The guards looked up as she entered. Her presence was… surprising, to say the least. She was obviously not a reporter (at least, not a normal reporter), appearing more timid than frightened. Secondly, she was young. She couldn't have been more than nineteen, although her smart suit and well-applied makeup suggested that she wished to appear professional. She was shaking a little as she approached the front desk. In spite of her evident vulnerability, they kept their tasers prepared. It never hurt to be cautious in their line of work.
"Can I help you?" one man asked, not unkindly.
"Y-yes." She took a deep breath and straightened. "I'm here to see Professor Diedr- Crane." She blushed.
Something about the name rang a bell, but the guard didn't stop to consider it. "And your name is…?"
"Molly Randall. Sir." She smiled shakily and extended her hand, to which the guard replied with a raised eyebrow that clearly said, "I'm sorry, but we're not that stupid."
"I'll have to consult with Dr. Bartholomew. Would you go with my friend here?" he said aloud. She nodded eagerly and followed the other man on duty to a back room as the guard at the desk took out a walkie-talkie.
"Dr. Bartholomew?" he asked. "There's a young woman here for Crane."
"What's her name?"
"She says it's Molly Randall."
There was a pause and an accompanying hiss of static. "Send her in," sounded the reply.
Molly was confused, bordering on terrified. When they'd told her who exactly her counselor was, she hadn't understood. She'd said that there had to be a mistake, that the kind, intelligent professor to whom she had grown attached couldn't be… well, ill, to put it bluntly. That's what they'd told her, though. "Jonathan Crane, alias Scarecrow. Master criminal. Delusional sadist. Self-styled master of fear."
She'd read through his file with a mixture of shock and rage. He had used human beings as test subjects. He had tortured children. It was incomprehensible to her. She'd grown up in a small town out of state and was attending a tiny university forty miles from the city. This sort of cruelty, of insanity, defied understanding.
Worse still, no matter how many times she told herself that he was evil, heartless scum, no matter how many times she tried to picture him as the violent scarecrow, she couldn't seem to stop thinking about- well, him. The way he'd laughed when she'd called A Midsummer Night's Dream overrated. The brief spark of joy that had entered his face as he'd glanced at her following a depressing scan of his students. The way he'd held her as she told him about what Bromley had done on her date, as she'd begun to cry.
The way he'd avoided her eyes when the police were taking him away.
Lost in thought, she undressed and submitted to a strip search without flinching. Even the way she carefully cradled her glasses was mostly reflex. She donned her clothes as soon as she was allowed to do so, still moving in a dream as she walked down a long, dark corridor lined with windows of bulletproof glass.
The sounds brought her back to reality. The screams of pain and madness; a high-pitched laugh, which (being from out of state) she had never heard; and, after about half a minute ("forty-one seconds" chirped some annoyingly detached part of her), curious murmurs and loud, impudent questions.
"Is she the new shrink?"
"Don't be stupid. She's just a kid! 'Sides, I heard-"
"No one cares, Harley!"
"Hey, miss, who are you?"
"What are you doing here?"
"Shut up, freaks!" shouted the guard, gently tugging her along as she tried to repress a shudder. Their faces were as mad, as frightening, as their voices.
"H-how much further?" she asked, surprised at the low squeak she was producing.
"Well, that depends," muttered the uniformed man beside her. "He might not be in his cell, which would mean that we'd have to go to the rec. room." He paused and studied her face, noting her distress. "Hang on. Maybe I can ask."
Drawing himself up to his full height, the guard marched over to a nearby cell. It wasn't the nearest, though, which was slightly confusing. Molly didn't have time to consider the guard's reasons for preferring this prisoner to another, as before she knew it, he was rapping on the transparent wall.
The man who came forward shocked her. He was a monster, a reptile, lizard-ish something. ("Like something out of Dante," came the thought, unbidden.) He looked over at her and nodded, once. She held her shoulders to keep from shaking.
"Where's Crane, Jones?" barked the guard.
The monster shrugged. "Not in his cell," he grunted. "I'd guess rec. room."
"He'd better be." The guard marched back to her and took her arm. She was still shivering. "Come on, let's go."
Compared to that long, hopeless corridor, the recreational area seemed… pleasant. It was brighter, and although she could hear talking and laughing, it sounded more like the soundtrack of a family get-together than that of a madhouse. As they approached, she could pick out a pair of voices arguing over the remote, at which she couldn't resist a smile.
The guard walked in ahead of her. "Crane!" he called. "You've got a visitor!"
"Really, who?" She almost cried at the sound of the voice. Until now, there had still been a part of her that had believed that it was a lie, that he wasn't here, or that it was a completely different version of him that lived like this, that could cope with this. That gentle "who," however, had carried his mildly cultured accent, his owlish, professorial affectation. It was he.
"Some girl named-"
"Has my dear March Hare found his own Alice?"
"You charmer, you!"
"SHUT UP!" Crane shouted.
She flinched. Fortunately, the rabble quieted down enough for her to hear the rest.
"Now," her teacher continued in a tone of irritation. "Would you kindly tell me the identity of this young lady, who I do hope will forgive the crass behavior of my fellow inmates?" She realized that he had at least guessed that she was within earshot.
Suddenly, she just wanted to see him and get it over with. She quickly marched through the door to the rec. room.
"Her name is-" the guard was saying.
"-Ms. Randall," Crane whispered, staring at her in horror.