Simon Edward Edmonds. Age, mid 40s. Occupation, transient." The warden paused. "He's quite insane."|
"That's why I'm here," Jeffery replied. He stood up, smiling coolly at the warden, and took the thick file from the desk. He turned curtly on one foot and left the office, a silent guard following him.
Jeffery's light footsteps echoed loudly off the concrete walls of the prison.
"He's quite insane," Jeffery mimicked mockingly. "Of course he's nuts. Otherwise they wouldn't have sent the best."
The guard accompanying him continued to look forward stonily.
The door to the disturbed ward rumbled open and Jeffery stepped through and into the vestibule. The heavy door slammed shut behind him, the resulting noise too loud in the small space. With a hiss, the second door opened and Jeffery stepped out into the brightly lit, sterile hallway.
Shiny steel doors, featureless but for small eye-slits at eye level and small key pads set near them, lined the walls of the hall. Jeffery strode to the fifth door on the left and quickly punched in the correct code.
The door slid silently open. He stepped into the cell.
"Close the door, would you?"
Jeffery flinched, surprised. Looking about, he saw the prisoner sitting on the steel-framed bed. He was straitjacketed.
"Mr. Edmonds, I presume," said Jeffery. "I'm Doctor Simonson."
"I know," said the prisoner, smiling coolly at him. "Pleased to meet you. Close the door, would you?"
"Sorry, can't do that," Jeffery replied.
He stood back a second and took the man in. He looked his age, but not his crime. Here was a man who'd admitted killing seven people, yet he looked quite the model citizen. He was immaculately groomed and looked very calm and peaceful, not the type to slaughter at the drop of a hat. Still, three years of experience had taught Jeffery that the outside of a man could often be the antithesis of his inside. He was in the presence of a cold blooded, murderous madman.
"You're very brave, Doctor Simonson, seeing me in my own cell without a guard. Some people would say you were insane. Still, I suppose your safety is the reason I've been given this," the prisoner said, shrugging to indicate the straitjacket. "Not that it can really hold me back. I'm quite strong, you know. Would you like to see?"
"That won't be necessary. Besides, I'm not at all worried. Murdering me wouldn't fit your M.O.," said Jeffery, returning the smile. "You're familiar with the term."
"Modus Operandi, Doctor; Latin for mode of operation or some such. Why do you think killing you would not fit, as you say, my M.O.? Close the door, would you?" the prisoner said.
"Well, seems you skin your victims alive with a flaying knife, just like those used on fish," Jeffery began.
"Yes, like those for fish," the prisoner whispered.
"Well, you don't have such a weapon. So, I'm not viable prey." Jeffery continued smiling. "Oh, yes. I still can't close the door. It can only be closed from the outside."
"That's understandable, Doctor. Still, what makes you think I'm weaponless?" the prisoner said, still smiling.
"This is a prison, Simon... May I call you Simon?" Jeffery asked.
"No," the prisoner replied.
"Oh," said Jeffery, slightly surprised. "Well, Mr. Edmonds, this is the hospital section of a maximum security prison. You couldn't very well sneak a flaying knife in here, could you?"
"Like those for fish," whispered the prisoner. "No, I suppose not."
He smiled knowingly.
"Well, shall we begin?" Jeffery asked, sitting at the far end of the bed, well away from the prisoner.
"I suppose," said the prisoner. "Fish..."
He gazed at the wall blankly.
"So, I suppose you know why I'm here," Jeffery began.
"People think I'm mentally ill," said the prisoner.
"Yes. You've committed some very violent crimes and I've been sent to see just how sick you are," said Jeffery.
"Yes. Sick. Close the door, would you?" asked the prisoner.
"No, Mr. Edmonds. I won't close the door," Jeffery said. Edmonds's ramblings were beginning to mildly unnerve him. This was not, however, the first time Jeffery had dealt with a schizophrenic and no nutcase, no matter how screwy, was going to mess with his head.
"Now, I have some things I want you to look at," he continued, reaching into his bag.
"Rorschach blots," the patient whispered. "Look like fish. Just like those for fish."
"Excuse me?" Jeffery asked, a surprised stare on his face.
The prisoner did not respond.
Shaking his head, Jeffery took out his Rorschach blots.
"Mr. Edmonds, I want you to look at these and tell me what you see."
"What do you see, Doctor?" the prisoner asked, staring directly at him.
"That's not important right now. Now help me here. What do you see?" Jeffery asked, holding up the first card.
"Visions are not your strong point, Doctor," the patient said.
This is going to be difficult, Jeffery thought.
Indeed it was. The first session dragged on and on. Jeffery tried to probe Edmonds's mind, but was repulsed by his subject's dreamy detachment. Still, there were times when the prisoner would level his gaze at him and be totally lucid for a moment, as he'd been at their introduction. These moments became more and more uncomfortable for Jeffery. Edmonds's gaze and offhand questions picked at his brain. That was not a comfortable feeling for someone who made it his business to rummage through the psyches of others. Jeffery left that afternoon frustrated and slightly afraid of his patient. He was glad when the faceless door had closed behind him and he was free from Edmonds's disturbingly distant yet effective presence.
Jeffery's thoughts, however, stayed with his patient. The problem of getting through to this man was both fascinating and frustrating. His blot test results were interesting, but not outstandingly so. He seemed a normal schizophrenic (Jeffery smiled at the oxymoron), but there was something more, something Jeffery was missing.
He dreamt that night of the ocean. Blue. Dark. Vast. And deep. Terribly deep.
Several sessions passed with no noticeable progress. It got to the point where Jeffery had to control his frustration with patient. It would be so easy just to slap some sense into him. Edmonds was trussed up, not a danger, rendered impotent by thick layers of elastic and clothe. Still, if someone were to find out.
Fear of reprisal, however, was not the only thing that held Jeffery's frustrated anger at bay. Fear of a different kind held him in check. By the fourth session, Jeffery had realized that Edmonds terrified him. Cold dread lay piled under his mountain of frustration. There was a no more welcome sound than that of the sweet, hydraulic hiss of the door to Edmonds's cell closing behind him. Yet his mind would pick up where the prisoner's presence left off. Edmonds lurked in every shadow, flaying knife in hand. Just like those for fish.
And Jeffery continued to dream of the vast, deep ocean.
And in it, huge, dark shapes.
"I have some more questions about Margaret White," Jeffery asked, mentioning a victim they'd been discussing.
"What about her? Close the door, would you?"
Jeffery ignored the last statement, having long grown accustomed to it.
"Where did you meet her?" he asked.
"Philadelphia. South Street. Outside of the gourmet food store between Second and Third," the prisoner replied lazily, his gaze wandering about the cell.
Well at least he seems with it today, Jeffery thought. Maybe we can get something done.
"Why did you choose her from all the other people there?" he asked. He had yet to discover how Edmonds chose his victims.
"There was no one else there," the prisoner replied. "Just her."
"Are you sure? Wouldn't there be others there, Mr. Edmonds?" Jeffery asked, flabbergasted.
Damn, he thought, he's knocking me off guard again.
"So many fish in the sea, Doctor? Is that it? Why wasn't anybody with her? I don't know. There may have been. I didn't notice. There was only her," said Edmonds, his cold gaze falling on Jeffery. "Have you ever been alone, Doctor? Truly alone?"
Edmonds looked away before Jeffery could answer, his eyes wandering the cell again.
"Alone and over your head," the prisoner whispered. "Alone and in deep water."
"What?" Jeffery asked sternly.
The prisoner said nothing.
The shapes in the ocean where closer that night.
Closer and larger.
"How did you feel when you were captured?" Jeffery asked.
He jumped as Edmonds turned to face him, eyes wide and fierce. Then the prisoner relaxed, but the lucid look of intelligence did not vanish.
"Surprised, actually," he began. "I thought I'd hidden all the evidence."
"Do you mean the bodies?" Jeffery asked, surprised. No attempt had been made to hide the bodies.
"Bodies? What bodies?" Edmonds asked, looking confused.
Anger turned the bile in Jeffery's stomach.
"The bodies you found underneath the skin you flayed off," he said through gritted teeth. He almost ended it off with "you psychotic bastard", but managed to restrain himself.
"Oh, the meat," Edmonds said, totally emotionless. "It didn't matter if anybody found the meat. Only the outside can tell stories. Only the skin."
Fear crept up Jeffery's spine.
"And what did you do with the skin?" he asked, shaking.
"I eat the skins," Edmonds said, smiling dreamily. "Just like those for fish."
Jeffery fled the room, reaching the end of the hall before throwing up.
That night the dark shapes were closer than ever.
So close and so large.
"Why a flaying knife," Jeffery asked. "Why not something more... conventional?"
"Always use the right tool, Doctor," Edmonds said, smiling. "Always use the right tool."
Jeffery waited, composing himself.
"And why is a flaying knife the... right tool?" he asked, dreading the answer.
"The world, Doctor, is an ocean; a vast, deep ocean. Dark. And in it, there's fish," Edmonds replied, gaze drifting off again. "Just like those for fish."
"So," he began, barely able to keep from shaking, "what you're saying... is that... is that people are just fish?"
"In one big ocean, Doctor," Edmonds replied calmly. "In one big ocean. Fish. Big ones and little ones."
Jeffery was shaking hard now, pencil rattling against his clipboard.
"And what kind of fish... do you like to... to kill?" Jeffery asked.
"Oh, little fish, Doctor. Little fish. Like you," Edmonds replied lazily, his gaze still traveling about the room.
"And what kind of fish are you? Big or little?" Jeffery asked.
Edmonds paused and turned to look at him, the knowing smile on his face.
Jeffery swam in the ocean again in his dreams that night. He could feel the currents all about him. It was dark, little light filtering down from the surface. He was deep, deeper than he wanted. He tried to swim up, but the current held him down.
Then, far below, he saw the shape, moving towards him.
He continued to fight the current. The shape was closing, the dorsal fin now obvious.
He screamed underwater, the bubbles pushing up through the sea to the sun. He felt the teeth close on his legs and the warmth of his own blood billow around him. He craned his neck to see the tattered remains of his legs. Through the cloud of blood he saw the eyes of his attacker, those lazy, unfocused eyes.
Edmonds leaned against the wall of his cell, glad to be free of the straitjacket. They hadn't come today to put it on him and he was happy about that.
"Just like those for fish," he whispered to himself, fingering the steel bedpost.
"Close the door, would you?"