Twisting his shoulders to unbunch cramping muscles, Dr. Broder glanced at the details of his cramped office. The prison didn’t have many to spare. There was no window. Only six months into his own private sentence in the prison, he overheard his file clerk confide to a guard he’d lasted twice the last psychiatrist already. It was two months later. He felt he was getting through to some of the men in the facility.
The clock counted minutes silently on his desk. He sat and began the deep breathing he did before each appointment. This one was different. This one required a few extra moments of readiness. Brad Rangell could wait. He had his whole life to wait in here. The psychiatrist made some notes on his clipboard. A few more deep breaths and he went to the door.
Two guards stood over Brad Rangell, who was seated in a chair. Cuffs and leg chains were linked together with a heavy chain locked beyond his reach. “Bring him back, please,” Dr. Broder nodded to the guards. He returned to his desk. One guard tugged the patient’s chair back from the desk. Together, the guards pressed Rangell into the chair. Dr. Broder recalled how he protested against the distance between them. He was told firmly it was for his own protection. He believed it now.
The guards took up position right outside the unlocked door. They could be summoned by a loud voice or by an alarm on his desk. Dr. Broder had thought such things unnecessary in his first days. He realized the next week, as he met more inmates, they’d taken it easy on him at first. Who knew how many who barely slid past the diagnosis of psychopath – not to mention the ones who fit it perfectly – were crammed in this hellhole together.
Brad Rangell not only fit the diagnostic code, he radiated it. He added to it delusions of grandeur and narcissistic personality disorder. Dr. Broder wasn’t sure if his standing with the other inmates justified or confirmed these issues. His crimes were legendary. Rangell left a brutal, horrendous and bloody path between truck stops in Southern California. The doctor pressed these thoughts away as he steepled his forefingers. Quietly, he watched his unmoving patient so far beyond the other side of his desk.
As usual, Rangell forced him to be the first to speak. They once spent an entire session in silence. Dr. Broder was attempting to gauge his patient’s compliance with the treatment he was ordered to endure. That they were both ordered to endure. Having decided continuing such games amounted to little more than a pissing contest, the doctor took the offense.
“You spent some time in the tank again this week.” He didn’t expect a response about his allusion to the isolation cell. “Four days, I believe.” It had been five. Rangell l continued to ignore him. He didn’t so much as shift his eyes away from 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.
“Brad, let’s be open with each other. You don’t want to be here. I don’t particularly care about that. We’re doing what is required.” 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 sure he wanted it. Summoning calm, he forged on.
“What if, just for the hell of it, we took the chance of accidentally doing something helpful for you?”
Rangell’s eyes widened a nearly invisible amount. His gaze stayed on 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. 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. No idea how to. 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’s a start,” Rangell nodded shortly. “That is one way you could help me help you help me help you.” Dr. Broder got a little lost in that so stayed non-committal. He listened to the clank of the chain, Rangell’s tell that he was reacting to the line of conversation.
“I have another idea, though,” Rangell continued softly, eyes shining with unshed tears. He paused as though trying to choose his words. “A better way to help me help you help me help you.”
In a flash second, he was across the desk, chair and all, his teeth snapping at Dr. Broder’s shoulder. They caught hold. Dr. Broder cried out in pain and shock. He felt hot blood surge down his chest. His howl summoned the guards. They pulled Rangell back, slamming him down to the floor, chair pinned to him. Dr. Broder tried not to vomit as Rangell slowly chewed and swallowed.
After being treated for his wound, Dr. Broder left the prison.
He never returned.
© 2011 Jessica Rosen
This flash was inspired by a post on Twitter by Luke Romyn last year. He unwittingly put a scene in my head which has simmered off and on since. This is the result.