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Her name was simply Katie Keeley. She had not been named with the archetypal triple name (if so, she would have been Kathleen Linda Keeley: a thoroughly non-serial killer name) in the press, and the prison officials routinely referred to her as “Katie” instead of the more formal “Keeley” they were ostensibly supposed to use.
It was this Katie Keeley that he had come to see.
He waited in the secure conference room as he had done dozens of times. White pained cinderblock. Brown table with metal legs. Metal chair. The trappings were almost always the same, no matter what state he was in. He had half expected to find some mounted longhorns on the wall to reflect the Texan attitude here in Midway Maximum Security Women’s Prison, but aside from the faint accent of the Death Row guards, he would not have been able to tell where he was if he had not known.
Katie was escorted into the chamber by a soft-faced and rather short guard who indicated the chair. Keeley sat easily and watched the guard arrange the manacles to the ring on the floor. Keeley wasn’t going anywhere.
The guard gave the situation a glance and left back through the door she had used to enter. He was alone with her.
“I’m Doctor Morris,” he began as he always did, firmly but not harshly. “I am here to try and determine your mental status.”
“To see if I am too crazy to be killed.” Keeley corrected him. Her voice was surprisingly light and carried not a hint of accent. Morris looked at her for a moment. It wasn’t true, what everyone said: the eyes told nothing. His friends, who were always eager to hear his stories of the death row inmates, asked each time: “You can see it in their eyes, can’t you?” They never specified what “it” was, but in any case, eyes said nothing.
Morris did not answer. He placed her file on the table and peered at it. He knew her case intimately, but he liked to use the time to allow his subject to speak while he pretended to refamiliarize himself with the bio.
Keeley just sat there. She waited, patiently, no hint of belligerence in her. Morris presently had to speak.
“Suppose you tell me something about yourself.”
“I killed five children. Two of them were mine.”
Morris blinked. He had known that, of course, but it was rare that the subject admitted the crime so easily.
No, not rare…unique.
“Listen, Doctor Morris, you know all about my case. You know my childhood, my upbringing, and all of that. Unless you have not studied, which I can’t believe.” Her voice was light. Not exactly melodic—there was an inevitable deadness to it—but it was not marked with any of the vocal extremes he had so often heard in these cases.
“You’re right. I do, and I have. Suppose, then, you tell me about that night. Did you hear voices in your head?”
Keeley tossed her light brown hair back and grinned without mirth. “Schizophrenia. No, Doctor. I am not a schizophrenic.” She looked back at him, gray-green eyes dancing. “I just like to kill. Especially kids. I wish I could have more kids so I could kill them.”
Morris nodded. “Do you realize it is wrong?”
Keeley laughed again, and this time, there was a definite sense of playfulness in her. “Do I know? Doctor, that’s why I like it so much. I like it because it is wrong.”
“So what…is this interview over now, Doctor?”
Morris looked at her. “You remember what I said when I first came in here?”
For the first time in the interview, Keeley frowned. “You said you were here to find out if I was crazy.”
“No. You said that. I said I was here to determine your mental status.”
“What’s the difference?”
And, for the first time in the interview, Morris smiled. It was not the smile of a man who was going to help. “Determine, as in, make it what I want it.”
“I don’t get you.”
Morris paused. He had never needed to explain this. All of the other times, he had done the deed, and the very act of completion was all the explanation he needed. A small part of him noted the irony—Keeley was the first sane murderer he had come across. It had to happen sooner or later, he mused. They couldn’t all be psychotic.
“I can change your mind. Your mental makeup.”
Keeley just looked at him, blankly.
“It is something I was born with, as far as I can tell. I can reach into insane people’s minds and heal them.”
Keeley’s eyes widened. “You’re the crazy one.”
Morris shook his head. “Not at all. I’ve done it, oh, dozens of times. I can reorder a person’s mental…fibers, we’ll call them, to an orderly state. I can comb the tangles out of a person’s mind.”
Keeley regarded him for a long second. “This is some kind of test. I don’t understand it, but you are testing me somehow.”
“No. Here…feel this.” And then, Morris Reached her. He gave her a momentary glimpse of his power, idly plucking at one of her mental cords like a harp string.
Keeley grabbed immediately for her head. “What…what are you doing?”
“Just getting your attention.”
Keeley slowly took her hand away from her head, mussing her hair in the process. She now resembled a bit more one of the wild-eyed unfortunates Morris had seen in his career. But he could see the inner workings of her mind and knew she was as sane, or more so, than he was. She understood perfectly the implications of her actions. She enjoyed the screams, the pleadings. She enjoyed the power of ending a helpless child’s life.
Katie stared at him. Finally, in a hoarse whisper, she croaked, “But I’m not insane. I know what I am doing…I’m sane. Aren’t I?” Her voice had lost the thin confidence it had had at the start of her utterance. Morris could hear the beginnings of terror in her voice.
“Yes. You are.”
“Then why…what are you doing? I’m not like one of your patients who needs healing.”
Morris laughed—a sharp, bitter chuckle. “I didn’t say I treated patients.”
Keeley was making no effort to hide her fear. “You said…you healed the sick?”
“I did. But they were not patients. They were other Death Row inmates.”
She still did not understand. Morris thought about her. She had every blessing on her side: she was white, she was female, she was reasonably pretty. By all accounts, the not-quite impartial justice system ought to have been loathe to kill her. But she had murdered: not just children, but her own. And was unrepentant in it. The one sin society could not tolerate. Maternal infanticide. “Katie, I made them sane. The mad ones on death row…I made them sane.”
“Why?” Keeley asked the question with a tremor in her voice.
Morris nodded. “Yes. So they could be executed. I smoothed out their minds, then reported them sane to the prison board. Most of them were executed within the year.”
“But what are you going to do with me?”
Morris leaned back in his seat. “I think…you are different. You are sane already. As much as I can say that about you.”
Keeley lunged for him, but was stopped by her chains. The table jerked slightly with her movement and made a short, sharp scraping sound on the white tile floor. Morris waved at the guards on the other side of the two-way glass and looked at Keeley.
“Do it. Do it to me. You can make me crazy…and then they won’t kill me. Please…you can do it.”
Morris smiled. “You are afraid to die. That, more than anything else, is testament to your sanity.” He regarded her calmly. Now, she resembled all the others: wild-eyed, hair on edge, a slight tremble in her shoulders and fingertips. But she was merely terrified, not mad. “You’d rather live insane for decades than die peacefully in months?”
“All right,” Morris said after a pause. “I will.”
She relaxed, but only a little. “What…what will it feel like?”
Morris shrugged. “Truthfully…I don’t know. I’ve never done it…and I doubt you’ll be in a position afterward to remember.”
Keeley leaned back and closed her eyes. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Morris did not answer. He merely extended his mind and Reached her.
Hours later, over a piece of exquisite cherry pie at an out-of-the-way diner miles from the prison, Morris thought of what Keeley was going through. His report, naturally, was that she was sane, and this current behavior was a last-ditch attempt to get out of her punishment.
He took another bite of his pie and wondered how long she would protest her innocence. She’d believe it forever, but would she ever stop screaming? Would she ever stop pleading with the guards? Would she say, even on her execution day, “I didn’t do it!” or would she give up?
Morris downed the last of his whole milk to wash down the pie. Keeley thought she was a victim of a colossal legal mistake. He could think of nothing worse than going to one’s own execution with an unshakable belief in one’s own innocence, and a passion to prove it that would never be satisfied.
Justice? He shrugged. Who could say.