The Empathy Hour
Mary J. Daley
The crowd stood in the rain, wielding white signs, framed against the red brick of the Greenway Correctional Facility. Signs which read: "Thou shall not Kill", "Execution is not the Solution", "Only God can Decide" and always her favorite, the word "Empath" buried under the international no symbol.
Keli reached into her purse for a cigarette. Her hand trembled slightly as she twisted around to block the rain from interrupting her cigarette's union with her lighter's tiny flame. She dragged long, shivered once and readjusted the back of her wet skirt from where it was trying to wedge itself. The bus pulled away, its protective haze of exhaust with it. The crowd erupted into one loud voice when they recognized her. She pulled her shoulders back, hoping for height and crossed the puddle-pitted asphalt towards the high gates, thankful that the black heels of her thigh-high boots provided her with an extra four inches.
A woman in the crowd reached for Keli's arm but Keli had already exchanged her lighter for her pepper spray and aimed it at her. "Touch me and you'll regret it."
"Go home, this is no place for a child with your abilities." The woman lowered her arms, showing empty palms.
"Who gives you the right, empath, to cast judgment on another's life?" a man shouted.
Keli kept walking.
"She should be commended for this service, not attacked." Someone responded from behind her.
To her left a man spat the word "empath," sending a wad of phlegm to land on the asphalt in front of Keli. She stepped over it without breaking stride, keeping an icy stare on the guard behind the gate as she approached it.
"You're going to let me in or what?" Keli asked when she was nose to steel with the gate. "Not that I expected you to leave your cage to escort me, but you could have at least shouted at them to keep further back. One nearly touched me. Jeez, the last thing I need right now is to look inside the head of a heaven bound shit disturber."
The guard ignored her. Rain slid off the brim of his cap, as he took his time hitting the button that started the gate rattling along its track.
She stepped through the widening gap and walked up to the big double doors of the facility.
"Empath." the guard finally spoke.
She turned, raising her long metallic gold lashes. She could see droplets of water glistening on their ends. She gave him her best smirk, "What?"
"You don't do Greenway or your kind any favors waltzing in here dressed like a strung out whore."
"Bite me, asshole." She tossed what was left of her cigarette onto the ground and entered the facility. The wide corridor smelled of steel and rubber, and cups of long standing coffee. The air conditioning chased a shiver up the base of her spine into the nape of her neck. After producing her identification at the shoulder high reception desk, she signed in.
The receptionist handed her the reflection wrap for her empath identification bracelet and Keli slid it over her wrist, making sure it covered the metal.
A guard waved her through the screening gate. Her body triggered the alarm.
Remembering her new piercing, she sighed. The guard on the other side stepped in front of her, halting her process.
"I'm already late," she said raising her arms so his wand could hug the curves of her tiny body. It beeped at her hip. She pulled down the waist of her skirt to show him her steel studded hip ring.
"I can't. It's too new."
Bastard, she thought as she wiggled the ring from tender flesh and tossed it in the bin where her purse sat. She stepped back through the security door and forward again. He stepped aside.
"If I can't get it back in, I'm sending Greenway the bill for a new piercing." She grabbed up her purse and jewelry and walked on. At the elevator, she tried to work the ring back through the holes in her skin with her damp fingers but was unsuccessful. She pulled her waistband up and put the ring into the front pocket of her purse. The elevator doors opened.
Dr. Grace Berton, program administrator for rehabilitation, and Dr. Red Dorrell, chief of psychology at Greenway met her in the holding area. The two looked very much alike in their white lab coats, grey hair, and scholarly flare. The only difference was Grace wore a shade of lipstick that made her mouth look like a gaping wound, and Red had a beard, which circled his chin, leaving his jaw line smooth.
"Hello, Ms. Allen," Dr. Dorrell said, looking at her like a disapproving father.
"Can't you just call me Keli, Red? I'm nervous enough without you using my last name. So where is he? I'd like to get this over with." The two Oxazepam she took earlier were wearing off.
"First there is still paperwork that needs signing. Waivers, confidential agreements." Dr. Berton spoke up.
"I thought I went through all that last week?"
"Just a few more. " Dr, Berton stepped around her.
"Situations like this required every "I" dotted, every "T" crossed. Wouldn't want a loophole his lawyers can work with."
"No, wouldn't want that."
"Would you like a coffee?" Dr. Dorrell asked.
She shook her head. Dr. Berton led her to the table where a stack of paper sat waiting. Keli blew air from her set lips and sat down.
She signed most of the papers without so much as reading the titles, although, one caught her attention and made her laugh. Dr. Berton looked over her glasses at her.
Keli smiled. "It says I'm to abstain from writing Mr. Horace McKinnon's autobiography unless authorized by the Greenway Correction Facility and the Dawson's Publishing House. You guys making money off their stories, too?"
Dr. Berton cleared her throat. She puckered her red mouth and said nothing.
"Don't worry, I'm not that desperate to stay in nights jotting down someone else's thoughts. Especially about anyone in here." She signed it and put the pen down. "Any more?"
"No, that's all. Follow us Ms. Allen." Dr. Dorrell gestured towards the hallway.
"Do you think Horace did well in the program?" Keli asked Dr. Berton's back as they walked. "Because if there is any chance he's going to fail this reading, I need a higher reading price. Just saying, I can't afford to go on rest leave again without a little financial buffer to help get me through it."
Dr. Berton turned to her and smiled, "Don't worry, Keli. We believe we made a major breakthrough and we expect to see a much higher success rate with this round of subjects. But if we could confirm their success ourselves then we wouldn't need your service, now would we? Besides we already pay you quite well regardless of how it goes."
"But I'm under contract and I don't get paid when you two decide I need a break from reading."
"Then you'll be happy to know that your recent scans and test results were fine. We believe you are well enough to handle this reading. If you do well, there are two more subjects coming up for review."
"Three, that's great." Keli silently counted the money. "So, does my therapist agree too?"
"Yes, of course."
Keli pulled the skirt from her crack again. Her heart raced. She tried to control her breathing as the doctors led her down the sterile white corridors that housed the criminally insane. The facility boasted that it now contained over thirty percent of all multiple killers in the country. Every one of them volunteered for the new eighteen-month correctional therapy.
They approached a wide steel door; so shiny Keli met her own reflection and grimaced at it. The guard was right. She blamed Tammy for feeding her tequila shots until four a.m. She looked like hell.
"What time is it?" she asked as she ran her fingers through her short platinum coloured hair, hoping to give it some life.
She nodded. They were led into a large room with white walls, a huge mirror, two steel chairs and a gurney with a man strapped to it. He wore a blue jean shirt, brown pants and heavy work boots. His hair was greased over the top of his forehead like a crescent moon and glasses with copper frames sat on a fleshy nose. He was clean-shaven and smelled of mouth wash.
Spotting Keli, he began to twist against the black straps that held him down. "Keep that thing away from me until my lawyer gets here. She doesn't look qualified to clean the toilets. What if she's on the take?"
"Shhh, she comes with high credentials. And your lawyer, Mr. McKinnon, is in the next room witnessing everything that is taking place in here." Dr. Dorrell said, as he sat down on a metal chair near the door. Dr. Berton sat down beside him leaving Keli to look about the room. How many were watching from the wide mirror? She wondered. And how many were there to study her more than this case? She cleared her throat. Her adrenalin was kicking in big time. She wanted to run from all this whiteness and grey steel.
Mr. McKinnon still fought his bonds but was only able to move a fraction of an inch in any directions.
"The last sedation the subject received was at 1900 hours, Tuesday evening.' Dr. Dorrell was consulting his files but his tone of voice was for the benefit of those behind the mirror.
Keli sighed. She had hoped on Horace being stoned. One of them ought to be.
"Ms. Keli Allen is a nineteen year old, level Four Empath," Dr. Dorrell continued. "She scored in the 97th percentile for her empathic/telepathic ability during her evaluation and she is mentally fit and highly qualified to carry out this procedure. This is her eleventh reading at Greenway in the last fifteen months. Five subjects were declared fit and are now living and working in society without any undue occurrences thus far. Six subjects were declared unfit by Ms. Allen and were put to death
by lethal injection following the reading. I would like to add for the benefit of our studies, three of the five unfits were subjects from our first trial period."
"You may proceed, Ms. Allen." Dr. Berton interrupted her colleague from continuing.
Keli hesitantly stepped towards Horace. He glared at her, coiled like a snake unable to strike. She had read his case files. He hadn't placed a foot wrong during his year and a half of rehabilitation. A model patient. He showed signs of full remorse and took complete responsibility for his eight counts of murder. His victims he knew personally, slitting the throats of each one.
Snakes were snakes in her book, but the continuing advances of psychiatric rehabilitation were proving otherwise and the behavioral scientists at Greenway were convinced wholeheartedly that snakes only required eighteen months of intensive mental restructuring to remove the poison from their thinking. They believed they could remove all aggressive traits, and recurring thoughts of perversions and entitlement, permanently.
However, the study and equipment had proved incredibly expensive, and in order to keep funding it, the state placed a difficult choice on the convicted.
They could either spend eighteen months in the program and a chance at full parole, or life imprisonment. Horace wanted the eighteen months. Most did, because prison life had become incredibly difficult to endure under the new government. However it was either the program or life, there were no other options. If an Empath ruled the convicted unfit for re-entry into society after his full treatment, the convicted was euthanized following the verdict. Their incarceration became twice as expensive otherwise. And by giving the prisoner the freedom of choice it cut down slightly on the backlash from protestors.
An empath was necessary after the course of treatment to rule without doubt the success or failure of the treatment. If the mind was clean they were free to go.
But even clean it didn't make Keli's job any easier. They might have come far extinguishing aggression and impulse while nurturing remorse and conscience, but they couldn't get rid of storage. These memories were all still available for her viewing pleasure as if just released from the Disney vault. Most of them made her nauseous.
"You said I did well," Horace shouted. "So, why do I have to have this thing inside me? It is against my rights of privacy."
"You know it mandatory, Mr. Mackinnon. "It will only take a few minutes. Are you ready, Keli?"
Keli nodded and reached out and put her slim fingers around Horace's thick wrist and there he was in high definition. A neglected infant, an abused child, a bullied adolescent, an angry and depressed adult, substance abuser, and then in the span of four hours on a Sunday evening in late May, two years ago, he deliberately killed his entire family.
His victims included his maternal grandmother, his wife, her sister, his brother, his sister-in-law, his two sons and their neighbor, Mr. Dahl.
Then came the trial, the treatment and now here was Horace, new and improved. She could feel no aggression or hate, only fear and compliance. She had to admit the program was having better and better results.
He was thirsty, and his lower spine hurt from the way he was positioned. He wished to turn over. And he didn't like the stale cigarette smell on her breath and he thought she looked too trashy for this important job. However, his biggest fear was that she would find him unfit. She smiled because he was scrambling to cover up his negative thoughts about her, scared they would influence her reading. They all did that but it was like trying to hide behind water. As if she cared what this kind of person thought of her.
She let go of his wrist and breathed in deep. That was easy money.
"Clean," she said.
She could hear a faint cheering from the room beyond them. Dr. Berton and Dr. Dorrell stood and shook hands. Keli clasped her own hands behind her back.
Horace was released from his bonds by a guard and led away. Keli's head was splitting.
Dr. Berton and Dr. Dorrell left the room and Keli ran to catch up to them, "I have a favour to ask you, Dr. Berton."
"What is it?"
"I was hoping to get my invoice paid before thirty days. This is my first assignment since my recovery so I'm behind on rent and stuff." She smiled. "I have enough for the bus back and that's like it. Honest."
"Can't help you there, Keli," Dr. Berton said, "You'll need to speak to the accounts manager."
Dickweed, Keli thought, letting them walk away from her. Your name was on my last cheque. If you can sign'em you can fucking well issue them if you wanted to. As she stood fuming, Horace's lawyer and Dr. Dorrell's assistant found her and escorted her back to the room to sign yet more documents, confirming in triplicate that she found Horace fit and safe for the real world once again.
By the time she made it back to her apartment, she was soaked and miserable. Tammy had left a scrawled note on the fridge stating she had a john and would be back tomorrow. Thank God. Normally she hated when Tammy worked but at least they might make rent now.
Tammy's beauty and empathic ability made her an outstanding dominatrix. However, business was slow since not many clients wished to expose all their deepest desires in exchange for pleasure, especially when they couldn't be sure how warped their desires went. Clients rarely returned once Tammy uncovered how wicked their sexual thoughts were.
Keli tried to explain to Tammy that she didn't have to feed them all their dark wishes at once, but Tammy always replied that they paid her well not to hold back.
Tammy's naivety sometimes bothered Keli. She must have been well-gloved her entire childhood.
Keli searched around the apartment for something to take for her headache. She searched Tammy's nightstand. The drawer was full of loose tissue, chocolate bar wrappers, an empty bottle of Percocet, and a small bag of hash heavily laced with something Keli didn't want to ever visit again.
She lay on the bed, holding her head in both hands and hoped Tammy would come home with something to eat and something to get high with. As she drifted off to sleep she watched Horace's grandmother lower a four-year-old Horace into a tub of almost scalding water. She watched as Horace struggled, while his grandmother added Mr. Clean to the water. Did she think the boy was a floor? No wonder he slit her throat. God she hated her job.
Later, sirens woke her and she stretched in the semi gloom of late evening. Her wet clothes had dried leaving a musty smell but her headache was gone. Barefoot, she wandered into the small bathroom that contained one tiny shower and a toilet. The toilet's back was layered in white wax from the candles Tammy always stuck there.
With the sound of the front door, she returned to the main room. Tammy stood there with her good leather jacket spotted with drops of blood. Her left eye was swollen shut and her nose was broke.
"Jeez, your client did that? I thought you were suppose to be the sadist?"
"My john was an empath-hating cop." She kicked off her boots and wandered over to the bed and sat down.
She shook her head, her straight black hair never stirred from its perfect bowl shape.
"Why'd he hit you?"
"First because he was assigned this beat, but then he hit me again for reading him. He didn't like what I saw. Bastard is pressuring his thirteen-year-old niece. I told him to leave her alone or I'll go to his wife with it."
"Jeez, Tammy, you can't threaten them. I can't believe a cop actually let you touch him?"
"He didn't. He had more leather on than I did, but his jacket was worn at the elbow and he just happened to elbow me in the throat. It was quick but it was enough to get a glimpse." She reached up and ran her hand along her delicate neck. "He could've crushed my windpipe. It still hurts. But enough about my work day." She smiled. "How are you? Was your client clean?"
"Yeah, Horace wasn't so horrible."
"Thank God, 'cause after the last one I thought you were going to crawl into a bottle of prescribe sedation and never come out."
Keli lifted an eyebrow. "But I have a top notch therapist, who assures me that my contribution to society is what I should focus on, and not these murderer's thoughts. I'm essential in shutting down the horrible minds that can't be made right. Which begs the question, why can't I pay the rent?" Keli sat on the bed and put an arm around Tammy. Tammy's smile didn't show it, but Keli felt her hurt and anger. Tammy swallowed, and it hurt. Tammy's nose felt too large and when she sniffed, it hurt. But Tammy had money.
"You stole." Keli gasped.
"Of course I did, he punched me in the nose wearing a smelly leather glove, and besides it was too easy. I had too. His wallet practically hung out his coat pocket and his pin number was all but flashing in his short term." She shrugged Keli arm off, "but stop reading me. I don't read you."
"You don't want to read me. But since what you have is not enough for rent, we should spend it on something to eat. I'm starving."
A week later, Keli's cheque and their eviction notice arrived through the mail slot. There was no arguing with their landlord over this. Not even after Keli tried handing her the back rent in cash and then some. Mrs. White wanted them gone ever since she discovered they were empaths and now she had sixty days of just cause.
Tammy laughed when Keli told her.
"We'll find somewhere else," Tammy said.
"Some places don't mind renting to empaths."
"Holes. I don't wish to go any seedier."
"According to popular belief, empaths go hand in hand with seedy. It's not like many of us are righteous, using our gift for the greater good."
"I like you to know, I have a position on the board of the greater good?"
Tammy nodded, "That you do. And if you'd only ask again for me, I might become respectable too."
"You don't want my job. Believe me, it'll turn your sweet sadistic heart cold, Tammy."
"Come on Keli, you don't think I've seen everything there is to see. Shit, someday you have to come to work with me and see some of my clients from the inside out. There is not enough soap in this world to wash their thoughts from my head. "
She nodded, but she wasn't letting Tammy near the facility. Besides, Tammy was classified as a class two empath and the facility wouldn't contract an empath less than a class three. She glanced down at her bracelet that was pressed against the skin of her wrist. Empath four was etched deep into the metal. The bracelet was secured to the wrist by hoop piercings that were welded in place. They were removable but not easily and it left scars that identified an empath as much as the bracelet did. All empaths were required by law to be fitted with them.
"We should move to the country. I heard it's nice out there in the communes. We could raise something. You know, like bees or goats." Tammy said, opening the fridge and grabbing the last soda.
Keli laughed. "Those commune folks might preach that a good life is a shared life and they might even smile happily at us as we set up our goat cheese stall next to their home made Jams and Jellies at the Fall fair, but they're no different than anyone else. They'll do anything to keep their thoughts and feelings, specially the weirder shit, hidden. We'll last a week before someone runs us over with a John Deere. There is no escaping what we are."
"Well, if we had a lot of money we could move out beyond the communes and buy a little land of our own."
"Tammy, we can't even manage rent here."
Tammy lucked out two days later, finding a place on the other side of town above Harry's Thrift Joint. It wasn't so bad. It was big and Harry was a rare one with absolutely no bias towards them. In fact his last renter was an empath and had lived there for over thirty years. Never caused him a single problem, he kept stressing. He also stated that it was their good fortune to have her brain aneurysm coincide with their apartment hunting.
"Windows even," Keli smiled as she touched the warped glass. "Old windows too, look how the glass dimples. And a tub. We can take bubble baths. I like this place."
Keli smiled at her friend, who seemed totally in love with the place. Perhaps their luck had returned.
Greenway called her a week after they settled in. A serial killer named Randolph Baldwin had completed the eighteen-month program and was up for re-evaluation. Give me a mass murderer any old day over a serial one, Keli thought, but they needed the money and so she said yes. The first meeting was scheduled for the following Friday.
She put down the phone just as Tammy came into the apartment carrying an armload of colourful fabric. "Harry gave it all to me for ten dollars. Colour to brighten up our windows. Look at this one. "
Keli nodded and touched a silky peach curtain that Tammy held out. It had a hole in it the size of a fist. "Nice, we'll have this place looking like home before you know it."
That evening, they ate fresh mangos and chunks of baguette as they sat on the floor of their new place. The window was opened and a breeze blew in, dancing with the long strands of colourful fabric. Keli felt a moment of well-being and she smiled a smile that had no force at all behind it.
But her smiled faded when Tammy said around a mouthful of bread, "Well, I'm late. I have to rush off."
"Work," Tammy answered. She grabbed her leather outfit from one of their packing boxes and went inside the bathroom to change.
"That's not necessary. I've got a job lined up and I still have some money left over from my last contract. You don't have to take on any more clients."
Tammy came back out of the bathroom, zipping up her bodice, until the top of her breasts crested the tight leather. Her black skirt was just as tight fitting and she wore calf-high, red boots.
"If we both work, we can save more. Do these work with this outfit?" Tammy asked, raising a boot to show her friend.
"What does it matter? Just make sure he's not a cop this time, promise?"
Tammy smiled and touched her nose. "I learned my lesson. I'll do the beating from now on. Meet me at The Underground later tonight and we'll get drunk. Okay."
Tammy kissed Keli's cheek. Tammy was scared. It came through loud and clear with the touch of her lips. It was normal to be scared. It was just part of seeing inside of people.
Keli stood in the police station holding her missing person form. Her stomach was in knots. She was redirected each time she had asked to speak to someone. At first, when Tammy hadn't shown up at the The Underground, she wasn't overly concerned simply because Tammy didn't always show up in the places she said she would. But when she hadn't shown up back at the apartment, Keli started to fret and came down to the police station in case she had been arrested.
Three hours later a police officer finally approached her and listened to her briefly as he read through the form she had filled out.
"We'll do what we can." He said before walking away.
"I left my cell number. Please call me if you hear anything at all." Keli yelled after him.
Three days later Keli received a call from him, informing her that Tammy was in the ICU at St. Lukes. Keli arrived to find Tammy in isolation. Her face and body bandaged. A sign at the end of her bed said "Empath - glove and gown before touching."
Keli approached the bed and whispered, "Hi girl. What you get up to this time?"
Tammy opened her eyes but didn't speak.
"You look good in cotton. Such a nice change from all that leather," Keli said.
Tammy gave her a small grin.
"Who did this?"
"It was that same officer who elbowed me, but he had a few more friends with him this time. They wore masks." Tammy answered hoarsely.
"Did you give a statement?"
"Of course I did. For all I know I gave my statement to the ones who were with him.' She laughed. It was weak and sad. "Thank God for these drugs. That almost sounds funny." A tear ran down her face and onto her white bandage. "They hurt me, Keli."
Keli reached out to hold her friend's hand but paused. Did she want to know? Did she want to feel what her friend was feeling? Her fingers closed slowly over Tammy's and the pain that hit her even through Tammy's drug induced state made her stomach flop. Her heart tightened to half its size. Her friend was broken everywhere.
She left sometime later once Tammy fell asleep. This was only after she convinced the nurse to up Tammy's morphine.
Three days later at The Greenway Correctional Institution, Keli strode in wearing a pair of new brown slacks, a white shirt and a blazer. Her face was scrubbed free of makeup. The usual guard had to take a second look before opening the gate.
"Much better," he nodded.
She nodded and even offered a small smile. "It's only because I need the Docs to take me seriously today."
It was Dr. Dorrell's assistant who spent the first hour with Keli going over the documents that required her signature. With each reading she had to go through the same routine.
Finally Dr. Dorrell came into the room, "Good afternoon Keli. How are things?"
"Well, Dr. Dorrell, I'm glad you asked. Because things aren't good and I was hoping for your help concerning a more personal problem."
"What's that?" He said, glancing through the documentation.
"My friend was almost killed by a Detective Stewart and no one will do anything about it. They took an initial statement but now won't even return our phone calls. I know Greenway is connected well with the entire correctional system, and I'm asking for a little justice for my friend. I will be forever in your debt if you help her." She rubbed a finger along a dark stain in the table's wood. "I'll read for free even."
"Is she an empath?"
"Yes, and I know you can't use us, but maybe you can get another empath to read him. It will prove he hurt my friend."
"A reading can't be done unless he is found guilty of murder. Detective Stewart you say?"
Keli nodded, "His first name is Taylor."
"Well, since you caught me following some exceptional news I just received, I'll check on this for you." He looked up at her waiting for a response and when she didn't give one, he asked. "Don't you want to hear about this exceptional news?"
Keli just stared at him.
"Our rehabilitation program has just been giving the green light to incorporate our methods country wide. The Medical Journal of Behavioral Science declared our program a major success and we just received another round of funding in order to introduce our techniques to several other facilities in key districts."
"Congratulations, Dr. Dorrell."
"Our success is your success too, Keli. Now about this empath friend of yours, do you think she would be interested in testing for us? We'll need qualified personnel set up in the other districts. What level is she?"
"Umm, Dr. Dorrell, did you hear me before? She's in ICU. They say it will be months before she can even walk again because the bastards broke her back."
He nodded, flipping quickly through the rest of the files. " Things seem to be in order here, Keli. I'll arrange our client's reading and get back to you." He stood up and started towards the door. He turned and gave her a doctor-like smile. "Don't worry. I'll look into this situation regarding your friend."
Two days later she was called into Dr. Dorrell's office. It was the first time she was ever in it. It was huge with a wall of bookcases and a Mahogany desk with curved legs. The place smelled of wood polish and peppermints.
"Come in, come in. sit down, Keli," Dr. Dorrell offered. Dr. Berton was already seated and Keli took the seat beside her.
Keli wanted a smoke so bad that when Dr. Dorrell offered her a candy dish full of toffees she grabbed a handful.
"Okay, so first things first. We looked into the incident regarding Tammy Fletcher."
Keli sat up straighter and nodded.
Dr. Dorrell leaned back in his chair and continued. "We pulled strings and stepped on a few toes in order to do so, so I hope that is appreciated. We did this, Keli, because we like you and if we could've offered assistance to your friend, Ms Fletcher, we certainly would have. But, I'm afraid we simply came up against too many inconsistencies around her story. Do you know this girl well? I mean really know her?"
"Do you know she has been convicted several times in the last four years from everything from prostitution to theft."
"That theft was just a pair of jeans."
"She also has four counts of blackmail. "
"No she doesn't. I read her. She hasn't blackmailed any one.'
Dr. Dorrell let his glasses slip off his nose and into his hand. "Well according to her police record she has. It is all there in black and white. What makes her a friend, Keli? I would think someone as ambitious and intelligent as you would be more selective with whom you associate. And were you aware that she is only a level two? "
"What does her ability have to do with any of this?"
He cleared his throat. "Nothing. We were only trying to help. Now lets put this matter aside and bring our attention back to you. Dr. Berton and I believe highly in your ability and worth to this program and want to offer you a full time position. We'll set you up in a small apartment and give you a nice travel allowance so that you can read at this facility and the other start-ups around the country. You'll be very happy with the salary we're offering and this will include benefits, health and life Insurance, and paid vacation. It is a grand opportunity for you. And to show you that we aren't forgetting that friendship matters, we will make sure Ms. Fletcher's medical bills are paid for and will even arrange for her long care needs."
Keli had a flash of Tammy holding up her red boot at her.
"But what about Detective Stewart?"
"We can't demand the conviction of someone who hadn't done anything wrong. He was at a bowling tournament that night. He has a dozen witnesses. Ms. Fletcher was mistaken."
"No, she wasn't."
He looked at his watch. "Sorry, we have to move on with this meeting. Will you consider our offer?"
"Good girl. Now can we get back to the business at hand and discuss Randolph Baldwin's upcoming reading. Because of the added press we have received recently, we anticipate a huge crowd tomorrow and it is vital we all act and look professional. And I must say I am happy to see you are already thinking like a professional, Keli. You're dressing for success these days. We'll send a driver for you tomorrow. Wouldn't want you getting caught in the rain again."
Keli had stopped listening after "good girl". When she arrived at the apartment, she sat in the dark and cried over Tammy's situation and her own helplessness.
The next day she arrived at the facility wearing the same outfit she wore the day before albeit a bit wrinkled. She marched through the crowd and their signs and their cameras. This time four guards escorted her. She said very little to Dr. Berton and Dr. Dorrell and the others that gathered around waiting for nine o'clock and the reading. When it was time she was once again escorted into the white room with the mirror.
Randolph Baldwin, all six foot four of him, rested on the gurney. His blue eyes had a depth Keli didn't want to go near. He had strong handsome features. He was tied down but he didn't flinch from her when she approached. He invited her to look inside.
"Are you ready, Ms. Allen?" Dr. Berton asked.
"Begin the reading."
She lightly grasped his wrist. She wanted to scream, to vomit, to cry. The man was a monster. A living, breathing monster. One who grew up in a lovely house with lovely parents and a gentle golden retriever, which he killed with a hatchet when he was only nine. And that was the kindest death Randolph ever gave one of his victims. His mind was as glaring as the walls of this room. Horrible acts he committed and acts he wished to commit came at her like waves to a shore. Dr. Berton and Dr. Dorrell were both victims of his wishes. He hadn't appreciated their lessons or their methods in the least.
The images of the vile things Randolph wished to do to them made Keli pull her arm away.
"The empath is require to leave her hand on the subject for a full three minutes. Please return you hand to his wrist, Ms. Allen. And save your verdict until the end. " Dr. Berton said.
"I feel sick. Why can't I declare him now?"
"Three minutes, Keli. The state requires a full three minutes before you make a decision." Dr. Berton said, her red mouth looking alien in such a white room.
Keli put her hand on him again. He wasn't even near the outskirts of redemption. He was as snake like as ever and he welcomed her into it. I'll show you what I dream about, he kept pushing at her. She saw more and more and then she let go. She let out her breath that she was holding. His blue eyes stared up at her. She stared back.
She brought flowers and a bottle of tequila into Tammy's room that night. Tammy was moved from the Intensive Care Unit into a private room that she had to thank Dr. Dorrell for.
"Was the reading today?" Tammy asked.
Keli nodded and set down the flowers in front of her. She opened the tequila and took a swig and handed it to Tammy. Tammy took it and drank long.
"Another success story for Greenway? Did they turn monster into lamb again? Snake into stick? They must have because you don't seem shaken at all." Tammy handed the bottle back.
Keli looked up at the TV monitor. "You weren't watching the coverage?"
"Nah, I don't give a sweet shit to tell you the truth."
"Well, you might be glad to hear that they gave me a huge advance today. Enough to buy you decent wheels and for us to go somewhere past the communes, to the wilds you talked about and raise goats."
Tammy frowned. "I hope you're not thinking about throwing away fame and fortune for the likes of me? You're set and I'll cope. End of discussion."
Keli didn't like how pinched and pale Tammy's face looked. Her eyes were no longer readable, the last of her gentle wishes washed from them.
"Well, " Keli started. "I don't think I'm going to have a job much longer because I'm afraid that program is about to take a nosedive straight into the crapper. So I for one would like to get the hell out of here as soon as we can."
Tammy pushed a few strands of black hair from her eyes and shrugged. "Why's that?"
"Randolph." Keli shook. It was a quick spastic move.
With the help of the metal pulley that dangled above her, Tammy pulled herself higher in the bed. "Are you saying he wasn't clean? If they gave you sedatives after the reading, than pony up sister and share some. They cut me back to practically aspirin here."
"No sedation. This time it didn't affect me so bad. I think my head knows how to block it now."
"Well like you said before it probably helps knowing that you shut these monsters down for good."
Keli looked over the top of Tammy." You know, I was even able to override some of his thoughts by pushing a few of my own onto him. I didn't know I could do that but Randolph now doesn't like Detective Stewart anymore than we do, if that makes you feel better."
"What does it fucking matter? You shut him down. And anyway, don't worry about the program. It's government run and they don't expect perfect results each time. You're still necessary. It is still win, win for everyone. Give me that bottle back," Tammy reached for it. Her hand was shaking slightly.
Keli swallowed. She would have to get this girl into something darker to wear and a little lipstick. She wouldn't have her friend disappearing into hospital sheets. Wanting desperately to bring color to her friend's cheeks, Keli grabbed the remote and flicked on the TV. "Not quite win, win." The two of them watched for a while.
As they watched, Tammy started laughing. She took another drink from the tequila and laughed some more. Randolph Baldwin was up on the screen walking out of the Greenway facility through a cheering crowd. He was smiling pleasantly and waving. The caption simply read, "Declared Clean by Empath."
"Shit Keli. You're one disturbed individual."
"I'm sure they'll take him down before he causes too much carnage. It's not like he is heading straight to a defenseless church. He has a game plan."
Tammy's eyes were huge now and spots of colour began to spread across her cheeks. "You know this won't help others with our ability in obtaining positions on the board of the greater good."
"Believe me the greater good can fuck an empath up."
"I see that." Tammy looked up at the monitor again.
Keli bit her lip, waiting for Tammy to say something else.
Tammy finally shook her head and asked, "This advance they gave you, is it enough to buy goats too?"
Keli smiled. "Enough to get us started."