It was past noon when they made it to the office, the traffic heavy from the lunch-time rush. Even so, Chuck would be there until late into the afternoon as he laid out neat stacks of files for the coming week, combed the surfaces with white, latex gloves for any dust the cleaners had missed. It had been his Sunday routine longer than Carol had known him.
Suddenly, the thought now about what she may have to do bubbled within her. She’d never known Ed or Chuck to carry a weapon, but she’d also never known either of them to be amoral businessmen who stole lives and released monsters onto the streets. In fact, that was the polar opposite to what she knew them to be. Everything about this seemed out of character– an assertion she was forced to question as they made their way through the vacant lobby for the office.
Would Chuck be waiting for them? Had Babcock or Greene betrayed her? Could she trust, if things went South, that Sherry would be prepared for the worst?
They reached the office door, the firm’s name stenciled on its frosted glass. The radio inside was muffled behind it, near-silent given the thoughts that rampaged through their minds. They looked to one another, uneasy. Carol reached for the knob, hesitated, but Sherry nodded her onward. The door was thrown open wide, Carol’s pistol out in a flash. Chuck stumbled backward into his chair with a pant, surprised.
“Christ, Carrie you scared the hell outta–” He stopped short at the sight of the gun in her hand. “What’s this all about?”
“You tell me, Chuck,” she growled.
Her head was tilted down at an angle with a vicious, primal fury. It infected Chuck’s veins with ice. He shuddered, sighed. He knew it now– why she had come. With a speed she thought him incapable of, he reached beneath his desk. In a flash, metal gleamed, rose. Her gun echoed a single round that slammed his heart. The revolver flew sideways, hit the floor with a thud. Chuck slumped back, already dead.
Carol was cold, empty. Her eyes were narrow beyond a barrel that still smoked before her. Sherry turned sideways, doubled over, and vomited into a trashcan. Carol ignored it, moved to Chuck’s body to rifle through his pockets for his house keys.
She turned for the door, “Come on, we need to finish this.”
Sherry dry-heaved, groped her way up the wall to her feet, “You…. you–”
She hesitated at the door without a look back, “I killed him. He’s dead and this building’s empty until tomorrow. We need to go, finish this before it gets worse.”
“Carrie, I-I.. don’t know if I can… do this anymore.”
Sherry’s eyes were tilted down, avoided Chuck’s body, his blood still wetting his button-up shirt. Carol looked at her, “Sheryl, you have to understand what’s at stake here. If he’d have killed me for knowing, he’d have killed you too. You saw what happened. It was self-defense, my right.”
A tear began to slide down Sherry’s face. Carol watched it, numb to its attempts at stinging her. In the beginning, she’d drawn strength from Sherry’s persistence and support. Now, Sherry was hollow, too terrified for anything more than the autonomous regulation of her body. Somehow, Carol was still strong, as though the strength had transferred from one to the other imperceptibly. Sherry was haggard, pale, as if too long without sleep.
“C’mon, we’ve gotta’ go.”
Sherry ambled mindlessly from the office, followed Carol back to the truck. When they arrived at Ed’s house, she handed over Chuck’s keys, “If I don’t make it, you have to finish this.”
Sherry nodded, incapable of making eye contact. Carol began the short trek from the street to the doorway, thirty-feet and a million miles to her racing mind.
Why do this? What was the purpose behind all of it? Was it really just money? And what did Greene mean about being an opportunist?
She wasn’t sure, but she knew the last of her answers lay behind the gold-trimmed, maroon door, of Ed’s red-brick house. Whether he gave them to her, or she pried them from his cold, dead hands, was up to him.
She stepped to the door, ready to kick it in, tried the knob first. It was unlocked. A strange sensation flooded her as she stepped inside, pistol at the ready. The faint aroma of whiskey clung to the air. She listened carefully, heard nothing. She stepped right, toward the dry bar and recreation room, her feet light on the hardwood floor.
“You don’ ‘ave to creep around in here, Carrie,” Ed slurred across the room.
He was drunk enough that his smell burned her nostrils even at the distance. She raised her pistol, watched him gulp from a half-empty bottle.
“’M unarmed Carrie. ‘Nless you… cosider thiss-sshit a weappn.” He raised the bottle, chugged. Carol was silent, her feet planted, legs braced, and the pistol high, steady. “Well? What the fuck’re ‘ya waitin’ for?” He bellowed, flung to and fro from the force of his words.
In all her years of dealing with Ed’s occasional drunkenness, she’d never seen him in such a state. It was obvious he knew her intent, knew she’d learned of the rehab program. That much would’ve was assured after they’d been followed between the rehab centers. She thought for a moment, her eyes on the drunken husk of a man.
She lowered her pistol, holstered it to step forward.
His drunken sway worsened, “What? Whadda’ya–”
She charged, slammed him backward. The bottle flew as he was knocked to the floor. His head hit the floor with a loud thud that morphed into a cry. She balled the hardest fist she could, straddled his chest. He struggled to breathe against her weight, drunk, confused.
She struck him– once more. Then three times. Four.
She lost count. Her fists pummeled his face. Ed was too dazed and drunk to struggle, barely able to breathe. She was far from killing him, but began to shout.
“You prick!” She screamed with a blow. “Bastard… Backstabbing… Son of a bitch…”
Tears streamed from her eyes. Her hands ached, bruised, bloodied from gashes on them and fresh wounds on Ed’s face. An unassailable sadness melded with her anger.
She struck harder, “I trusted you! You let him go! All these years! I-I trusted… you…”
Her anger exhausted with her strength. She fell to his side, wept into her hands. Ed had been a second father– albeit a distant one. Though she never voiced it, she trusted Ed to aid her in her crusade. Her entire life’s work and purpose had been to save women from men like Evans. Now her greatest ally, closest friend, was even worse than the people she’d tried to put away.
In one simultaneous instant, she questioned all her hopes and dreams, recalled her deepest regrets and failures. She welled with anger and joy, sorrow and happiness, at all that she had aspired and succumbed to. Her heart and mind overloaded with guilt and loathing, love and happiness.
She reacted without conscious thought, felt the gun lift from her holster. She knelt over Ed, his face bruised and bloody, but his wounds superficial. He might yet live, but he might also die. The dilemma only worsened as the pistol pressed his forehead. The duality of life climaxed in her mind; success and failure, love and pain, good and evil. Each side tugged at her, forced her thumb down on the gun’s hammer. Her mind fought her heart’s pain and anger with steel logic as it questioned which action led to what consequence.
She’d already killed Chuck, but that was self-defense. This was murder, plain and simple. Was she ready to take that chance– become the person she’d fought so long and hard against?
The question echoed in her mind while her senses screamed at her, body ached from the convergence of dreams to nightmares. The couplet of bullet-trains collided at Mach speeds to explode, fog her vision as her finger slid over the trigger.
Her arms were locked, her body poised. The moment had come. It was up to Ed now.
Her body trembled, her voice shook, “Why?”
The word echoed through her into a deafening silence that rang with the war-drum charge of her heart. Ed’s left eye was swollen shut from the beating, but his right focused on her beyond the barrel.
“No one… was ever supposed to know,” he replied quietly, sobered by the beating. He exhaled slow, his breathes labored from her weight. “Chuck and I felt the recession… started doing patent work on the side. One of the inventions that came in… was a machine, intended for memory loss. The client died before the patent was finalized. We took some capital, built it… We only had the best of intentions.”
Carol’s lip twitched. He’d chosen. She rose from his chest, the gun still poised on him. His breath returned. He pushed himself into a sit. She allowed it.
“It’s bad now, Carrie. I-I know that. But it… it wasn’t always this way,” he assured her. “When we first created the program, the state didn’t want to have anything to do with it. But they let us try it. All of the cons we experimented on… they were lifers looking for reduced sentences, parole.” He shook his head in disgrace, “The device failed so many times, left dozens brain-dead. Chuck and I pushed to keep trying. It was impossible not too. All we needed was to discern the specific regions of the brain that caused the behaviors. That was it.”
He hung his head, quiet for a moment. When he looked up again, there could be no doubt of his sincerity. Even so, it made Carol’s stomach churn, her skin crawl.
“It got out of hand. But one day… one day, something happened. It permanently erased the person’s mind, but kept them alive. They were child-like, docile– but alive!”
Carol watched him with a knife in her chest. She wasn’t of anything more than its incise and his words.
“Babcock could tell you more about it, he was the… tech, guy. He learned how the machine had done it, manipulated the process. He learned how to read what chemical imprints meant which types of memories. It became mathematical, a formula we had to get right. We found something… something that differed between the genius and the layman. It was a certain set of chemical and genetic markers– the reason we’d failed so many times was its absence in those patients.” He swallowed hard, “It wasn’t long before Babcock was manipulating specific memories, wiping others to clean slates, creating new ones. I-I’d tell you how, but it’s too technical for me.”
She believed him; Ed could barely work his smart-phone most days.
A corner of her mouth twitched with spite, “How could you do it, Ed? How could you let Evans go?”
“I’ve had to let dozens of guys like Evans…go,” he admitted without remorse.
“How could you do it to me!” She spit, wounded.
“I didn’t do it to you, I did it to him— to all of them… for you.”
Vertigo overcame her. The room began to spin. His next words were muffled by a confounding guilt. Everything that had happened to Evans– all of the people whose lives had been taken from them– were taken because of her.
She hastened to a realization as the final pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Everything Ed had done for her, the reason he’d hired her, was a result of his own mental illness– the meticulous workings and rationalizations of a mind obsessed with his own crusade. He’d spent so many years repressing guilt for stealing lives, letting murderers, rapists, and pedophiles be reformed, that he used her past trauma as the reason and rationale for all of his victims. In due time, his “success” was endorsed by the state, country even.
Finally the fractal-like image was revealed in all of its complex and deluded splendor. The rehabilitation program, instituted by Ed and Chuck, had been a vision of grandeur and hope– stolen from someone much brighter and tainted by their lack of morality. They’d failed at making the machine work for its original intent, re-purposed it, and removed all claim to its moral responsibility in the process. After years of growing guilt, nightmares, and remorse, Ed found a victim he might redeem himself through.
But it all fell apart that day Ed met Greene in the restaurant just before Evans’ sentencing. He’d come in his usual disguise, but as a courier to inform Ed of Evans’ chemical markers. Ed’s redemption was impossible then, but he still needed to rationalize, keep his conscience clean. It suddenly became Carol’s repayment, and when Evans was reformed, his drunken binges began. Either consciously or not, he’d been drinking, waiting for either it to kill him or Carol to suss out the truth and finish him herself.
The spinning stopped. She pushed through her haze, tried to discern her next course of action, but couldn’t. Ed’s words continued on, incessant ramblings of rationalizations and justifications for the atrocities he’d committed– all in her name, to honor her. It made her sick.
With what little strength remained, she pushed herself up, stood over him. There was only one logical resolution; Ed was a criminal, mentally sick and amoral, but no less human. She wasn’t a murderer, but she wouldn’t allow herself to be a victim to anyone anymore, much less the scapegoat for a lunatic.
“Get up,” she ordered. He didn’t respond. She kicked his foot, holstered the pistol, “Get up god damn it!”
She drug him to his feet, got behind him to steer him, stumbling, out the door and to the truck. She threw open the doors as Buddy growled at his stench. She silenced him with a word, threw Ed into the backseat. He toppled in, once more adrift in a sea of drunken confusion. Sherry looked across the truck with a question on her lips, her face once more colored, but still oily, sweat-covered.
Carol shut the door, climbed in beside her, “Call Mike. We need to get him there before he comes out of it.”
They pulled away from the house, the front door still wide open. Sherry made her way through afternoon traffic to the police station at twice the posted limit. They fought to carry Ed up the steps, for him into an interrogation room and wait for him to sober up.
Mike met with the two women in the observation room beyond the interrogation room’s two-way mirror, “What the hell happened?”
For the first time since the day had begun, they looked at themselves. Sherry was unscathed, save for her exhaustion, but Carol’s clothing was disheveled, her hands and knees bloody, bruised. She looked frightening, as though she’d been at war for the last two days, had fought her way through the trenches to uncover the truth. In the small amount of time she’d been afforded rest, she’d chose instead to drink herself into a stupor. She wasn’t sure whether to be proud or sick with herself.
She decided she didn’t care, launched into retelling the events while Sherry corroborated. She’d be damned if she was going to let Ed skew the truth any further than he already had, made up her mind to come clean about everything, perfectly at ease with whatever consequences she might be due.
When attorneys Carolyn Switzer and Sheryl Hunter relayed their story to Detective Mike Boone, Carol took the blame for the death of Charles Henderson. Simultaneously, aspects of their story, corroborated by various parties (including Dr. Henry Babcock and Edward Mordin.) placed them at no fault in the use of The Ohio State Investigative Act. Edward later went on official record during the trial of State of Ohio V. Switzer and Hunter, testifying that he knew Henderson had stashed a loaded thirty-eight revolver beneath his desk. According to his testimony, it had been there since Zachary Evans had been sentenced to rehabilitation, placed in fear of retribution in the event that Carolyn ever discovered his secrets. Mordin also assured the court that Henderson kept the weapon loaded with the safety off.
To the surprise of everyone involved, Edward produced security tapes from hidden cameras secretly installed in the office, and went on record to say, he too, believed retribution might some day come, but suspected Henderson would make the first move. A series of cameras were placed at angles which gave full, 360 degree views of Henderson’s desk. When the tape was reviewed during the trial, it was immediately determined that although Switzer drew first, Henderson’s prior actions and his reaction therein, negated any charge of murder.
The case was dismissed following an innocent verdict on the charges of first and second-degree murder.
A subsequent trial, State of Ohio V. Edward Mordin revealed that the defendant had been guilty on fifty-four counts of first degree murder, and seventy-one counts of felony criminal battery against State Penitentiary inmates. On the advice of a separate, expert witness and testimony by one Carolyn Switzer, it was recommended that Edward Mordin be sent to an upstate, mental health facility for rehabilitative therapy and life imprisonment without chance of parole.
When the evidence of Ed’s actions came to light in open court, both Leon Greene and Doctor Henry Babcock were arrested and tried by attorneys appointed by the state’s deferment laws. The attorneys, on expert advice of witnesses Carolyn Swizter and Sheryl Hunter, sought the maximum sentence of criminal neglect and felony assault. Henry Babcock’s sentence was reduced on appeal however, when he gave up several, senior members of his medical staff to authorities. Each was subsequently tried and found guilty for criminal neglect and malpractice against some two hundred and thirty seven former rehab-patients.
The media’s field day summarily exposed the state’s rehabilitation program, shedding light onto a dark corner of the criminal justice system. The resulting public back-lash forced the specific form of therapy, known as Cognitive Reassignment Rehabilitation Therapy, to be suspended indefinitely despite its success. The US Supreme court later found CRRT to be unethical, instituting a nation-wide ban on its use. However, various rumored reports have relayed that its use has continued in secret both in and out of the United States.
As for the two women, having garnered fame and public praise from their revelation, they became sought out as high-profile attorneys. Their careers took off, allowing them to open their own practice, Hunter and Switzer Law. In addition, Detective Micheal Boone was awarded a Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor for his service and willingness to risk his reputation to fight injustice.
Shortly after the media-circus subsided, Anthony DePaul received the following letter from an anonymous source:
I send you this letter in the hopes that I may assuage my own guilt for actions against you; though they were never of my own accord, nor by my own hand.
It’s no doubt you’ve heard of the incident regarding Edward Mordin and Charles Henderson that resulted in the losses of memory in two hundred and thirty-seven criminals sentenced to CRRT by the state. All of the files have been released to the local police departments and FBI to be done with as they see fit, save an unknown two hundred and thirty-eighth victim.
This man, intentionally obscured by my hand, is Zachary Evans. His crimes were unspeakable in nature, copious, and cold. Mr. DePaul, I’m sorry to inform you that you were once this man. However, he died when you were born. Your memories are be fabrications, your personality manufactured, but they were done so to bring out the best aspects of your character, keep buried the worst. I tell you this because of an event that took place roughly two weeks before this all began; a woman bumped into you on the street, dropped her things and stammered like a fool. You were kind to her then, sincere and apologetic.
In that moment, I met you, Mr. DePaul. But in that moment, I also felt the specter of a man I loathed. The quest to understand led me to lay to rest a great injustice. It is for this reason, and this reason alone that I have kept your former self from the press. You have been given a second chance. One, I feel, you deserve because of the injustice done to you. You are Zachary Evans, but you are also Anthony DePaul. As the latter, you may live your life in blissful ignorance, or pursue what you will to know more of your former self. In either case, you will atone for the crimes of a past life, because it is ingrained within you to do so.
Enclosed is a flash-drive for you to keep or destroy. It contains all of the information on who you were. What you do from here on out is your choice, but believe me when I say, that to follow Evans’ path is to erase the soul you’ve been given.
I gained much more from our encounter on the street than a mere letter could tell. Now perhaps, you may gain as much in knowing that you were given a second chance, and have been living it to the fullest. I hope you continue to do so.
The files you hold are the only copies. No one can speak of Zachary Evans and link him to you. Please, for your own sake, destroy the file. I can not bring myself to do it and it is not my right to do so. I unintentionally wronged Evans, and in turn, you. Though his crimes were unspeakable, so too is the breadth of your chance to make up for them. I hope this atones for my part.
Upon finishing the letter, DePaul removed the small drive. He stuffed the letter into the inside pocket of his jacket. In one, simple motion, he dropped the drive to the floor and smashed it with a booted heel. He keeps the letter on him to this day, intent on using every chance he has to atone for a past he cares not to remember.