Cramped muscles in his shoulders made Dr. Broder twist. He looked around the office, also cramped, the windowless walls creeping inward. The prison didn’t have many spaces to spare. Only six months into his voluntary sentence, he overheard the file clerk confide to a guard the last shrink only lasted three months. Now, two months later, he felt he was getting through to some of the men in the facility.
A clock counted silently on his desk. Dr. Broder began the deep breathing he did before each appointment. Ground, center, calm. His jaw tightened at the thought of who was next. He was different. He required a few extra moments of readiness. Ground, center, calm. Brad Rangell could wait. He had his whole life to wait in here. The psychiatrist, wrapped in brittle relaxation, made some notes on his clipboard before going to the door.
Two burly guards stood over Rangell, who was in a chair. Cuffs and leg chains were linked together with a heavy chain locked beyond his reach. “Please bring him back,” Dr. Broder nodded to the guards. He got out of the way and settled into his office chair. A guard tugged the patient’s chair farther away from the desk. Together, the guards pressed Rangell into the chair. There was a time Dr. Broder protested against the increased distance from his patient. They told him it was for his own protection. He believed it now.
Amusement burbled in deep sounds within Rangell’s chest as the guards took up position right outside the unlocked door. Dr. Broder could summon them by pressing an alarm on his desk or simply by making a loud noise. He thought these measures unnecessary in his first days. The next week, when he met more inmates, he realized the warden took it easy on him at first. Who knew how many barely slid past the diagnosis of psychopath – not to mention those who fit it perfectly when they got here – were crammed together in this hellhole.
Brad Rangell not only fit the diagnostic manual, he radiated it. He added to it delusions of grandeur and narcissistic personality disorder. Dr. Broder wasn’t sure if Rangell’s standing with the other inmates justified these issues. His crimes were legendary. Rangell left a brutal, bloody path between truck stops in Southern California and Nevada. Deep breath. Ground, center, calm. The doctor steepled his forefingers. He watched his unmoving patient, silent now, so far beyond the other side of his desk.
As usual, Rangell forced him to speak first. They once spent an entire session in silence. Dr. Broder had attempted to gauge his patient’s perspective on the treatment process he was ordered to endure. The treatment process they were both ordered to endure. The silent session amounted to little more than a pissing contest, so now the doctor took the offense.
“You spent some time in the tank again.” He didn’t expect so much as a twitch in response to the mention of the isolation tank. “Four days, I believe.” It was five. Rangell continued to ignore him. He didn’t flicker a shift of his eyes from his gaze at the clock. The inmate could neither see the face nor hear the clock. His intent focus on it made Dr. Broder slow down, as though he could slow time’s passage. As though he weren’t afraid of being alone with the hulking man.
He decided to take a new approach.
“Brad, let’s be open with each other. You don’t want to be here. I don’t particularly give a damn. We’re doing what’s required of us.” For some reason, that got through to Rangell. His gaze slowly moved from the clock to Dr. Broder’s face. The doctor felt his guts go a little cold. Now that he had the inmate’s attention, he wasn’t so sure he wanted it. Summoning calm, he forged on.
“What if, just for the hell of it, we took a chance of accidentally doing something helpful for you?”
Rangell’s eyes may have widened slightly. He stared at Dr. Broder’s eyes. The doctor fought successfully with the impulse to adjust his glasses.
“I suppose what I’m saying is if you help me, I might be able to help you.”
Rangell cleared his throat. “You want me to help you help me?” His voice was a rasp against wood.
Dr. Broder appeared to think this over as he contained his sense of success. The patient conversed. Breakthrough! “Yes, that’s what I’m proposing. We’re stuck with each other. May as well use the time.”
“What makes you think I’m not using the time?” Rangell smiled slowly.
“Humor me,” Dr. Broder told him and Rangell’s eyebrows raised. He leaned forward.
“Let’s say I do that. What would that look like? Help me so I can help you help me.” Rangell’s eyes were wary. The doctor could hear the clink of metal as Rangell worried his hands together. Unconscious display of discomfort. Another breakthrough.
“I don’t know about how you became a truck driver. Let’s start there,” Dr. Broder suggested, hoping it was neutral territory.
“That could work,” Rangell nodded once. “It’s one way you could help me help you help me.” Dr. Broder got a little lost there so stayed non-committal. He listened for the clank of the chain. It kept coming, Rangell’s tell he was reacting to the line of conversation.
“I have another idea,” Rangell continued softly, eyes actually shining with unshed tears. He paused, seeming to choose his words. “It’s a better way to help me help you help me help you help me.”
In a flash second, he was across the desk, chair and all. His teeth snapped at Dr. Broder’s shoulder. They caught hold. Dr. Broder cried out in pain and shock. Hot blood surged down his chest. The noise summoned the guards. Together, they dragged the rabid beast backward and slammed him facedown on the floor, chair still pinned to him. Dr. Broder couldn’t look away. He tried not to vomit as Rangell slowly chewed, swallowed, and gave him a bloody smile.
After being treated for his wound, Dr. Broder left the prison.
And his resignation.