Teasers & Deleted ScenesJ. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C., December 2008
Stephen Reyes is thinking about lies.
Which means he's thinking about Jessica Kelly and Jessica Kelly's life, as best he and Todd could reconstruct it from her father's lies and her mother's lies and her teachers' and doctors' lies--and her lies, for Jessica Kelly lied (said Todd) like the Angel of the Annunciation.
Reyes wouldn't know. Reyes hasn't exchanged a single word with Jessica Kelly since April 14, 2002, the day he lied to her.
He still has the awful newspaper photograph, the one Todd wasn't fast enough to block: him with his arm around her in a manner that looks either avuncular or predatory, shepherding her toward the car that will take her to Idlewood. She doesn't know that's where she's going; Reyes has promised her, with all the sincerity at his command, that she's going to the private apartment of a U.S. Senator in Washington D.C., a senator who knows about the conspiracy against her, who knows that what she did was only to defend herself, who wants to protect her and to see that the truth becomes public, not the lies told by her enemies.
Jessica Kelly was painfully easy to lie to. Something in her was broken, Reyes thought. Something that even the anomaly couldn't quite harness, although it turned her paranoid schizophrenia and delusions of persecution to excellent use. She believed Reyes--she still believes him in the photograph. You can see it in the look she's giving him, wide-eyed, just a notch or two short of adoring.
Periodically, Reyes wants to burn this photograph. Every time, he stops himself with the knowledge that he'd just have to ask Todd for another copy. And the worse knowledge that Todd wouldn't even ask why. Todd would know.
Todd was the poor bastard who had to deal with her afterward.
Reyes has watched the tapes and seen how good Todd is with her, watched Todd's kindness; his quiet body language; his ridiculous, carefully judged anecdotes; his respectful retreat from anything Jessica doesn't want to talk about. (Only, of course, to sneak up on it from a different side, because Todd is quite possibly the best interrogator Reyes has ever had the pleasure of watching work.) Todd gets more out of her than Jessica Kelly ever, ever realizes she is giving. But even Todd can't walk through the firestorm unscathed, and Reyes has made meticulous, time-stamped notes of Jessica's triggers, noting in the clinical, distant language of psychiatrists and public servants that the most reliable, and the most provocative, is mention of Reyes' own name.
"She'll kill you with her bare hands if she gets the chance," Todd told him one afternoon, inspecting a raking set of scratches on his right forearm. "She had a go at me."
"I thought we were keeping the subjects restrained at all times," Reyes said disapprovingly.
"We certainly need to keep them better manicured," Todd said. Then he sighed and looked away. "She responds better if she's not in restraints. It lets her build a better fantasy about me."
"Sol," Reyes started.
"It's what she does, Steve," Todd said. "She's a paranoid schizophrenic. She builds delusional systems. If she's not restrained when I come to talk to her, I may get to figure in her delusional system as something other than an enemy." He gave Reyes a lopsided grin. "Besides, is it a delusional system if it's true? We are conspiring against her."
"Her victims weren't," Reyes had said, unfairly, and used the excuse to stalk out of the room.
Most of the time, in the interviews, Jessica Kelly is lucid, calm--cheerful even--eager to help. She pesters Todd for details about cases he's working on and loves brainstorming ways to defeat the newest monster. As always, the workings of the human mind are strange: she understands that her ability to cause tracheal angioedema simply by wanting it to happen is not natural. She understands that others with similar abilities hurt and murder people and have to be stopped. She even understands that she's in Idlewood in order to stop people being hurt and murdered. And she knows--she absolutely and without qualification knows--that she killed five teenage girls by inducing tracheal angioedema. In two cases (two for sure, says Todd), she stood over her victim and watched her die. But she will not see the identity between herself and the monsters.
Cannot, Todd argues. And part of Reyes wants to agree. She's a paranoid schizophrenic. You can't expect her to have a reliable grip on reality. She was sexually abused by her father from the age of five, maybe four; she had to learn to lie to herself in order to survive. Evidence of that abuse was witnessed by her mother, her doctors, her teachers, and all of them chose to lie to themselves about what that evidence meant. How was Jessica Kelly supposed to learn not to tell lies?
But there's another part of Reyes, the part that Falkner, not fondly, calls God the Father, that will not accept these exculpations. He thinks of her victims: Brittany Molson, Laura Czerniak, LaVonda Washington, Judith Renfrew, Stephanie Osgood. All of them fellow members of Jessica's high school cheerleading squad. All of them her friends. Brittany and Judith helped Jessica campaign for student council president the year before. LaVonda was Jessica's "cheersister" (some kind of mentoring program in which older cheerleaders helped new girls--Reyes had to stop the tape twice during the part of the interview in which Jessica brightly and eagerly explained the system, and he suspects his grasp of the finer details suffered). And she murdered them, all five of them, because she believed they hated her, that they talked about her behind her back, that they were plotting to kill her.
He thinks especially of Brittany Molson, who had been Jessica Kelly's best friend since first grade. Jessica hates Brittany now, almost as much as she hates Reyes himself. She says that Brittany was the ringleader of the plot against her, that Brittany envied her. "She hated me," she says to Todd, "and she lied about it. She was such a bitch." Jessica says that Brittany flirted with her father--"calling him Mr. K," she says with withering scorn. "Makes you want to puke, doesn't it?" Jessica insists that Brittany seduced her father. And lied about that, too.
Howard Kelly denies having slept with Brittany Molson. Of course, Howard Kelly also denies having abused his daughter, so how far does that get you?
Jessica Kelly says she had to kill Brittany. And Laura, Judith, LaVonda, and Stephanie. She says they were going to kill her. She talks endlessly, obsessively about poison and segues from that into talking about her father's potentially fatal allergy to peanuts, as if there's somehow no difference--and of course, in Jessica's mythology, there isn't. Her father is poison, her father could be poisoned by a moment's inattention, and what are the odds Jessica Kelly didn't daydream about that at least once? Her friends are trying to poison her. "They wanted to watch me choke to death on nothing," she says to Todd again and again. It's the central tenet of her universe. They were going to poison me. I had to poison them first. They hated me. I had to hate them more. They said mean things about me when I couldn't hear them. Now that they're dead, I have to tell you what bitches they were, liars and sneaks and sluts. "You have to know, Mr. Todd," she says earnestly. "You have to know the truth."
And Stephen Reyes sits alone in his office and watches the tapes.
He catches himself sometimes looking for signs that she knows she's lying. For tells. But she doesn't have tells. She's a paranoid schizophrenic with delusions of persecution, Stephen, he tells himself, and lying was the first defense mechanism she learned. Truth and lies are the same to her.
Poisoned with lies, how can she know the taste of them in her mouth?
And he knows that Jessica Kelly's peculiar innocence eats at him not because it offers insight into her pathology or into the workings of the anomaly, but because of his own guilt. If she were a liar, if she told her lies knowing them for what they were, perhaps he could forgive himself for the lies he told her.
Perhaps he could forgive himself for her belief.