Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Liam could feel the knot tightening in his gut as he pulled into the parking lot of the Bridgewater State Forensic Hospital. No matter how many times he visited the prison, he couldn’t shake the disconcerting feeling that came over him as soon as he passed the first gate. It was the price of being a Sensitive.
He parked his black Mercedes sedan and scanned the parking lot before getting out. He knew someone was watching him. It wasn’t paranoia. It was video security.
Looking at himself in the rear-view mirror, he ran his fingers through long unruly curls, taming them as best he could. He got out of his car and immediately straightened his signature double-breasted black trench coat. It had a small cape over the shoulders like something out of the nineteenth century. He thought the look made him stand out. It did, but not in a good way.
He reached into the back seat for his black leather satchel and closed the car door. Pressing the button on his key fob elicited a thump and a whoop as the car doors locked. He turned and headed toward the prison entrance. Suddenly, he was jerked backward, twisting and slamming into his car.
“What?! What!?” he shouted, swiveling his head from side to side, near panic. He saw no one. Looking further, he noticed his coat, held tightly in the car door.
“God damn it!” He looked around again. This time checking to see if anyone was nearby. He groped around in his pocket for his key fob, inadvertently hitting the alarm button.
The car screamed Whoooop! Whoooooop! Whoooooop!
“Shit!” Fumbling with the keys, he finally opened the door and silenced the alarm. He slammed the door shut, straightened his jacket and headed to the building, kicking the tire as he went by. He had regained his composure by the time he got to the security checkpoint.
“Hey, Doc,” the guard greeted him as he buzzed him into the lobby. “Having a bit of car trouble?”
“Damn panic buttons,” Liam growled, straightening his coat. “Officer Tindel. Nice to see you.” He made it a habit to learn the names of all the guards he encountered regularly. The personal touch could go a long way if he needed something in the future. He placed his valise on the conveyor belt.
“Still working on that paper?” the guard queried.
Liam dodged questions about his work with academic babble. “Yes. It’s a longitudinal study on behavior modifications based on duration of incarceration, so it’s not likely to be published for another couple of years, pending review from the Forensic Psychology Board at UMass.”
“Sure, whatever you say.” Officer Tindel sent the bag through the x-ray machine where a second guard reviewed its contents. “Go on in.”
Liam advanced through the metal detector, as the guard circled around, meeting him on the other side. “Who can we pull for you today?”
“No one special, thank you. I’m only observing the yard activities today.”
“Suit yourself. Let us know if there’s anything you need.”
Liam retrieved his briefcase from the belt. “I certainly will.” He headed down the hallway toward the next locked door.
“I’ll call ahead and let them know you’re coming.”
“Thank you,” Liam called back.
As a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dr. Liam McMurty could talk his way into any public or government facility. He simply claimed that he needed information for one paper or another and people were usually eager to help. When he met with occasional resistance, he had two tactics. He either baited them with a mention in his paper, appealing to the ego-driven, or made subtle threats of a poor report to higher-ups in the chain. So far, this strategy had gained him entry anywhere he wanted to visit.
Today he was at Bridgewater State Hospital, a facility for the criminally insane, where security was high with two concentric razor wire fences circling the property. It was the only forensic psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts and it housed the most notorious criminals, past and present. The Boston Strangler spent some time here in the 1960s before being transferred to the federal prison in Walpole, but most inmates died here, literally fulfilling their life sentence.
He continued down the long gray hallway from the entrance.
“Good morning, Doc.”
“Sergeant.” Liam nodded to the officer as he passed through the locked doors separating the admin offices from the inmate area.
His destination today was the Outer Wall, a six-foot thick barrier of poured concrete that surrounded the entire facility. As he made his way through the stark corridors, the air became increasingly stale with the smell of stone and poor ventilation. He was grateful to get to the next security checkpoint at the bottom of the stairs that would bring him back out into fresh air. There was no x-ray machine here, but the arch of a metal detector did another scan.
“Good morning, sir. Empty your pockets please.” The guard shoved a small dirty plastic bowl at him. “Open your briefcase. Place it on the table.”
“Certainly, officer.” Liam purposefully leaned down to read the officer’s name tag. Sgt. Cameron Borden. “Are you new here, Sergeant Borden?”
“I don’t recall seeing you here before, that’s all.”
“Not my usual station. I’m just covering for the day…sir.” The guard barely glanced at Liam, annoyance creeping into his voice.
“Do you know who I am, sergeant?”
“Dr. McMurty, I understand, here to study the inmates for your next paper.”
Liam’s chest pumped out slightly at the recognition. “So, you’re familiar with my work?”
“I’m aware that you haven’t actually published anything in eight years.”
Liam’s back went ramrod straight. His defenses went up. “Oh,” he tried not to sneer, “A well-informed prison guard. How unusual.”
“Just doing my job…sir…wondering how a civilian gets permission to walk the P.” The slang was a reference to the Perimeter, a walkway on the top of the Outer Wall that overlooked The Yard, the only outdoor space available to the prisoners. Along the P stood three towers manned 24/7 with snipers.
“Well, Google doesn’t know everything, sergeant.”
“No, sir.” The guard reviewed the contents of the bowl and briefcase while Liam passed easily through the security arch.
“All clear, sir.”
“Thank you.” Liam picked up his things and headed up the stairs. He didn’t like this new guard. There was something off about him, aside from being an ass. The last thing he needed was an overachiever nosing around in his business. On the other hand, he had to admire the guard for doing more investigation than anyone else had done in the five years he’d been coming here. He decided the man would make a better ally than adversary and didn’t pursue the argument.
Liam pushed through the door at the top of the stairs, took in a deep breath of fresh air and waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the daylight. The guard in the corner shack a hundred yards away gave him a wave, acknowledging his arrival. Liam waved back a two-fingered salute from an imagined hat brim.
After walking about halfway to the corner, he turned his attention to the interior courtyard. Referred to simply as The Yard, it was about the size of a football field and the most volatile area of the prison. It was empty except for the Yard Guards, a team of six officers specifically trained for this position. An eerie silence floated over the compound as Liam waited for the doors to open and the inmates to arrive. He took the time to study the guards below. Surprising to some, they were not heavily armed, carrying only nightsticks and tasers. The real firepower was with the snipers who could pick off an inmate anywhere in the yard with deadly accuracy.
A loud siren broke the silence as doors clanged open. Inmates flooded the dirt arena. It was a sociologist’s playground and any of his colleagues would be quick to point out this behavior or that, but prison social norms were the least of his interests. He was looking for the “Odd People,” rare individuals with mystical or psychic traits, that often got themselves into trouble, landing them in either prisons or mental hospitals or, in this case, both.
Today there were close to one hundred prisoners in the yard, some agitated, pushing and shoving other inmates, some over-medicated, shuffling along staring at the ground. The guards in the Yard and on the Wall were on high alert.
Liam had taken out a notebook and was placing hash marks in various boxes as he watched the activity in the yard.
“Seeing anything noteworthy?”
Liam jumped slightly, following it with exaggerated posturing trying to cover it up. It was Sgt. Borden from downstairs. He had made his way to Liam’s side completely unnoticed.
“Ah, well, hard to say, really. Nothing I wasn’t expecting. Today’s visit was only to confirm my data. Research is all about the details.” The sergeant remained silent. Liam’s antenna was up. There was something unusual about this man. Was he an Odd Person? He didn’t seem to be. Then what was it?
“How long have you been here, Sergeant Borden? My studies include the workforce too, you know. What calls a person to this kind of work and so forth.”
“I’ve been here about two years now. Usually, I’m patrolling the grounds, inside and outside the Wall.”
“Really? I wouldn’t think the outside needed much security.”
“It’s mostly curious teenagers or homeless guys looking to camp out over by the trees.”
Sgt. Borden was staring out over the wall to the back of the property. In 1855, when Bridgewater first opened as an insane asylum, its compound was over a hundred acres and included a working farm, complete with chickens, cows and sheep. Patients were expected to work as part of their treatment and the farm made the facility almost self-sufficient. Social activists of the 60s condemned it as forced labor and the practice ceased.
The property gradually transitioned into a multi-use facility with the maximum-security forensic hospital occupying the original inpatient domicile and hospital ward. The wall was added in 1969 and topped with razor wire in 1978 following an escape attempt.
“I hear it’s haunted out there,” Liam offered. The guards were a superstitious lot and Liam expected a reaction. The sergeant continued his long-distance stare. Was he looking at the Link? Liam couldn’t tell.
“So they say,” he nodded, continuing to look into the distance.
Liam took a moment to look him over. Sgt. Borden, about thirty by Liam’s guess, was wearing the standard guard uniform, a black polo shirt and gray chino pants tucked into black steel-toed boots. Liam noticed a chain around his neck. Some guards wore talismans or religious charms for protection.
“I notice you’re wearing a chain. Mind if I ask what’s on it?”
“What’s it to you?”
Sgt. Borden reluctantly pulled out the chain. Liam felt a slight energy wave pass through his body. His suspicions were confirmed when the sergeant revealed a Caller Coin, an eight-sided brass medallion, the size of a half-dollar, plain except for two fine lines etched around the edges on both sides with a gothic-styled design in the center. Liam struggled to feign disinterest.
“That’s interesting. What is it?”
“Some old relic my grandfather gave me. Said it warded off evil spirits and stuff.”
Liam read the slight increase in tension in Borden’s body. He knew he was lying. “So far, so good?”
“Yeah, so far.”
“Well, thank you, Sgt. Borden. I think I have all I need for today. Do you need to walk me out?”
“Just down to the security check-point. Then you can make your way to the front.” He gestured toward the stairs.
“Maybe I can walk the outer grounds with you someday. Get your view on things.” Liam had been looking for an excuse to go out back ever since he noticed the gray iridescent oval on the outside of the wall four years ago. He strongly suspected it was a Link, tears in the time continuum, that allowed a person to travel to another location instantly, but he needed a closer look.
“I don’t see the point.”
“Professional curiosity. A chance to see what remains of the old farm.”
“You’re quite the curious guy, Dr. McMurty.”
“Yes, I am, Sgt. Borden. So, what do you say?”
“You’ll have to clear it with Admin.”
“But you don’t have any objections?”
“I guess not.”
When they arrived back at the checkpoint, Sgt. Borden stayed behind, studying Liam as he headed back to the entrance. As soon as Liam was out of sight, he pulled a cell phone from his pants pocket, looked around to ensure privacy and pushed a few buttons.
“You were right,” he said into the phone. “I just bumped into McMurty. He’s up to something, I’m sure. He asked to go walking around outback…Yeah, I’ll keep you posted.”
Once back to his car, Liam allowed himself a grin and a small fist pump of excitement at his amazing find. A Caller Coin! And an excuse to walk around the grounds! He looked back at the old brick building. “Well,” he said into the air. “It looks like my luck keeps getting better and better.”
Links were literally the stuff of legends. Whenever he heard stories of mysterious places, hauntings, or unexplained disappearances, he was quick to check them out. Bridgewater State Hospital was full of these stories and, as it turns out, for good reason. Links were rare and unnoticed by most humans. He was pretty sure Bridgewater State Hospital had one. As excited as he was about his discoveries at the prison, a more interesting prize lay just two buildings over at Home Away From Home Child and Adolescent Treatment Center, his second stop today.
The Consortium had mocked his visits here as wishful thinking and unlikely to yield anything of value.
“I don’t see why you continue to visit those dreary places, Liam. You’d have much more luck following up on the scandal sheets,” Marilisa, the secretary of the Chairwoman admonished him. “They all think you’re wasting your time.”
As a result, he refrained from sharing his discoveries. Now, he stood by his car staring out over the property, bragging to himself. “One Link, one Caller Coin and Seth Harrison.”
Seth stared at the antiseptic white walls and the unbreakable metal furniture of the small conference room. Its plexiglass windows looked out on the common area of Ward B, his home for the past year. Across from him, Ms. Jennifer had his medical file open on the table. It was thicker than he remembered.
“So, Seth, do you have a discharge plan like we’ve been talking about? Like a place to live?”
“Todd told me there’s a nice bridge at 11th Street and Jefferson.” Seth ran a hand through his dark hair, pushing it out of his eyes, and flashing her a weak smile. His boyish charm could go a long way with Ms. Jen and he was hoping to lessen her irritation at his lack of progress.
“Seriously, living in a cardboard box under a bridge is NOT a discharge plan.”
“I wasn’t considering the box. Now it sounds even better.” His smile was half-hearted.
“Seth,” she admonished him.
“Jennifer,” he played her tone back.
“You need to take this more seriously. You only have three weeks left.”
Seth pushed himself back from the table. “What do you want me to say? I’ve got no family, no friends, a shitty part-time job, and, in three weeks, no place to live.
“I’m not saying it’s a great situation but there has to be a plan.” She waved loose papers at him. “Most kids think turning eighteen is a big deal, free to do whatever they want. This is your chance to make all those decisions about your life.”
“Well, most kids don’t get kicked out of their house as a birthday present.”
Seth Harrison had arrived on the ward a year ago after bouncing between foster families and group homes since age ten. He was fated to spend his last year of youth services here at the Bridgewater site. In three weeks, when he turned eighteen, Seth would age out of the system. Not being sick enough to warrant placement in an adult group home, he was scheduled to be discharged into the real world with the support of an overworked case manager and five hundred dollars.
“The foster care system isn’t set up to keep kids after they turn eighteen. You know that. You’ve known that for years.” She leaned over the table, almost pleading with him to put some effort into it. “So why are you making this so hard?”
Seth threw his hands up. “Well, what do you suggest?” he asked, even though he already knew the answer.
“You know what my plan is. Go full-time at Quick Lube, find an affordable apartment and the agency will help you get furniture and household goods. If you have a better plan, now’s the time to speak up. Otherwise, I’m moving forward with this before we run out of time. What do you say?”
“I guess I’m hoping for that long-lost relative to show up and take me home to some big house in a nice neighborhood.” Seth hung his head slightly, looking down at his hands folded on the table in front of him, his vulnerability surfacing.
“We’ve looked every way we can think of to find family. You know that.” Jennifer was sympathetic. She’d had these conversations a hundred times before and they didn’t get any easier.
“Alright, let’s look for an apartment. I’ll ask at work tomorrow about full time.”
“Great. It’s a start. And if something changes, we can revise our plan. Sign here.” Jennifer slid a form across to Seth outlining the plan. He signed it with disinterest.
Jennifer attached the lose pages to the metal pegs in the chart and smoothed them flat. “Don’t worry. It will all work out,” she said as she left the room, anxious to get moving on the paperwork while she still had Seth’s buy-in.
Liam pulled into the parking lot adjacent to the prison, outside the razor wire, where the six remaining buildings of the original State Hospital were used by various city departments. Since 1990, one of these buildings served as an inpatient psychiatric facility for children and adolescents. Liam was a regular visitor.
“Good morning, Dr. McMurty,” the unit clerk flashed him a flirtatious smile. “You know the drill.” She handed him a clipboard.
He took it, returning her smile. “Good morning, Delia. Has anything exciting happened since last week?” He signed in, noting the time, and handed it back to her.
“Let’s see. I broke up with my boyfriend. My mother’s dog finally died and my neighbor’s teenage son burned down their garage trying to disassemble a hoverboard.” She was leaning over the reception counter, making sure Liam had a view down her scrubs.
“Well, that’s very interesting.” His eyes lingered a moment. “But I was thinking more along the lines of here at the hospital.”
“Oh, right. Of course. No. Not much. Well, you know Seth’s getting out in a few weeks.”
“Yes. I know.”
“He’s not taking it well and he’s giving Miss Jennifer a run for her money. I’m staying out of her way. I suggest you do the same.”
“Thanks for the heads up.”
A buzzer sounded and Liam opened the door to the secure ward.
Liam had recognized Seth as an OP, his own code for Odd Person, a year ago, immediately after he was admitted. Seth was at least a Sensitive like himself, and likely more, judging by the iridescent aura surrounding him. The boy seemed to have no idea about who or what he was. On the contrary. A benevolent but misguided youth services system had convinced Seth that he was mentally ill, which is typical for children with unusual gifts. Liam had tried to make this point to the Consortium without success. Their attitude was that special children had special parents keeping an eye out for them. It hadn’t been true for Liam, and it certainly wasn’t true for Seth. It was a situation Liam planned to take full advantage of, but he needed to make sure the timing was right.
Each patient signed a release to the University of Massachusetts for statistical information, so he was able to access Seth’s file easily by flashing his university badge and claiming research needs. The records were relatively sparse on personal information. The diagnosis read Psychosis Not Otherwise Specified – Unremitting. In layman’s terms, it meant Seth had hallucinations that couldn’t be medicated away. The reason, Liam knew, was because they weren’t hallucinations. Liam had seen them too. Two ghosts appeared to be stalking the boy. They were quick to vanish when other people were around though, making it appear as if Seth had a psychotic disorder. Liam did nothing to dispel the idea.
As for Seth’s family, Liam’s questions were answered in a short note on the first page. Parents both dead, tortured to death by home intruders when patient was ten years of age. No other family found. An accompanying newspaper clipping indicated that Seth had remained hidden in the garage for almost two days until the mailman noticed something funny and called the police.
Seth’s life in state custody had been rocky from the start, but when the hallucinations started at age thirteen, it went from bad to worse. His first hospitalization was a year later when he was kicked out of his third foster home for seeing things that weren’t there and scaring the other children. Now, four years later, Seth was aging out of the system.
Liam spotted Seth, seated alone in one of the meeting rooms off of the ward’s common area. Maybe this was the moment.
“Hey, Champ.” Liam called from the doorway. “What’s up?”
“Planning my escape with Ms. Jennifer.”
“Ah. Any good options?”
“You sound discouraged.” A sincere concern could be heard in Liam’s voice as he sat down opposite Seth. Despite his own agenda, Liam had come to like the boy.
“It’s hard to get excited about living alone in a shitty apartment in a shitty neighborhood going to a shitty job every day.”
“Well, when you put it like that…”
“I’m trying to be upbeat, really, but I don’t see a bright future for me, working nowhere jobs and seeing a shrink for the rest of my life. And I’m still seeing those stupid hallucinations.” Seth shoulders slumped.
Liam wondered if now was the time to pitch his idea. Intuitively, he went for it.
“Well, here’s something to think about. Just an idea mind you. How about if you come live with me when you’ve worn out your welcome here?”
“What?” The astonishment on Seth’s face made Liam smile, which made Seth angry. “Are you just yanking my chain, man? That’s messed up!”
“No. No. Nothing like that. It was just the look on your face… that’s all. No, I assure you, I’m quite serious.”
Seth looked at him for a moment. “Why would you want to do that?” He had learned to be suspicious.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while. It could do us both some good. You can ease into the world and I can have some company around the house which has become deafeningly quiet of late.”
“What do I have to do?” Seth knew that something too good to be true usually was.
“You have to keep working, part-time at first, and you have to pay room and board. There will be an equal division of chores and you have to clean the litter box. It’s the chore I hate the most.”
“You have a cat?” That got Seth’s interest almost more than the offer itself. Growing up in group homes and treatment centers, he had always longed for a pet.
“Yes. She’s a common American Tabby, nothing special, although she doesn’t act like it. I’m afraid that’s partly my fault. I let her pretty much run the house.”
“I don’t know. Let me think about it.” Seth remained suspicious.
“Sure. Take your time. I know this came out of left field for you.” Liam stood. “Maybe talk it over with Ms. Jennifer.”
Seth watched as Liam walked out, leaving him alone again. He slumped back in his metal chair. Had everything just changed? A miracle? Who knows? But, for the first time in a long while, he allowed himself to hope.
Liam headed for the file room, suppressing a smile. That was easier than he thought it would be, but he always overcomplicated things in his head. He knew Seth would take him up on the offer and the timing was perfect. Seth’s birthday was three weeks away and the pressure was on.
Liam felt the pressure as well. He wasn’t sure what Seth was, but he was sure the Consortium would be interested. So would the Legion.