Friday, October 11, 2002
Today is Friday. Euthanasia day at the Waterbridge Animal Shelter.
The shelter stands at the corner of two New Haven streets in a century-old house. The house is tall, gabled, and has large windows with many panes. It is weathered and has a wraparound porch in need of painting. Many families have walked its halls and slept in its rooms since it was built.
A pretty young woman with dark brown hair moves through the rooms of the shelter. Her face is expressionless. Not empty or blank, though --- it is more . . . neutral.
The linoleum in the house is cracked and worn. It is a hideous brown and green pattern, a style that was very popular in the fifties. She sometimes thinks what a pity it is that the house 's beautiful hardwood floors were covered by the atrocious linoleum . . . but animals are messy.
The young woman wears a light-blue smock with a name badge attached to it: Tory. The smock is spotless. In one pocket of the smock is a box of Tic Tacs, the orange ones --- not many people like the orange ones --- and a small spiral notebook. Around her neck is a set of small bud headphones, worn like a choker. In the other pocket of her smock is a pink iPod. She always brings it to work but rarely gets a chance to listen to anything on it.
Tory is known to be pleasant and agreeable, both with her coworkers and visitors to the shelter, but sometimes she seems a little distant. She only really smiles for the animals.
Tory knows that certain of her duties are terrible, but she takes some comfort in knowing that they are also merciful. Her face sometimes shows this conflict. It is a state of uneasy surrender. She is resigned to what she must do, but it is difficult, and lately, with each day that passes, it becomes more so. She is not a Stephen King fan by a long shot, but she sometimes thinks about a line she heard in the movie Pet Sematary: "Sometimes dead is better."
This is a new job for Tory. After college, she took a job with a pharmaceutical company as a sales representative. The job had nothing to do with what she studied in college --- American literature --- but it paid well, and it came with benefits. She traveled around New England, visiting doctors and introducing new medicines to them, and she also worked with large hospitals, handling their drug needs. Her psychology minor often came in handy when dealing with doctors and hospital buyers, as well as with their staffs. One of the company's biggest sellers was the generic form of Pavulon, pancuronium bromide, which is used to paralyze patients before surgery.
Tory did well with the drug company and managed to put aside a fair amount of money. She lived at home with her mother, Viviana, who would only accept a small contribution to the household expenses each month from Tory, insisting that she save as much as possible. That money came in handy when Tory's position was eliminated after the company launched a secure, interactive Web site for ordering pharmaceuticals.
She was out of work almost a year --- a year she spent writing, and reading, and trying to decide what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. She completed a few things she was happy with --- a novella, a short story --- but she couldn't stop herself from wondering if she would ever fulfill her college writing professor's hope for her. "Don't tell me a story, Tory," Mr. Mund‡ne used to say to her, always giving the "story/Tory" rhyme a sly little grin. "Show me life. I know you can do it." She still wasn't sure she knew precisely how to do it, but some of her writings were things she would not have been embarrassed to show Gabriel Mund‡ne.
Then, one day during that solitary time, she saw an Animal World documentary on cable that truly touched her, and she suddenly knew she wanted to work with animals. In fact, it felt like what people who have had a calling say it feels like. She applied at Waterbridge the following day. When she was offered training to become a euthanasia technician, she accepted, and has been working as one ever since.
This morning it happens to be raining. Heavily. Tory mostly ignores the rain, but every now and then she walks to a window, stares out at the gray sky, and watches the sheets of water pour off the house's clogged gutters.
It is cold today. The song may have lamented rainy days and Mondays, but Tory always felt that a cold and rainy Friday, especially one in October, was much sadder.
Today is Friday. Euthanasia day. The gas chamber is in the back of the building on the ground floor. It holds a few animals at a time, and Tory is the euthanasia technician who operates it.
Tory knows the black Lab will go today. And probably the terrier. The black-and-white kitten too.
Rainy Fridays are the worst, she thinks to herself as she prepares the coffee. Marcy should be here any minute. Jake 'll probably be late.
Tory has already checked on and fed the animals. For some, the food she gave them would be their last meal.
Shelter workers who must deal with the unavoidable reality of euthanizing sick, unwanted, or violent animals usually adopt one of three modes of coping. Some become withdrawn and robotic and completely distance themselves from the animals. Some become sadistic. Tory has heard stories about these kinds of workers, and her loathing for them runs deep.
Then there are workers like Tory, who believe wholeheartedly that they are working for a greater good, that a merciful and humane death is better than . . . well, better than any alternative other than the impossible one of finding a home for every animal.
The Waterbridge Shelter uses carbon monoxide to euthanize animals. Tory Troy is a state-certified animal euthanasia technician, and she knows it is only a matter of time before the shelter switches to lethal injection, which some say is more humane. Waterbridge is stateand city-funded, though, and change takes time. So, for the foreseeable future, Tory euthanizes the animals in a gas chamber.
Tory hears voices but continues to stare out the window at the pouring rain. The voices belong to Marcy and Jake. They arrived together, Tory thinks. Imagine that. Jake is on time.
She steps away from the window and calls out, "I'm in here, guys. . . ."
The gas chamber is silent. Tory knows that the lethal carbon monoxide has done its job. Now comes the removal, the disposal, and the cleaning of the chamber.
Tory pulls on heavy yellow rubber gloves, dons a face mask, and steels herself for the task before her. This is getting harder, she thinks. Much harder.
Jake doesn't leave his office when Tory is emptying the chamber, and none of the front-office staff comes anywhere near the back of the building.
This part of her job sometimes summons to Tory's mind a quote from a favorite poem of hers, Tagore's "Stray Birds": "This life is the crossing of a sea, where we meet in the same narrow ship. In death we reach the shore and go to our different worlds." She takes comfort in the image of all the euthanized animals finding their way ashore and spending the rest of eternity happy and content. Sometimes she scolds herself for being such a sentimentalist, but this does not stop the thought; her mind automatically makes the leap to such a comforting ideal.
Tory pauses a moment, her gloved hands hanging by her side, her silent headphones embracing her neck. She feels something welling up inside her, but she can't identify the feeling. Is it sadness? Anger? Panic? Fear? She doesn't know, but she does know she has never felt like this. Yes, there have been moments when she has felt all of those emotions, in brief flashes stabbing at her consciousness . . . but today is different.
And then, a sudden kaleidoscope of images and sounds flood her mind . . . the dogs and cats that have passed through the shelter over the past many months . . . the inside of the death chamber . . . the families walking through the kennel area, the children looking for the absolutely perfect pet . . . the pleading expressions in the eyes of the caged animals as they mentally beg these strangers to take them home --- and away from this place . . . the workday chatter of the office staff, oblivious to the reality of what is happening at the back of the building . . . the image of Tory herself sitting on the couch in her mother's living room on any Friday night over the past few months, hugging a pillow, her legs curled beneath her, utterly unable to eat a thing until, at the earliest, Saturday night . . . the looming shadows the old house throws when the sun hits it a certain way . . . and then, once again, the animals . . . the animals . . .
Tory reaches out and grabs the door handle of the gas chamber. She closes her eyes a moment and takes a breath. Then she opens her eyes . . . and then she opens the door.
FIRST GRADE WRITING ASSIGNMENT
ST. FRANCIS GRAMMAR SCHOOL
SISTER AGNES MARY'S CLASS
my kat henry
by victoria troy
i have a kat. his name is henry. he is has blak furr and
his nose is wite. i love my kat henry very much.
sometimes he sleeps on my pilow at night. he purrs
becau when I pet him. sometimes he wakes me up
when he purrs.
Two Ate days ago my dady made
henry cry. he stepped in on his tail. i cried too when
daddy stepped on my kat's tail. so i pet henry and
made him feel beter. he rubed his nose on me and he
likes to eat treets.
Dr. Baraku Bexley
"I've been thinking about suicide lately. A lot."
"How often is 'a lot'?"
"At least once a day, although sometimes I may go a couple of days without thinking about it."
"When you say you've been thinking about it, what does that mean? Are you imagining ways of doing it? Are you thinking about where you would do it?"
"No, I know how I'll do it."
"What kind of pills?"
"Painkillers. I've got hidden away on the outside eighty-seven hydrocodone tablets. You know: the generic of Vicodin. I got them from a friend who had a prescription for a hundred and only used thirteen. She had some kind of really bad disk problem in her back, but they fixed it and she didn't need the pills anymore. So she gave them to me. I figure I could take the whole batch in three or four swallows and within a few hours I'd be dead."
"What if you don't die?"
"Oh, I'll die."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I did my homework."
"What does that mean?"
"I looked up hydrocodone on the Internet. The lethal dose, depending on tolerance, could be anywhere from around fifty or sixty milligrams up. If I take all eighty-seven, I'll be getting over six hundred fifty milligrams, which should be plenty for someone my size. I'm only a hundred nine pounds. Some kid who weighed eighty-nine pounds died from taking only ten pills. I'd say eighty-seven ought to do the trick."
"Yes, I suppose it would."
"Plus I forgot to tell you—I'm going to down them with tequila."
"You're talking like this is a done deal."
"No, of course not. I'd have to get out of here first, right? And in all probability, that's somewhat unlikely. It's just that you asked how I would do it, so I told you."
"Could you tell me why you think about killing yourself so much?"
"Are you depressed?"
"What does that mean?"
"Are you filled with a sense of the utter meaninglessness of life? Do the routine activities of life like eating, working, reading, watching movies, having sex, and other normal events hold no interest for you? Do you spend a lot of time sleeping?"
"No to all of the above. I don't think life is meaningless. I love to eat, I don't normally mind going to work, I read constantly, I'm at Blockbuster at least twice a week, and if I'm not in a relationship in which I'm having regular sex, I masturbate a lot. As for sleeping all the time, I wish. My life is—was—so busy I can barely squeeze in six hours a night."
"Suicide is usually looked to as a last resort solution—what someone will consider when their life becomes unbearable, unlivable. You sound like you're engaged with your own life and relatively content."
"I am. At least I was . . . until I got locked up, that is."
"So I'll ask again. Why have you been thinking about taking your own life?"
"Don't you want to know where I would do it?"
"You asked me if I've been thinking about where I would do it."
"Yes, you're right. I did. So, have you?"
"And where would that be?"
"I don't know."
"Are you toying with me?"
"No, not at all. I'm telling you the truth when I say that I have been thinking about where to do it. I just haven't decided yet."
"What's holding up your decision?"
"Lots of things. Like who will find me. What kind of mess I'll make. I know I'll . . . make a mess when I die, and I don't want whoever finds me to have to clean it up. For a while, I was thinking about walking into the ocean. Maybe down at Fort Hale Park. But then I risk the chance of no one finding my body. And I want to be cremated, so they'll need that."
"This conversation is leading me to a conclusion I do not want to make."
"Oh? And what's that?"
"I think you have already decided to kill yourself and that all these assurances to me that you're not going to do it are your way of deflecting me from further inquiry or action. I think you know that I am obligated to act if I feel that you are a serious danger to yourself, and you are thus trying to convince me that this is all just an intellectual exercise rather than your true plan."
"I'm not going to kill myself. But I do think about it. What are you going to do? Ha-ha, have me committed? Last time I looked this was still America and I was free to say and think anything I fucking want to."
"That may be true in most situations. But this is not a typical situation. If it was, you would not be sitting there, would you? I would not have voluntarily come to you to discuss these things, right? So the normal rules do not apply, and if I think you're on the verge of suicide, I have to put it in my report and act."
"Court-ordered bullshit. I'm already on a suicide watch, for Christ's sake."
"Perhaps. Shall we move on?"
"Okay with me."
"Tell me why you're here."
"You know why I'm here. I'm incarcerated . . . is institutionalized a better word? . . . and the court is making me talk to you."
"I want you to tell me what you did and why you did it."
"You know what I did. As for why I did it, you'll have to figure that out yourself. Isn't that what they're paying you for?"
"In a sense."
"Well, then . . ."
"Let's put aside the reason you are here and talk about some other things that are—were—going on in your life."
"Fine with me."
"Can you tell me about your job?"
"Sure. But isn't all that in my records?"
"Yes, but I'd like to hear it from you. What is it you do?"
"I'm a certified animal euthanasia technician. I make $451.92 a week. That's a whopping twenty-three five a year."
"And what is a certified animal euthanasia technician?"
"Every Friday afternoon, I euthanize all the cats and dogs in the animal shelter that have not been adopted by then."
"How do you euthanize these animals?"
"We use a gas chamber."
"What is your role in this process?"
"Process. You guys are funny. Only shrinks would describe mass execution as a process. Did you all get that from Auschwitz? I understand the Nazis were big fans of euphemisms."
"Please do not trivialize or make fun of the Holocaust. I lost my grandfather at Auschwitz."
"So, what is your role in this process, please?"
"I take the animals from their cages and place them in the gas chamber."
"Don't they try and run away?"
"They all have choke chains around their necks, even the cats, and the room has steel rings embedded in the floor every three feet in a grid. We start in the far left corner and hook one animal to each ring. We can do around a dozen animals at a time, although usually it's only five or six."
"What happens after they're all hooked to the floor?"
"I close the door and bolt it with a sliding bar. The room is airtight once the door is closed. Ironically, the animals would probably all suffocate to death if we just left them in there. The air would run out after a while. But that would be traumatic and painful. And take a long time. So we try to get it over with as quickly as possible."
"What happens after you bolt the door?"
"I sign a form."
"What kind of form?"
"It's a form that lists the animals I put inside the gas chamber—you know, one brown terrier, one black-and-white cat . . ."
"And then what happens?"
"I hand the clipboard to my supervisor, Jake. He double-checks everything and then he signs it. A copy of this form has to go to the state every week."
"What does Jake do after he signs the form?"
"Well, usually, he goes back to his office and finishes eating his lunch. He likes a late lunch."
"You know what I'm asking."
"We both walk over to a computer panel on the wall outside the gas chamber. We then go through a specific procedure that I had to learn cold before I could get my certification."
"Jake does all the talking. 'Nine animals confirmed for euthanasia. Door seal confirmed. Quantity of lethal agent confirmed for nine animals. Initiating.' Then I push a button. But I forgot something."
"And what is that?"
"Before we start the procedure, he puts on a CD."
"He plays music? For the animals?"
"No, they can't hear it. He plays it for us, although he really plays it for himself."
"What does he play?"
"The White Album."
"I see. What happens after you push the button?"
"A thermometer lights up."
"A gauge that looks like a thermometer lights up on the main panel and a red light starts to rise to the top of the tube."
"On the side of this tube are numbers from one to ten. Supposedly, once the red hits the two, all the animals are asleep. I've never looked to see if that was true, though. There 's no window in the door. Once it hits five, they're not supposed to be breathing anymore, and when it gets to ten, their hearts have stopped. That's about a six percent CO concentration. Fatal."
"What happens after it gets to ten?"
"Nothing. Jake goes back to his desk and I go do whatever else I have to do."
"What about the animals?"
"A timer starts as soon as the gauge hits ten. A bell rings after fifteen minutes. Then we can get them out."
"Who opens the door?"
"Me. I'm the tech."
"Could you talk about that, please?"
"Because I don't want to."
"I think it would help your situation if I wrote in my report that you were cooperative. Plus I do believe it will also help you personally to talk about it."
"What do you want to know?"
"Take me through what happens after the timer bell rings."
"The first thing I do is go into the rear storeroom and get the disposal cart."
"And what is that?"
"It's a big folding cart on wheels. It holds a thick rubber bag that is stretched open. The bag has a heavy zipper running across its top."
"The animals go in this bag?"
"Their bodies do. Yeah."
"Do they all fit?"
"The bag holds the equivalent in weight of about a dozen cats or six dogs. Sometimes we need two bags."
"I wheel the cart over to the gas chamber and place it on the right side of the door. Then I put on thick rubber gloves and a mask and then I unbolt the door and open it."
"Doesn't gas get out into the room?"
"There's a reverse exhaust system that sucks out all the gas and then runs it through an afterburner that renders it nontoxic. It's an OSHA thing. By the time I open the door, the air inside the room is perfectly safe. In fact, I'm pretty sure the door won't open until the gas is completely cleared. And there are CO detectors throughout the building too."
"Why the gloves and mask, then?"
"It's a mess inside the room. The animals' bowels and bladders let go when they die."
"I see. What about the smell?"
"The exhaust system gets rid of some of it, but it's still pretty rank."
"What do you do next?"
"I start with the animal closest to the door. I unhook the choke chain, pick it up, and carry it outside to the disposal cart. Everything goes in the bag. The collar, the choke chain. Everything. They're all made of copper or tin, so they melt in the crematorium."
"What do you think about as you're emptying out the gas chamber?"
"Anything but the animals."
"I don't think about the animals and I don't look at their faces."
"Could you talk about that?"
"I knew these animals. Even though we only had them for a week or so, I got to know every one of them. They each had a personality too. And they were all so trusting. They were always happy to see me. And they were incredibly grateful for any attention I gave them."
"This is difficult for you to talk about."
"You bet your ass it's difficult. These animals were my friends. And I had to kill them. What bothered me the most was that they came with me willingly, just happy to be with me. And then I locked them in a room and fucking killed them. I completely betrayed their trust in me."
"Why did you take this job in the first place?"
"I thought I could do some good."
"You know. . . helping find homes for animals . . . helping kids pick out a pet . . . that kind of stuff."
"But you knew you'd be involved in euthanizing them too, didn't you?"
"By the end of the job interview I did, yes . . . but that's not why I applied at the shelter."
"Why don't you tell me about that?"
"I applied at the shelter for an office job. I wanted to man the front desk and take in the animals people found or couldn't take care of anymore. Like I said—to help. A lot of animals came from elderly people."
"What do you mean?"
"A lot of elderly people have pets, and when the old person dies, no one in the family wants to take their animal. So they bring it to us."
"What do they tell you when they bring in these animals?"
"Usually that there's no one to take care of it and they want us to find it a good home."
"What do you tell them?"
"That we'll try."
"And do you?"
"Absolutely. People come to the shelter every day looking for a cat or dog. And we always take our time with them and make sure that they are comfortable with the animal they pick out. We don't like anyone to walk out without a pet."
"So why all the killing . . . euthanizing?"
"Because we don't have the money or the space to keep animals longer than a week. They come in all the time and there's just no way we could keep them all until they were placed with families."
"You keep them a week?"
"Yeah, but it's not a calendar week. It's seven whole days. We start counting on the day after they arrive, and they are euthanized on the first Friday after the seven days are up."
"So theoretically, some animals can stay alive longer than seven days."
"You know, you're pretty quick for a shrink. Yes. That's true. Weekend animals get almost two weeks."
"You're open on Sundays?"
"Just for drop-offs. Tommy works one day a week for us. He spends Sundays at the shelter and takes in any animals that people bring by."
"So Saturday and Sunday animals are pretty lucky."
"Sure. We start counting on Monday, and seven days from Monday is the following Sunday, which means they get to live until the next Friday. Almost two weeks. Thursday's animals are the unluckiest."
"We start counting on Friday, which means that the seventh day is a Thursday, which means that they get whacked the very next day."
"So, getting back to your duties. What happens after you empty the room and the bag is full?"
"I zip it up and then go get the hose."
"Yeah. I get a heavy black hose from the storeroom and hook it up to a faucet on the outside wall of the chamber. Then I open up the sealed drain in the middle of the floor, and then I hose down the floor and walls until they're clean."
"Then what happens?"
"I put everything away, close off the room, lock the panel with a password that only Jake and I know, and then call the crematorium."
"What do you do after you make the call?"
"I have coffee."
"Yeah. By then, it's usually near four, and I like a cup of coffee in the afternoon. By the time I finish, Evelyn is there with the truck."
"What happens then?"
"She backs up to a loading dock at the rear of the building and I open the overhead door. She then wheels a portable lift to the edge of the loading dock, and I wheel out the disposal cart. She attaches a heavy hook to a steel ring on the bag and then turns on the lift to carry the bag into the box of the truck."
"I'm just curious. What does it say on the side of the truck?"
"Nothing. The whole truck is painted dark blue and there is no lettering anywhere on it."
"I see. Go on."
"There's not much more to it. She puts the bag on top of the other bags she 's already picked up and then she's gone."
"What do you do then?"
"I go feed the animals that have come in that afternoon."
"What's that like?"
"It's kind of uplifting, to tell the truth. The newcomers are either frightened or all worked up, and feeding them and giving them water always calms them down. They're all just so goddamned happy to be getting even the slightest bit of human attention."
"Do you ever play with them?"
"Sometimes. Although I'm not supposed to."
"Well, Jake'd say it's because I'm not getting paid to play with the animals and that I've got other work to do. But Jake can be an asshole, and, to tell you the truth, I believe I am getting paid to play with the animals. I'm not talking about spending hours with them tossing a ball or wrestling with them. But I believe that part of my job is to make sure that the animals that come into the shelter are cared for, and I think playing with them and giving them attention is part of taking care of them."
"You make a good point. Do you ever get into trouble for thinking like this?"
"Sure. Jake gets pissed as hell if he comes into the kennel and sees me fooling around with a dog or playing with one of the cats. But screw him."
"You mentioned . . . Tommy? What's he like?"
"I have no idea. I've only met him briefly a couple of times. I told you, he only works Sundays. I'm never there on a Sunday."
"Who else did you work with?"
"There's Jake, of course. He's in charge of the place. And in the office are Marcy, Ann, Philip, and Teresa. And then there's Renaldo, who's the janitor."
"Do you like these people?"
"I suppose. Marcy, mostly. She and I get along."
"Do you not get along with the others?"
"No . . . I do . . . but they bother me sometimes."
"Because none of them seems to realize how they earn their money."
"That might be a little unfair, don't you think?"
"Why do you say that?"
"It seems somewhat self-righteous."
"Do you really believe that you are the only one at the shelter who fully understands that part of your job is to dispose of unwanted animals?"
"I didn't say that."
"Forgive me if I misunderstood you. Perhaps you could explain more clearly what you meant?"
"I know they all understand what we have to do. How could they not? It's just that it doesn't seem to bother them very much. I don't understand that. They all say they love animals, and yet they work in a place that kills cats and dogs every week."
"But you work there too."
"Yeah, I know."
"That really doesn't seem to make all that much sense. It's inconsistent. If the underlying function of the place bothered you so much, why didn't you just quit? Before it got to this."
"I have a cousin who was an ROTC officer. He served during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He once told me that he went into the navy knowing it meant he'd be training as a professional killer. He knew what ROTC meant. But when he had to strap on a .45 and get ready to board a Russian ship, the idea of being a professional killer hit him hard. Maybe that's the kind of thing that went through my mind . . . I don't know. He's a pacifist now. He always says, 'The Pacific made me a pacifist.'"
"Isn't it possible that you are just as unfeeling and hypocritical as you judge all the rest of them to be?"
"No, I'm not."
"But you work there too."
"How many times are you going to tell me that I work there too?"
"I am simply trying to understand you. You say you are empathetic toward the animals and that it bothers you to have to euthanize them, and yet you continue to work in the very position that requires hands-on participation in their killing. You are not working in the office like Philip and Marcy. You are not simply sweeping up and washing the floors like Renaldo. You are, in a sense, flipping the switch."
"You do not have to remind me."
"Well, then please try to explain to me why you did not just quit."
"I don't know."
"My job is to determine your state of mind and to make a recommendation to the court. You really should try to be more helpful in communicating your true feelings and thoughts to me. It could be a matter of life and death for you."
"Is that supposed to scare me?"
"No. Not at all. But once I sign my report, it's all over. So let's try to get through this as evenly as possible. And you should also know that I will be speaking with others about you as well."
"I'll not say right now."
"I won't allow it."
"You don't have a say in the matter. But I can assure you that any and all interviews I do will be with the intent of delivering as honest an assessment of your current state of mind as possible."
"Do you think I'm crazy?"
"Tory, listen. I do not want to write a report that will leave the judge no other choice than to recommend . . . well, let's just say, I would like to arrive at conclusions that work in your favor."
"My favor? That means you have to say I'm crazy, right?"
"No. Simply not mentally competent to stand trial. If I find that you are fit to stand trial, then the jury will determine if you were sane when you . . . when the precipitating incidents occurred."
"All right. What do you want to know?"
"Why don't we begin with how you decided you wanted to work at the animal shelter."
Dr. Baraku Bexley
District Attorney Brawley Loren
"Can you give us a preliminary report?"
"No. I am nowhere near ready to show you anything."
"Doctor, I hope I do not have to remind you that you are on the taxpayers' nickel, and that every day that goes by without you filing a report is another day that justice goes unserved?"
"No, District Attorney. You do not have to remind me that I am being paid by the commonwealth. I am made aware of that every time I cash my biweekly check and see the state crest above my name. But please listen carefully. I hope I do not have to remind you that I am first and foremost a doctor and that it is my obligation to treat this young lady as a patient, not a suspect."
"She is a suspect."
"That is not my concern. I was commissioned by the court to examine this woman and determine if she is mentally competent to stand trial. My conclusion will affect everything that happens from the moment I sign my name to the report, and it will also impact greatly the future of this young woman."
"Yes, Doctor. This is not the first time we have dealt with a courtordered psychiatric examination."
"You needn't sound so smug."
"Well, I apologize if I come off as a little irritated. I hope you will forgive my tone and any future insults to your dignity."
"Now you give me sarcasm."
"Doctor, please listen to me carefully. This young lady—your 'patient'—has been charged with six capital murders. Six premeditated Murder One charges. Now, I fully understand that there is a good chance that if you declare that she is mentally incompetent, she will avoid trial and spend the rest of her life in a mental hospital, enjoying three meals a day, complete health and dental care, and cable TV. I think they even get HBO. This upsets me, sir. Six bodies are lying in the morgue due to the actions—sorry—the alleged actions of this girl. And you may be the one person who will prevent justice from being served. Thus my sarcasm and impatience with you and your 'profession.'"
"I will not rush my examination, nor will I make any statements that I do not fully believe. I know what you want, District Attorney. Regardless of what I believe to be the truth, you want me to state that she is fully competent and that she is capable of understanding the charges against her and participating in her own defense. You will then be able to prosecute her to the fullest extent of the law and work diligently toward guaranteeing her a lethal injection. But what if a jury later decides that she was insane at the time of the murders, sir?"
"I don't really care, Doctor. We 've got enough evidence to convict her, and convict her is what I want to do. Whether she was nuts or not does not bring those poor people back to life, now, does it?"
"No, it does not. But unless you can rewrite the law on your own, she may not be legally responsible for the crimes if she was not mentally competent. And, again, it is my job to make the determination whether or not she is able to understand this and stand trial."
"I don't like the way this is heading. I can try to get you pulled off this case, you know."
"Go right ahead. You'll be assuring the defense of grounds for an appeal and everything will have to start all over again. And what makes you think the next doctor the court assigns to this case will make you happy? And also, by the way, what makes you so sure I'm going to issue a report that will state she is incompetent?"
"I've just got a feeling about you. You come off like an anti-deathpenalty liberal. It's just a vibe I'm picking up off you, but I feel like you are going to look for any possible hook, no matter how weak or improbable, to hang an incompetent label on her."
"'An anti-death-penalty liberal,' you say? Why, thank you, Counselor. I'm flattered. I've always loved being prejudged. Why don't you simply wait for my report, though, before coming to a conclusion about me? Is that too much to ask?"
"No, Doctor, it is not. And I do not have a choice in the matter, now, do I? I will tell you this, though. If you come back with a determination of mental incompetence, I will go to the judge and demand a second examination, no matter how much it costs or how long it takes."
"That's fine with me, Mr. Loren. You certainly don't mind spending those taxpayers' nickels when it's for something you want, eh?"
"We 're finished, Doctor."
"Always a pleasure, Counselor."
Dr. Baraku Bexley
"How long have you and Tory's father been divorced?"
"About fifteen years. Is she going to be put to death, Doctor?"
"I think it's much too early to be thinking along those lines, ma'am. Why don't you just answer my questions and we 'll leave that for later, okay?"
"Yes, I suppose. It's just that I love her and worry about her so much."
"I understand. How could you not worry? You're her mother."
"So you and her father divorced fifteen years ago, correct? Could you tell me why you two split up?"
"He drank. And he hit me. And he cheated."
"I see. All three, eh? When did this behavior toward you begin?"
"When we were dating."
"And yet you married him anyway?"
"I loved him."
"Did your daughter witness any of his physical violence toward you?"
"Oh, yes. Her father and I were together until she was in her early teens, so she saw everything."
"Did he ever physically abuse your daughter?"
"Do I have to answer that?"
"No, of course not. You are not under oath or on trial. And this is not a deposition either."
"Why do you want to know that?"
"Mrs. Troy, I am a doctor who has been given the assignment of determining if your daughter is mentally fit to stand trial. What I can tell you is that the more I know about your daughter, the more accurate will be my determination, which will be best for everyone in the long run."
"I understand. Then, yes. The answer to your question is yes, my husband did abuse our daughter."
"With his belt. And his fists. And . . ."
"He burned her with the ends of his cigars?"
"Did you ever tell anyone about your husband's abuse of you and your daughter?"
"I was afraid we would end up on the street with no money and nowhere to live."
"How did your daughter react when her father abused her?"
"She fought back."
"I see. Did your husband ever sexually abuse your daughter?"
"With his hands."
"Did you know about this when it was occurring?"
"Did your daughter fight back when he molested her?"
"Not at first, but as she got older, she did."
"She would lock herself in her room when she knew he was going to come to her. Sometimes she would fight with him. And eventually, she stabbed him in the eye with her nail file."
"I took him to the emergency room. But he lost the eye."
"All right. Let's move on to the years after you and your husband divorced. What was your daughter like after your husband was out of the house?"
"She was like a completely different girl."
"She was happier. She smiled more. She ate better."
"You do know what your daughter is charged with, yes?"
"Six counts of premeditated murder."
"And you do understand that she faces the death penalty if she is determined fit to stand trial and a jury finds her guilty?"
"Well then, ma'am, let me ask you this. Is there anything you think I should know that might help your daughter?"
"She always loved animals."
"She always loved animals."
Excerpted from DIALOGUES © Copyright 2006 by Stephen J. Spignesi. Reprinted with permission by Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.