AFTER BREAKFAST, I wandered about in my bedroom and study, deliberating over what to bring on our trip. My aluminum briefcase would go, because it was habit to take it almost everywhere these days. I also packed an extra pair of slacks and a shirt, and toiletries for overnight, and my Colt.38 went into my pocketbook. Although I was accustomed to carrying a gun, I had never even thought about taking one to New York, where doing so could land one in jail with no questions asked. When Lucy and I were in the car, I told her what I had done.
'It's called situational ethics,' she said. 'I'd rather be arrested than dead.'
'That's the way I look at it,' said I, who once had been a law-abiding citizen.
HeloAir was a helicopter charter service on the western edge of the Richmond airport, where some of the area's Fortune 500 companies had their own terminals for corporate King Airs and Lear Jets and Sikorskys. The Bell JetRanger was in the hangar, and while Lucy went on to take care of that, I found a pilot inside who was kind enough to let me use the phone in his office. I dug around in my wallet for my AT T calling card and dialed the number for Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center's administrative offices.
The director was a woman psychiatrist named Lydia Ensor who was very leery when I got her on the line. I tried to explain to her in more detail who I was, but she interrupted.
'I know exactly who you are,' she said with a Midwestern tongue. 'I'm completely aware of the current situation and will be as cooperative as I can. I'm not clear, however, on what your interest is, Dr Scarpetta. You're the chief medical examiner of Virginia? Correct?'
'Correct. And a consulting forensic pathologist for ATF and the FBL'
'And of course, they've contacted me, too.' She sounded genuinely perplexed. 'So are you looking for information that might pertain to one of your cases? To someone dead?'
'Dr Ensor, I'm trying to link a number of cases right now,' I replied. 'I have reason to suspect that Carrie Grethen may be either indirectly or directly involved in all of them and may have been involved even while she was at Kirby.'
'Clearly, you don't know this woman,' I said firmly. 'I, on the other hand, have worked violent deaths caused by her for half of my career, beginning when she and Temple Gault were on a spree in Virginia and finally in New York, where Gault was killed. And now this. Possibly five more murders, maybe more.'
'I know Miss Grethen's history all too well,' Dr Ensor said, and she wasn't hostile, but defensiveness had crept into her tone. 'I can assure you that Kirby handled her as we do all maximum security patients…'
'There's almost nothing useful in her psychiatric evaluations,' I cut her off.
'How could you possibly know about her medical records…?'
'Because I am part of the ATF national response team that is investigating these fire-related homicides,' I measured my words. 'And I work with the FBI, as I've already said. All of the cases we're talking about are my jurisdiction because I'm a consultant for law enforcement at a federal level. But my duty is not to arrest anyone or smear an institution such as yours. My job is to bring justice to the dead and give as much peace as possible to those they left behind. To do that, I must answer questions. And most important, I am driven to do anything I can to prevent one more person from dying. Carrie will kill again. She may already have.'
The director was silent for a moment. I looked out the window and could see the dark blue helicopter on its pad being towed out onto the tarmac.
'Dr Scarpetta, what would you like us to do?' Dr Ensor finally spoke, her voice tense and upset.
'Did Carrie have a social worker? Someone in legal aid? Anyone she really talked to?' I asked.
'Obviously, she spent a fair amount of time with a forensic psychologist, but he isn't on our staff. Mainly he's there to evaluate and make recommendations to the court.'
'Then she probably manipulated him,' I said as I watched Lucy climb up on the helicopter's skids and begin her preflight inspection. 'Who else? Anyone she may have gotten close to?'
'Her lawyer, then. Yes, legal aid. If you would like to speak to her, that can be arranged.'
'I'm leaving the airport now,' I said. 'We should be landing in approximately three hours. Do you have a helipad?'
'I don't remember anyone ever landing here. There are several parks nearby. I'll be happy to pick you up.'
'I don't think that will be necessary. My guess is we'll land close by.'
'I'll watch for you, then, and take you to legal aid, or wherever it is you need to go.'
'I would like to see Carrie Grethen's ward and where she spent her time.'
'Whatever you need.'
'You are very kind,' I said.
Lucy was opening access panels to check fluid levels, wiring, and anything else that might be amiss before we took to the air. She was agile and sure of what she was doing, and when she climbed on top of the fuselage to inspect the main rotor, I wondered how many helicopter accidents happened on the ground. It wasn't until I had climbed up into the copilot's seat that I noticed the AR-15 assault rifle in a rack behind her head, and at the same time, I realized the controls on my side had not been taken out. Passengers were not entitled to have access to the collective and cyclic, and the antitorque pedals were supposed to be cranked back far enough that the uninitiated did not accidentally push them with their feet.
'What's this?' I said to Lucy as I buckled my four-point harness.
'We've got a long flight.'
She cracked the throttle several times to make certain there was no binding and it was closed.
'I realize that,' I said.
'Cross country's a good time to try your hand at it.'
She lifted the collective and made big X's with the cyclic.
'Whose hand at what?' I said as my alarm grew.
'Your hand at flying when all you got to do is hold your altitude and speed and keep her level.'
She pressed the starter and the engine began to whirr.
The blades began to turn as the windy roar got louder.
'If you're going to fly with me,' my niece, the pilot and certificated flight instructor, said above the noise, 'then I'd like to know you could help out if there was a problem, okay?'
I said nothing more as she rolled the throttle and raised the rpms. She flipped switches and tested caution lights, then turned on the radio and we put our headsets on. Lucy lifted us off the platform as if gravity had quit. She turned us into the wind and moved forward with gathering speed until the helicopter seemed to soar on its own. We climbed above trees, the sun high in the east. When we were clear of the tower and the city, Lucy began lesson one.
I already knew what most of the controls were and what they were for, but I had an extremely limited understanding of how they worked together. I did not know, for example, that when you raise the collective and increase power, the helicopter will yaw to the right, meaning you have to depress your left antitorque pedal to counter the torque of the main rotor and keep the aircraft in trim, and as your altitude climbs, due to the pulling up on the collective, your speed decreases, meaning you have to push the cyclic forward. And so on. It was like playing the drums, as best I knew, only in this instance I had to watch for dim-witted birds, towers, antennae, and other aircraft.
Lucy was very patient, and the time moved fast as we forged ahead at one hundred and ten knots. By the time we were north of Washington, I actually could keep the helicopter relatively steady while adjusting the directional gyro at the same time to keep it consistent with the compass. Our heading was 050 degrees, and although I could juggle not one more thing, such as the Global Positioning System, or GPS, Lucy said I was doing a fine job keeping us on course.
'We got a small plane at three o'clock,' she said through her mike. 'See it?'
'Then you say, tally-ho. And it's above horizon. You can tell that, right?'
Lucy laughed. 'No. Tally-ho does not mean ten-four. And if something's above horizon, that means it's also above us. That's important, because if both aircraft are at horizon and the one we're looking at also doesn't seem to be moving, then that means it's at our altitude and either heading away from us or straight for us. Kind of smart to pay attention and figure out which one, right?'
Her instruction went on until the New York skyline was in view, then I was to have nothing more to do with the controls. Lucy flew us low past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where my Italian ancestors had gathered long ago to begin with nothing in a new world of opportunity. The city gathered around us and the buildings in the financial district were huge as we flew at five hundred feet, the shadow of our helicopter moving below us along the water. It was a hot, clear day, and tour helicopters were making their rounds while others carried executives who had everything but time.
Lucy was busy with the radio, and approach control did not seem to want to acknowledge us because air traffic was so congested, and controllers were not very interested in aircraft flying at seven hundred feet. At this altitude in this city, the rules were see and avoid, and that was about it. We followed the East River over the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges, moving at ninety knots over crawling garbage barges, fuel tankers, and circling white tour boats. As we passed by the crumbled buildings and old hospitals of Roosevelt Island, Lucy let La Guardia know what we were doing. By now Ward's Island was straight ahead. It was appropriate that the part of the river at the southwestern tip was called Hell Gate.
What I knew about Ward's Island came from my enduring interest in medical history, and as was true of many of New York's islands in earlier times, it was a place of exile for prisoners, the diseased, and mentally ill. Ward's Island's past was particularly unhappy, as I recalled, for in the mid-eighteen hundreds, it had been a place of no heat or running water, where people with typhus were quarantined and Russian Jewish refugees were warehoused. At the turn of the century, the city's lunatic asylum had been moved to the island. Certainly conditions were better here now, although the population was far more maniacal. Patients had air conditioning, lawyers, and hobbies. They had access to dental and medical care, psychotherapy, support groups, and organized sports.
We entered the Class B airspace above Ward's Island in a deceptively civilized way, flying low over green parks shaded with trees as the ugly tan brick high-rises of the Manhattan Psychiatric and Children's Psychiatric Centers and Kirby loomed straight ahead. The Triborough Bridge Parkway ran through the middle of the island, where incongruous to all was a small circus going on, with bright striped tents, ponies, and performers on unicycles. The crowd was small, and I could see kids eating cotton candy, and I wondered why they weren't in school. A little farther north was a sewage disposal plant and the New York City fire department training academy, where a long ladder truck was practicing turns in a parking lot.
The forensic psychiatric center was twelve stories of steel mesh covered windows, opaque glass, and air conditioning units. Sloppy coils of razor wire bent in over walkways and recreation areas, to prevent an escape that Carrie apparently had found so easy. The river here was about a mile wide, rough and foreboding, the current swift, and I did not think it likely that anyone could swim across it. But there was a footbridge, as I had been told. It was painted the teal of oxidized copper and was maybe a mile south of Kirby. I told Lucy to fly over it, and from the air I saw people crossing it from both directions, moving in and out of the East River Housing of Harlem.
'I don't see how she could have gotten across that in broad daylight,' I transmitted to Lucy. 'Not without being seen by someone. But even if she could and did, what next? The police were going to be all over the place, especially on the other side of the bridge. And how did she get to Lehigh County?'
Lucy was doing slow circles at five hundred feet, the blades flapping loudly. There were remnants of a ferry that at one time must have allowed passage from East River Drive at 106th Street, and the ruins of a pier, which was now a pile of rotting, creosote-treated wood jutting out into unfriendly waters from a small open field on Kirby's western side. The field looked suitable for landing, providing we stayed closer to the river than to the screened-in walkways and benches of the hospital.
As Lucy began a high reconnaissance, I looked down at people on the ground. All were dressed in civilian clothes, some stretching or lying in the grass, others on benches or moving along walkways between rusting barrels of trash. Even from five hundred feet, I recognized the slovenly, ill-fitting dress and odd gaits of those broken beyond repair. They stared up, transfixed, as we scoured the area for problems, such as power lines, guy wires, and soft, uneven ground. A low reconnaissance confirmed our landing was safe, and by now, more people had emerged from buildings or were looking out windows and standing in doorways to see what was going on.
'Maybe we should have tried one of the parks,' I said. 'I hope we don't start a riot.'
Lucy lowered into a five-foot hover, weeds and tall grass thrashing violently. A pheasant and her brood were appropriately startled and darted along the bank and out of view amid rushes, and it was hard to imagine anything innocent and vulnerable living so close to disturbed humanity. I suddenly thought of Carrie's letter to me, of her odd listing of Kirby's address as One Pheasant Place. What was she telling me? That she had seen the pheasants, too? If so, why did it matter?
The helicopter settled softly and Lucy rolled the throttle to flight idle. It was a very long two-minute wait to cut the engine. Blades turned as digital seconds did, and patients and hospital personnel stared. Some stood perfectly still, pinning us with glazed eyes, while others were oblivious, tugging on fences or walking with jerky motions and staring at the ground. An old man rolling a cigarette waved, a woman in curlers was muttering, and a young man wearing headphones started into a loose knee rhythm on the sidewalk, for our benefit, it seemed.
Lucy rolled the throttle to idle cut-off and braked the main rotor, shutting us down. When the blades had fully stopped and we were climbing out, a woman emerged from the gathering crowd of the mentally deranged and those who took care of them. She was dressed in a smart herringbone suit, her jacket on despite the heat. Her dark hair was short and smartly styled. I knew before being told that she was Dr Lydia Ensor, and she seemed to pick me out as well, for she shook my hand first, then Lucy's, as she introduced herself.
'I must say, you've created a lot of excitement,' she said with a slight smile.
'And I apologize for that,' I said.
'Not to worry.'
'I'm staying with the helicopter,' Lucy said.
'You sure?' I asked.
'I'm sure,' she replied, looking around at the unnerving crowd.
'Most of these are outpatients at the psychiatric center right over there.' Dr. Ensor pointed at another high rise. 'And Odyssey House.'
She nodded at a much smaller brick building beyond Kirby, where there appeared to be a garden, and an eroded asphalt tennis court with a billowing torn net.
'Drugs, drugs, and more drugs,' she added. 'They go in for counseling, and we've caught them rolling a joint on their way out.'
'I'll be right here,' Lucy said. 'Or I can head out to get fuel, and then come back,' she added to me.
'I'd rather you wait,' I said.
Dr Ensor and I began the brief walk to Kirby while eyes glared and poured out black unspeakable pain and hate. A man with a matted beard shouted out to us that he wanted a ride, making gestures towards the heavens, flapping arms like a bird, jumping on one foot. Ravaged faces were in some other realms or vacant or filled with a bitter contempt that could only come from being on the inside looking out at people like us who were not enslaved to drugs or dementia. We were the privileged. We were the living. We were God to those who were helpless to do anything except destroy themselves and others, and at the end of the day, we went home.
The entrance to Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center was that of a typical state institution, with walls painted the same teal as the footbridge over the river. Dr Ensor led me around a corner to a button on a wall, which she pressed.
'Come to the intercom,' an abrupt voice sounded like the Wizard of Oz.
She moved on, needing no direction, and spoke through the intercom.
'Dr Ensor,' she said.
'Yes, ma'am.' The voice became human. 'Step on up.'
The entrance into the heart of Kirby was typical for a penitentiary, with its airlocked doors that never allowed two of them to be opened at the same time, and its posted warnings of prohibited items, such as firearms, explosives, ammunition, alcohol, or objects made of glass. No matter how adamant politicians, health workers, and the ACLU might be, this was not a hospital. Patients were inmates. They were violent offenders housed in a maximum security facility because they had raped and beaten. They had shot their families, burned up their mothers, disemboweled their neighbors, and dismembered their lovers. They were monsters who had become celebrities, like Robert Chambers of the Yuppie murder fame, or Rakowitz, who had murdered and cooked his girlfriend and allegedly fed parts of her to street people, or Carrie Grethen, who was worse than any of them.
The teal-painted barred door unlocked with an electronic click, and peace officers in blue uniforms were most courteous to Dr Ensor, and also to me, since I clearly was her guest. Nonetheless, we were made to pass through a metal detector, and our pocketbooks were carefully gone through. I was embarrassed when reminded that one could enter with only enough medication for one dose, while I had enough Motrin, Immodium, Tums, and aspirin to take care of an entire ward.
'Ma'am, you must not be feeling good,' one of the guards said good-naturedly.
'It accumulates,' I said, grateful that I had locked my handgun in my briefcase, which was safely stored in the helicopter's baggage compartment.
'Well, I'm gonna have to hold on to it until you come out. It will be waiting right here for you, okay? So make sure you ask.'
'Thank you,' I said, as if he had just granted me a favor.
We were allowed to pass through another door that was posted with the warning, Keep Hands Off Bars. Then we were in stark, colorless hallways, turning corners, passing closed doors where hearings were in session.
'You need to understand that legal aid attorneys are employed by the Legal Aid Society, which is a nonprofit, private organization under contract with New York City. Clearly, the personnel they have here are part of their criminal division. They are not on the Kirby staff.'
She wanted to make sure I understood that.
'Although, after a number of years here, they certainly may get chummy with my staff,' she kept talking as we walked, our heels clicking over tile. 'The lawyer in question, who worked with Miss Grethen from the beginning, will most likely arch her back at any questions you might ask.'
She glanced over at me.
'I have no control over it,' she said.
'I understand completely,' I replied. 'And if a public defender or legal aid attorney didn't arch his back when I appeared, I would think the planet had changed.'
Mental Hygiene Legal Aid was lost somewhere in the midst of Kirby, and I could only swear that it was on the first floor. The director opened a wooden door for me, and then was showing me into a small office that was so overflowing with paper that hundreds of case files were stacked on the floor. The lawyer behind the desk was a disaster of frumpy clothing and wild frizzy black hair. She was heavy, with ponderous breasts that could have benefited from a bra.
'Susan, this is Dr Kay Scarpetta, chief medical examiner of Virginia,' Dr Ensor said. 'Here about Carrie Grethen, as you know. And Dr Scarpetta, this is Susan Blaustein.'
'Right,' said Ms Blaustein, who was neither inclined to get up or shake my hand as she sifted through a thick legal brief.
'I'll leave the two of you, then. Susan, I trust you will show Dr Scarpetta around, otherwise I will get someone on staff to do it,' Dr Ensor said, and I could tell by the way she looked at me that she knew I was in for the tour from hell.
The guardian angel of felons had a Brooklyn accent as coarse and tightly packed as a garbage barge.
'Have a seat,' she said to me as the director disappeared.
'When was Carrie remanded here?' I asked.
'Five years ago.'
She would not look up from her paperwork.
'You're aware of her history, of the homicide cases that have yet to go to trial in Virginia?'
'You name it, I'm aware of it.'
'Carrie escaped from here ten days ago, on June tenth,' I went on. 'Has anyone figured out how that might have happened?'
Blaustein flipped a page and picked up a coffee cup.
'She didn't show up for dinner. That's it,' she replied. 'I was as shocked as anyone when she disappeared.'
'I bet you were,' I said.
She turned another page and had yet to give me her eyes. I'd had enough.
'Ms Blaustein,' I said in a hard voice as I leaned against her desk. 'With all due respect to your clients, would you like to hear about mine? Would you like to hear all about men, women, and children who were butchered by Carrie Grethen? A little boy abducted from a 7-Eleven where he'd been sent to buy his mother a can of mushroom soup? He's shot in the head and areas of his flesh are removed to obliterate bitemarks, his pitiful body clad only in undershorts propped against a Dumpster in a freezing rain?'
'I told you, I know about the cases.' She continued to work.
'I suggest you put down that brief and pay attention to me,' I warned. 'I may be a forensic pathologist, but I'm also a lawyer, and your shenanigans get nowhere with me. You just so happen to represent a psychopath who as we speak is on the outside murdering people. Don't let me find out at the end of the day that you had information that might have spared even one life.'
She gave me her eyes, cold and arrogant, because her only power in life was to defend losers and jerk around people like me.
'Let me just refresh your memory,' I went on. 'Since your client has escaped from Kirby, it is believed she has either murdered or served as an accomplice to murder in two cases, happening within a matter of days of each other. Vicious homicides in which an attempt was made to disguise them by fire. These were predated by other fire-homicides which we now believe are linked, yet in these earlier ones, your client was still incarcerated here.'
Susan Blaustein was silent as she stared at me.
'Can you help me with this?'
'All of my conversations with Carrie are privileged. I'm sure you must know that,' she remarked, yet I could tell she was curious about what I was saying.
'Possible she was connecting with someone on the outside?' I went on. 'And if so, how and who?'
'You tell me.'
'Did she ever talk to you about Temple Gault?'
'Then she did,' I said. 'Of course, she did. How could she not? Did you know she wrote to me, Ms Blaustein, asking me to come see her and bring her Gault's autopsy photos?'
She said nothing, but her eyes were coming alive.
'He was hit by a train in the Bowery. Scattered along the tracks.'
'Did you do his autopsy?' she asked.
'Then why would Carrie ask you for the photos, Dr Scarpetta?'
'Because she knew I could get them. Carrie wanted to see them, blood and gore and all. This was less than a week before she escaped. I'm just wondering if you knew she was sending out letters like that? A clear indication, as far as I'm concerned, that she had premeditated all she was about to do next.'
Blaustein pointed her finger at me.
'What she was thinking was how she was being framed to take the heat because the FBI couldn't find its damn way out of a paper bag and needed to hang all this on someone,' she accused.
'I see you read the papers.'
Her face turned angry.
'I talked to Carrie for five years,' she said. 'She wasn't the one sleeping with the Bureau, right?'
'In a way she was.' I thought honestly of Lucy. 'And quite frankly, Ms Blaustein, I'm not here to change your opinion of your client. My purpose is to investigate a number of deaths and do what I can to prevent others.'
Carrie's legal aid attorney began shoving around paperwork again.
'It seems to me that the reason Carrie had been here so long is that every time an evaluation of her mental status came up, you made sure it was clear that she had not regained competency,' I went on. 'Meaning she is also incompetent to stand trial, right? Meaning she is so mentally ill that she's not even aware of the charges against her? And yet she must have been somewhat aware of her situation, or how else could she have trumped up this whole business about the FBI framing her? Or was it you who trumped that up?'
'This meeting has just ended,' Blaustein announced, and had she been a judge, she would have slammed down the gavel.
'Carrie's nothing but a malingerer,' I said. 'She played it up, manipulated. Let me guess. She was very depressed, couldn't remember anything when it was important. Was probably on Ativan, which probably didn't put a dent in her. She clearly had the energy to write letters. And what other privileges might she have enjoyed? Telephone, photocopying?'
'The patients have civil rights,' Blaustein said evenly. 'She was very quiet. Played a lot of chess and spades. She liked to read. There were mitigating and aggravating circumstances at the time of the offenses, and she was not responsible for her actions. She was very remorseful.'
'Carrie always was a great salesperson,' I said. 'Always a master at getting what she wanted, and she wanted to be here long enough to make her next move. And now she's made it.'
I opened my pocketbook and got out a copy of the letter Carrie had written to me. I dropped it in front of Blaustein.
'Pay special attention to the return address at the top of it. One Pheasant Place, Kirby Women's Ward,' I said. 'Do you have any idea what she meant by that, or would you like me to hazard a guess?'
'I don't have a clue.' She was reading the letter, a perplexed expression on her face.
'Possibly the one-place part is a play off One Hogan Place, or the address of the District Attorney that eventually would have prosecuted her.'
'I don't have a clue as to what was going through her mind.'
'Let's talk about pheasants,' I then said. 'You have pheasants along the riverbank right outside your door.'
'I haven't noticed.'
'I noticed because we landed in the field there. And that's right, you wouldn't have noticed unless you waded through half an acre of overgrown grass and weeds and went to the water's edge, near the old pier.'
She said nothing, but I could tell she was getting unsettled.
'So my question is, how might Carrie or any of the inmates have known about the pheasants?'
Still, she was silent.
'You know very well why, don't you?' I forced her.
She stared at me.
'A maximum security patient should never have been in that field or even close to it, Ms Blaustein. If you don't wish to talk to me about it, then I'll just let the police take it up with you, since Carrie's escape is rather much a priority for law enforcement these days. Indeed, I'm sure your fine mayor isn't happy about the continuing bad publicity Carrie brings to a city that has become famous for defeating crime.'
'I don't know how Carrie knew,' Ms Blaustein finally said. 'This is the first I've ever heard of fucking pheasants. Maybe someone on the staff said something to her. Maybe one of the delivery people from the store, someone from the outside, such as yourself, in other words.'
'The patient privilege programs allow them to earn credits or money for the store. Snacks, mostly. They get one delivery a week, and they have to use their own money.'
'Where did Carrie get money?'
Blaustein would not say.
'What day did her deliveries come?'
'Depends. Usually early in the week, Monday, Tuesday, late in the afternoon, usually.'
'She escaped late in the afternoon, on a Tuesday,' I said.
'That's correct.' Her eyes got harder.
'And what about the deliveryperson?' I then asked. 'Has anybody bothered to see if he or she might have had anything to do with this?'
'The deliveryperson was a he,' Blaustein said with no emotion. 'No one has been able to locate him. He was a substitute for the usual person, who apparently was out sick.'
'A substitute? Right. Carrie was interested in more than potato chips!' My voice rose. 'Let me guess. The delivery people wear uniforms and drive a van. Carrie puts on a uniform and walks right out with her deliveryman. Gets in the van and is out of here.'
'Speculation. We don't know how she got out.'
'Oh, I think you do, Ms Blaustein. And I'm wondering if you didn't help Carrie with money, too, since she was so special to you.'
She got to her feet and pointed her finger at me again.
'If you're accusing me of helping her escape…'
'You helped her in one way or another,' I cut her off.
I fought back tears as I thought of Carrie free on the streets, as I thought about Benton.
'You monster,' I said, and my eyes were hot on hers. 'I'd like you to spend just one day with the victims. Just one goddamn day, putting your hands in their blood and touching their wounds. The innocent people the Carries of the world butcher for sport. I think there would be some people who would not be too happy to know about Carrie, her privileges, and unaccounted source of income,' I said. 'Others besides me.'
We were interrupted by a knock on her door, and Dr Ensor walked in.
'I thought I might take you on your tour,' she said to me. 'Susan seems busy. Are you finished up here?' she asked the legal aid attorney.
'Very good,' she said with a chilly smile.
I knew then that the director was perfectly clear on how much Susan Blaustein had abused power, trust, and common decency. In the end, Blaustein had manipulated the hospital as much as Carrie had.
'Thank you,' I said to the director.
I left, turning my back on Carrie's defender.
May you rot in hell, I thought.
I followed Dr Ensor again, this time to a large stainless steel elevator that opened onto barren beige hallways closed off with heavy red doors that required codes for entry. Everything was monitored by closed circuit TV. Apparently Carrie had enjoyed working in the pet program, which entailed daily visits to the eleventh floor, where animals were kept in cages inside a small room with a view of razor wire.
The menagerie was dimly lit and moist with the musky smells of animals and wood chips, and the skittering of claws. There were parakeets, guinea pigs, and a Russian dwarf hamster. On a table was a box of rich soil thick with tender shoots.
'We grow our own birdseed here,' Dr Ensor explained. 'The patients are encouraged to raise and sell it. Of course, we're not talking mass production here. There's barely enough for our own birds, and as you can see by what's in some of the cages and on the floor, the patients tend to be fond of feeding their pets cheese puffs and potato chips.'
'Carrie was up here every day?' I asked.
'So I've been told, now that I've been looking into everything she did while she was here.' She paused, looking around the cages as small animals with pink noses twitched and scratched.
'Obviously I didn't know everything at the time. For example, coincidentally, during the six months Carrie supervised the pet program, we had an unusual number of fatalities and inexplicable escapes. A parakeet here, a hamster there. Patients would come in and find their wards dead in their cages, or a cage door open and a bird nowhere to be found.'
She walked back out into the hallway, her lips firmly pressed.
'It's too bad you weren't here on those occasions,' she said wryly. 'Perhaps you could have told me what they were dying from. Or who.'
There was another door down the hall, and this one opened onto a small, dimly lit room where there was one relatively modern computer and printer on a plain wooden table. I also noted a phone jack in the wall. A sense of foreshadowing darkened my thoughts even before Dr Ensor spoke.
'This was perhaps where Carrie spent most of her free time,' she said. 'As you no doubt know, she has an extensive background in computers. She was extremely good about encouraging other patients to learn, and the PC was her idea. She suggested we find donors of used equipment, and we now have one computer and printer on each floor.'
I walked over to the terminal and sat down in front of it. Hitting a key, I turned off the screen saver and looked at icons that told me what programs were available.
'When patients worked in here,' I said, 'were they supervised?'
'No. They were shown in and the door was shut and locked. An hour later, they were shown back to their ward.' She grew thoughtful. 'I'd be the first to admit that I was impressed with how many of the patients have started learning word processing, and in some instances, spread sheets.'
I went into America Online and was prompted for a username and password. The director watched what I was doing.
'They absolutely had no access to the Internet,' she said.
'How do we know that?'
'The computers aren't hooked up to it.'
'But they do have modems,' I said. 'Or at least this one does. It's simply not connecting because there's no telephone line plugged into the telephone jack.'
I pointed to the tiny receptacle in the wall, then turned around to face her.
'Any chance a telephone line might have disappeared from somewhere?' I asked. 'Perhaps from one of the offices? Susan Blaustein's office, for example?'
The director glanced away, her face angry and distressed as she began to see what I was getting at.
'God,' she muttered.
'Of course, she may have gotten that from the outside. Perhaps from whoever delivered her snacks from the store?'
'I don't know.'
'The point is, there's a lot we don't know, Dr Ensor. We don't know, for example, what the hell Carrie was really doing when she was in here. She could have been in and out of chat rooms, putting feelers out in personals, finding pen pals. I'm sure you've kept up with the news enough to know how many crimes are committed on the Internet? Pedophilia, rape, homicide, child pornography.'
'That's why this was closely supervised,' she said. 'Or supposed to have been.'
'Carrie could have planned her escape this way. And you say she started working with the computer how long ago?'
'About a year. After a long run of ideal behavior.'
'Ideal behavior,' I repeated.
I thought of the cases in Baltimore, Venice Beach, and more recently in Warrenton. I wondered if it were possible that Carrie might have met up with her accomplice through e-mail, through a Web site or a chat room. Could it be that she committed computer crimes during her incarceration? Might she have been working behind the scenes, advising and encouraging a psychopath who stole human faces? Then she escaped, and from that point on her crimes were in person.
'Is there anyone who's been discharged from Kirby in the past year who was an arsonist, especially someone with a history of homicide? Anyone Carrie might have come to know? Perhaps someone in one of her classes?' I asked, just to be sure.
Dr Ensor turned off the overhead light and we returned to the hall.
'No one comes to mind,' she said. 'Not of the sort you're talking about. I will add that a peace officer was always present.'
'And male and female patients did not mix during recreational times.'
'No. Never. Men and women are completely segregated.'
Although I did not know for a fact that Carrie had a male accomplice, I suspected it, and I recalled what Benton had written in his notes at the end, about a white male between the ages of twenty-eight and forty-five. Peace officers, who were simply guards not wearing guns, might have insured that order was maintained in the classrooms, but I doubted seriously they would have had any idea that Carrie was making contact on the Internet. We boarded the elevator again, this time getting off on the third floor.
'The women's ward,' Dr Ensor explained. 'We have twenty-six female patients at the moment, out of one hundred and seventy patients overall. That's the visitors' room.'
She pointed through glass at a spacious open area with comfortable chairs and televisions. No one was in there now.
'Did she ever have visitors?' I asked as we kept walking.
'Not from the outside, not once. Inspiring more sympathy for her, I suppose.' She smiled bitterly. 'The women actually stay in there.'
She pointed out another area, this one arranged with single beds.
'She slept over there by the window,' Dr Ensor said.
I retrieved Carrie's letter from my pocketbook and read it again, stopping at the fifth paragraph:
LUCY-BOO on TV. Fly through window. Come with we. Under covers. Come til dawn. Laugh and sing. Same ole song. LUCY LUCY LUCY and we!
Suddenly I thought about the videotape of Kellie Shephard, and of the actress in Venice Beach who played bit parts on television shows. I thought of photo shoots and production crews, becoming more convinced that there was a connection. But what did Lucy have to do with any of this? Why would Carrie see Lucy on TV? Or was it simply that she somehow knew that Lucy could fly, could fly helicopters?
There was a commotion around a corner, and female peace officers were herding the women patients in from recreation. They were sweating and loud, with tormented faces, and one was being escorted in a preventive aggressive device, or a PAD, which was a politically correct term for a restraint that chained wrists and ankles to a thick leather strap about the waist. She was young and white, with eyes that scattered when they fixed on me, her mouth bowed in a simpering smile. With her bleached hair and pale androgynous body, she could have been Carrie, and for a moment, in my imagination, she was. My flesh crawled as those irises seemed to swirl, sucking me in, while patients jostled past us, several making it a point to bump into me.
'You a lawyer?' an obese black woman almost spat as her eyes smoldered on me.
'Yes,' I said, unflinching as I stared back, for I had learned long ago not to be intimidated by people who hate.
'Come on.' The director pulled me along. 'I'd forgotten they were due up at this time. I apologize.'
But I was glad it had happened. In a sense, I had looked Carrie in the eye and had not turned away.
'Tell me exactly what happened the night she disappeared, please,' I said.
Dr Ensor entered a code into another keypad and pushed through another set of bright red doors.
'As best anyone can reconstruct it,' she replied, 'Carrie went out with the other patients for this same recreation hour. Her snacks were delivered, and at dinner she was gone.'
We rode the elevator down. She glanced at her watch.
'Immediately, a search began and the police were contacted. Not one sign of her, and that's what continued to eat at me,' she went on. 'How did she get off the island in broad daylight with no one seeing her? We had cops, we had dogs, we had helicopters…'
I stopped her there, in the middle of the first floor hall.
'Helicopters?' I said. 'More than one?'
'You saw them?'
'Hard not to,' she replied. 'They were circling and hovering for hours, the entire hospital was in an uproar.'
'Describe the helicopters,' I said as my heart began to hammer. 'Please.'
'Oh gosh,' she answered. 'Three police at first, then the media flew in like a swarm of hornets.'
'By chance, was one of the helicopters small and white? Like a dragonfly?'
She looked surprised.
'I do remember seeing one like that,' she said. 'I thought it was just some pilot curious about all of the commotion.'