’s what’s called for.”
“What’s called for is keeping him away from the rest of us.”
“Well, we did that, all right. The DA said if anyone’s going to get gassed, it’s him.” She gave an angry laugh.”
“Does that trouble you?” I said.
“No … maybe. I don’t know. I mean, if he ever makes it to the gas chamber I’m not going to be standing around watching him asphyxiate. He deserves it, but … I guess it’s the calculated aspect that gets to me. Knowing that on such and such a day, at such and such a time … but would I do anything different? What would be the alternative? Giving him a chance of getting out and doing those things again?”
“Even correct choices can be agonizing.”
“Do you believe in the death penalty?”
I thought for a while, composing my answer. Normally, I avoided injecting my opinions into therapy, but this time evasion would be a mistake. “I’m where you are, Lucy. The idea of someone being calculatedly put to death bothers me, and I’d have trouble pulling the switch. But I can see cases where it might be the best choice.”
“So what does that make us, Dr. Delaware? Hypocrites?”
“No,” I said. “It makes us human.”
“I didn’t jump at gassing him, you know. I was the holdout. The others were really on me to finish up.”
“Was it rough for you?”
“No, they weren’t nasty or anything. Just persistent. Repeating their reasons and staring at me, like I was a stupid kid who’d eventually come around. So I guess I have to wonder if part of it was good old peer pressure.”
“As you said, what would have been the alternative?”
“You’re in conflict because you’re a moral person,” I said. “Maybe that’s why the images have started returning.”
She looked confused. “What do you mean?”
“Maybe at this point in time you need to remember exactly what Shwandt did.”
“To convince myself what I did was right?”
That seemed to calm her, but she cried some more. The tissue in her hand was wadded tight, and I handed her another one.
“It all boiled down to sex, didn’t it?” she said, with sudden anger. “He got off on other people’s pain. All that defense testimony about uncontrollable impulses was bull—those poor, poor women, what he made them—God, why am I starting my day talking about this?”
She looked at her watch. “Better be going.”
The clock on the mantel said fifteen minutes to go.
“We’ve got time left.”
“I know, but would you mind if I left a little early? Stuff’s been piling up; my desk is a—” She grimaced and looked away.
“It’s what, Lucy?”
“I was going to say a bloody mess.” Laughter. “The whole experience has warped me, Dr. Delaware.”
I reached over and touched her shoulder. “Give it time.”
“I’m sure you’re right.… Time. I wish there were thirty-four hours in the day.”
“Are you backlogged because of jury duty?”
“No, I cleared the backlog the first week. But my workload seems heavier. They keep shoving stuff at me, as if they’re punishing me.”
“Why would they be punishing you?”
“For taking three months off. The firm was legally obligated to grant me leave, but they weren’t happy about it. When I showed my boss the notice, he told me to get out of it. I didn’t. I thought it was important. I didn’t know what trial I’d be assigned to.”
“Had you known, would you have tried to get out of it?”
She thought. “I don’t know.… Anyway, I’ve got eight new major corporate accounts to clear paper on. Used to be only tax season was like this.”
She shrugged and stood. Behind her, the pelicans began a dive in formation.
When we reached the door, she said, “Have you seen Detective Sturgis lately?”
“I saw him a couple of days ago.”
“How’s he doing?”
“What a nice guy. How does he deal with this kind of stuff constantly?”
“Not every case is like Shwandt.”
“Thank God for that.” Her skirt was in place but she tugged at it, smoothing the thin fabric over hard, narrow hips.
“Are you sure you want to leave early, Lucy? We’ve gotten into some pretty disturbing stuff.”
“I know, but I’ll be fine. Talking about it’s made me feel better.”
We left the house and walked across the footbridge to the front gate. I turned the bolt and we stepped out to Pacific Coast Highway. This far north of the Malibu Colony, coastal traffic was thin—a few commuters from Ventura and produce trucks rattling down from Oxnard. But the vehicles that did pass were speeding and deafening, and I could barely hear her when she thanked me, again.
I watched her get into her little blue Colt. The car fired up and she gave the wheel a quick turn, peeling out, burning rubber.
I went back inside and charted the session.
Fourth session. Once again, talking about Shwandt’s crimes, the trial, the victims, but not the dreams that had brought her to me in the first place.
I’d mentioned them the first time, but she changed the subject abruptly and I backed off. So maybe the dreams had ceased as she got some of the horror out of her system.
I started some coffee, went out to the deck, and watched the pelicans while thinking about her sitting in the jury box for three months.
Ninety days in a toxic dump. All because she didn’t eat meat.