Doctors Cawley and Sheehan left the room single file and in slow motion, as if they were afraid to abandon what they hoped was a success. Andrew's ability to acknowledge reality and his willingness to accept his crime was a precarious success, at best. Cawley and Sheehan knew this. They knew their research and their careers relied almost entirely upon Andrew's capacity to preserve his mental clarity. Doctors Cawley and Sheehan also knew that in the past, Andrew had failed.
Andrew Laeddis stared vacantly at the cement floor as Cawley and Sheehen ducked through the doorway and secured the heavy, steel door behind them. He sat hunched over the edge of his bed, frozen like a wax figure in a museum. Dull, humid light from a single barred window illuminated the eight by ten foot cell. Laeddis's eyes burned and he could still feel the dull ache of a long inveterate migraine. He lowered his head into his hands and closed his eyes. Laeddis remained silent and motionless until he heard the rustle of movement in the hallway outside his cell. He turned his head slowly to the left and squinted. The dark, reddish shadows around his eyes betrayed sadness and apprehension. Yet, as the hospital staff was painfully aware, Laeddis was unflaggingly intrepid. He clung fiercely to his training as a U.S. Marshal and regularly pelted staff and fellow patients with verbal and physical attacks. Dr. Sheehan documented all of Laeddis's outbursts, eager to dissect an interesting mental trait. What was it that made Laeddis cleave to his identity as a Marshal, but not to the memories of his wife and children? Sheehan knew the answer, but did Laeddis?
The movement outside the cell grew louder, culminating in a click of the latch and the soft creak of the door sliding away from the facing. Laeddis straightened his back and placed his feet flat upon the floor. The door opened slowly and Nurse Marino appeared with a plastic tray topped with a small plate and a paper cup. Laeddis scowled and turned away. He could not endure another visit from the staff. He could not bear any additional psychological stimulus. Nurse Marino stopped at the foot of the bed and nodded.
Laeddis refused to acknowledge her.
"Mr. Laeddis, I've brought dinner. And I'll wait until you eat."
Nurse Marino's tone was commanding, but calm. She was intimately familiar with Laeddis's habits and confident in her ability to counter them.
The cell door was still partially open and the muffled cries and soft voices of patients and orderlies echoed down the hall. Laeddis felt his muscles burn as he yearned to fly at the door. The nurse was a tall woman, but she was weak, he thought. She could not hold him.
Yet, Nurse Marino was more stalwart than Laeddis assumed and she waited patiently at the foot of the bed, two fingers smoothing the ends of her red hair.
"I'm not leaving, Mr. Laeddis, until you eat."
When Laeddis finally turned to face her, she felt a sudden sting of shock and adrenaline. Laeddis looked weak and pitiable. Dr. Sheehan had given her a briefing and she understood the circumstances of Laeddis's mental condition, but she did not expect to see him so physically damaged. Nurse Marino concealed her shock by extending the tray toward Laeddis and placing it at the end of the bed. He hesitated, glaring at the nurse, his blue eyes clouded by frustration and fatigue, before slowly moving toward the plate. Nurse Marino observed as Laeddis ate, feeling an odd combination of fear and sympathy. Dr. Cawley often spoke about the importance of cultivating compassion for patients, but Nurse Marino believed only half of what Dr. Cawley preached. She was a pragmatic woman, who spent more time with patients than Cawley, Sheehan, and Naehring combined. When anyone reminded Cawley that his patients were also violent offenders, he dismissed the notion that a patient's penchant for violence had anything to do with his ability to foster empathy for another human being.
Laeddis suddenly stopped eating and sat back on the bed, his back against the wall.
"You were involved, too." He said in a tired, accusatory voice.
"In the role-play."
Nurse Marino nodded.
"I remember your answer."
"Do you?" She was surprised he remembered the role-play at all.
"You said usual wasn't a big part of your day."
Laeddis responded with a spiteful grin. "It worked."
"What worked, Mr. Laeddis?"
Nurse Marino leaned forward to return the plate to the tray, but Laeddis lunged across the bed and grabbed the nurse's wrist.
"You know about me?" He asked. "You know what I did?"
Instinctively, the nurse tried to pull away. "Know what you did?"
"You know about my wife and my babies?"
Laeddis looked directly into her face, as if waiting for her to elaborate. With her other hand, she removed the tray and plate and placed them on the floor. Laeddis watched as she moved without hesitation, all the while allowing him to retain possession of her wrist. When she stood up, she returned Laeddis's gaze and looked him squarely in the eyes as if to ask "what now?" Then, almost unexpectedly, Laeddis covered his face with his free hand.
"Mr. Laeddis, let me give you something for your headache."
"How did you know I had a headache?" His voice was muffled behind his hand.
"You complained to Dr. Sheehan."
Laeddis couldn't remember. He rubbed his eyes and felt the nurse reach for the small, paper cup on the tray. Looking up, he made eye contact with her for a moment before focusing on the cup in her hand.
"These will help."
"I don't need help."
"Your headaches will continue without them."
"Yeh? I've always had headaches."
"Don't you want to be rid of them?"
Laeddis looked up and squinted in disgust. "What the fuck kind of question is that?"
The nurse didn't reply, but extended the cup toward Laeddis's hand. Laeddis released her wrist and looked at her plaintively, ignoring the cup.
"Jesus," he said. "It was my fault."
"Take the pills, Mr. Laeddis."
"I should have gotten her help. I should have stopped her. I should have . . ."
"I should have saved them. Rachael, Jesus, I should have saved them!"
Laeddis's hands curled into fists and Nurse Marino took one step backward toward the door.
"Why didn't I get her help? How could I let this happen?" Laeddis growled. "I had to do it. I had to kill her. Do you understand? I didn't have a choice."
"Mr. Laeddis, I . . ."
"I couldn't help her. She asked me . . ."
"She asked me to set her free," he was yelling now. "She wanted me to do it. I had to."
Laeddis froze. His eyes were fixed on the nurse, his fists clenched, shoulders heaving, and his jaw set in despair. She stared back, holding her breath, afraid of triggering Laeddis's rage with the slightest movement. She waited until he turned his head and fell back into a hunched position before slowly exhaling. She stood unmoving and silent for more than a minute before stepping toward the middle of the room and cautiously lowering herself onto the bed next to Laeddis. He stared at the floor, his breathing barely audible. The nurse still held the paper cup in her hand, but now kept it out of sight. She waited patiently for Laeddis to speak.
"I get these headaches." He whispered.
He looked sideways at her, his face smeared with dirt and tears. She offered the paper cup.
"These will help," she repeated.
Laeddis looked at the cup and back at her with the same sorrowful expression. And then she did something unintentional; she raised her hand to his face and traced the shadows with her fingertips. Laeddis flinched. She flattened her palm against his forehead and the side of his face, smoothing away the filth. She touched his head, gently untangling the matted hair with her fingers. And then his ear and the edge of his jaw, bruised and sore. He frowned, but his eyes softened and when she tried once more to offer the pills, he refused.
"Nah, I don't need them."
"What about the headache?"
"You just complained of a . . ."
"No headache, nurse."
She sat back, unsure about what had happened, unsure about Laeddis and unsure about herself. Silently, she retrieved the tray from the floor, placed the cup next to the plate, and stood. Laeddis watched as she observed him for a moment and then crossed the room to the door.
"Dr. Sheehan will meet you in the morning for breakfast."
She waited for him to continue, but he responded only with a sideways half-smile.
"Good night, Mr. Laeddis."
Nurse Marino slipped between the door and the facing. Laeddis listened for the sound of the latch and relaxed his shoulders when he knew he was finally alone. He fell back onto the bed and looked up at the ceiling. His head throbbed and his face burned where the nurse had touched him. The dull, gray light moved across Laeddis's face and he screwed up his eyes in pain. Nurse Marino paused outside of Laeddis's cell, convinced that he would suffer the night with a debilitating migraine. She leaned against the heavy door and half-hoped to hear him cry out in despair. Her hopes, she knew, would go unfulfilled.