"I'll save you some time," said the prisoner, shuffling into the interview room in his orange jumpsuit, fettered and manacled, wrists cuffed to a padlocked belt around his waist, and a scowling sheriff's deputy at his elbow. "I'm oriented times three, my thought processes are clear, and my mood and affect are appropriate to my circumstances."
"I see you're familiar with the drill." The psychiatrist, a slender blond woman in her early forties, looked up from behind a metal desk bare except for a Dictaphone, a notepad, and a manila folder. "Have a seat."
"Any chance of getting these things off?" The prisoner rattled his fetters dramatically. Slight, an inch or so below medium height, he appeared to be in his late twenties.
The psychiatrist glanced up at the deputy, who shook his head. "Not if you want me to leave you alone with him."
"I do, for now," said the psychiatrist. "He may need a hand free later for some of the standardized tests."
"I'll have to be here for that. Just pick up the phone when you're ready." A black telephone was mounted on the wall behind the psychiatrist. Beside it was an inconspicuous alarm button; an identical button was concealed on the psychiatrist's side of the desk. "And you, siddown."
The prisoner shrugged and lowered himself into the unpadded wooden chair, tugging with manacled hands at the crotch of his jumpsuit, as if it had ridden up on him. His heart-shaped face was just this side of pretty, with long-lashed eyes and lips like a Botticelli angel. He seemed to be bothered by a lock of nut brown hair that had fallen boyishly across his forehead and over one eye, so as the guard left the room, the psychiatrist reached across the desk and brushed it back for him with her fingers.
"Thank you," said the prisoner, looking up at her through lowered eyelids. The glitter of mischievous, self-satisfied amusement had faded from his gold-flecked brown eyes -- but only for a moment. "I appreciate the gesture. Are you a defense whore or a prosecution whore?"
"Neither." The psychiatrist ignored the insult. Testing behavior, she told herself. He was trying to control their interaction by provoking an aggressive response.
"Come on, which is it? Either my lawyer hired you to say I'm insane, or the DA hired you to say I'm not. Or were you appointed by the court to see if I'm fit to stand trial? If so, let me assure you that I am perfectly capable of understanding the charges against me and assisting in my own defense. Those are the criteria, are they not?"
"More or less."
"You still haven't answered my question. I'll rephrase it if you'd like. Have you been hired by the defense, the prosecution, or the court?"
"Would it make a difference in how you respond to my questions?"
The prisoner's demeanor changed dramatically. He lowered his shoulders, arched his neck, cocked his head to the side, and formed his next words carefully, almost primly, at the front of his mouth, speaking with just a trace of a lisp. "Would it make a dif-fer-ence in how you respond to my questy-ons?"
It was a remarkably effective imitation of her own bearing and manner of speaking, the psychiatrist realized. He had her nailed, right down to the hint of sibilence that was, after years of speech therapy, all that remained of a once ferocious, sputtering, Daffy Duck of a speech impediment. But the parody was more affectionate than cruel, as if he'd known and liked her for years.
"Of course it would," he went on in his own voice. "Don't be disingenuous."
"I suppose you're right." The psychiatrist sat back in her chair, trying to maintain a professional demeanor despite the hot blush blooming in her cheeks. "That was an excellent imitation, by the way."
"Thank you!" Jail garb, fetters, and circumstances notwithstanding, the prisoner's grin lit up the bare room. "Want to see my Jack Nicholson?"
"Perhaps some other time," she replied, sounding to her annoyance every bit as prim as his imitation of her. She caught herself touching the top few buttons of her beige blouse with fluttering fingertips, like a schoolgirl who'd noticed her date glancing surreptitiously at her chest. "We have quite a bit of work ahead of us today."
"Oh! Well then, by all means, let's get on with it." The prisoner flapped his manacled wrists, as if he were shooing pigeons away; his chains rattled musically.
"Thank you." She leaned forward and pressed the power button on the voice-activated Dictaphone. "I'm Dr. Cogan, by the way."
The psychiatrist had been hoping he would respond in kind -- thus far the prisoner had refused to give his name to the authorities. But all she got from him was a cheerful "Pleased to meetcha," and a cavalier, if truncated, wave of his cuffed right hand.
She tried again, more directly. "And your name is...?"
"Call me Max."
"I notice you haven't quite answered my question."
"I notice you haven't quite answered mine. Who hired you?"
She'd been hoping he'd let it drop; now she had to answer, or risk losing his cooperation. "The court, indirectly: I was hired by a firm that contracts its services to the county."
He nodded, as if she'd confirmed something he already knew. She waited a moment, then prompted him. "And your name?"
"Like I said, call me Max." He looked up. Really, that's the best I can do, said his embarrassed grin; I win, said his eyes.
The psychiatrist moved on. "Nice to meet you, Max. As you're probably aware, we have some standard tests we need to get through -- "
"MMPI, Rorschach, thematic apperception, maybe a sentence completion if you're really trying to pad your hours -- "
" -- but first let's just chat for a few minutes."
"By chat, if you mean conduct a clinical interview, beginning with a question to be asked in an open-ended manner and designed to elicit the patient's own perception of the problem" -- he had to stop for a breath -- "or difficulty that has led him or her to seek treatment, let me save you some time: My diagnosis is dissociative amnesia, possibly a dissociative fugue state."
Then you're not really oriented times three, are you? thought Dr. Cogan, breaking off eye contact to look through the manila folder. "I'm curious, Max. You seem to be quite familiar with psychiatric terms and procedures. Might you have worked in the mental health field?"
"Might have." Then, thoughtfully: "Of course, I also might have been a patient in a locked facility. I mean, considering the circumstances under which I was found."
"That sounds like a good place to start. Tell me about the circumstances under which you were found."
"Well, Dr. Cogan, it's like this." The prisoner leaned forward in his chair. His breathing had grown shallower, and the glitter in his eyes was darker and more pronounced. The psychiatrist had the impression that for the first time since he'd entered the room, his interest was fully engaged. "The first thing I remember is finding myself sitting in a car next to the body of a young woman who had recently been disemboweled."
Disemboweled. It struck Irene Cogan as odd how one simple word could be so much more evocative than a three-page coroner's report describing in clinical detail "a semicircular ventral incision beginning one and a half centimeters above the right iliac crest, extending downward to three centimeters above the pubic symphysis, then describing an upward arc to the top of the left iliac crest, with resulting extrusion of both large and small bowel...."
She looked up from the manila folder. The prisoner was waiting for her next question with an eager grin, his gold-flecked eyes shining, looking for all the world like a man enjoying a terrific first date. Momentarily jarred out of her professional detachment, Dr. Cogan switched onto automatic pilot, lobbing one of the interviewee's last words back at him in lieu of a real question. "Recently? How recently?"
The prisoner shrugged easily -- or as easily as the fetters would allow. "I dunno, thirty, forty seconds. She was still sitting up."
Copyright © 2001 by Jonathan Nasaw