The Perfect Woman: A Short Story
Abraham Mulgrew Asylum for the Criminally Insane: May 17, 2014: 06:00 PM EST
The doctor, along with the police detective and his junior partner, and an assistant district attorney, entered the interview room---where the inmate-patient was already seated at the table, flanked by an orderly on either side.
"Good Evening, Randall," the Doctor said.
The inmate-patient known as Randall nodded. "Doctor."
"How are you feeling? Sleeping well?"
"Okay. Sure. Yeah."
The Doctor nodded at the two orderlies. They removed the restraints on Randall's ankles, as well as the bindings on his wrists. He had already been strip-cavity-searched by a uniformed correctional officer.
Randall rubbed his wrists, as though the bindings had had been too tight. Drama Queen.
"That's all, thank you," the Doctor said.
The two orderlies left the room.
If you didn't know any better, the scene could have looked congenial. Five men seated in ergonomically-sensitive chairs around a circular table, as though they were getting ready to play cards. But there were no cards. There was no fun.
The chairs and table were bolted to the floor. The room was bathed in a soothing aqua blue. There was water, if Randall needed it. A great, big plastic push-lever spout container, also bolted to the table. Paper cups. Everything in the room was nice and safe.
The Doctor made himself comfortable with his clipboard. The Detective opened a small notebook with multicolored tabs. The Junior Detective had an even smaller flip-over notepad that fit in his back pocket; he opened it to the appropriate place. Three ballpoint pens clicked to the ready. The Assistant District Attorney was a young hotshot, all high-tech and paperless with his touch-screen tablet.
Randall poured himself a cup of water and began sipping it. It tasted stale. But it was wet and his throat was dry. He swished the water around in the cup and looked at it. He wished he at least had a lemon slice to put into it.
"So how are you tolerating your medication, Randall?" the Doctor said.
"I don't know, Doc. I got this garlic taste in my mouth that I can't get rid of, my ears ache and..."
Randall had more to say. He prattled on, whining and complaining. But the Doctor tuned it out and sent his mind somewhere else.
The Doctor had done this a million times before. He kept his eyes on his clipboard and his head nodding, as though pre-set to do so, at the appropriate intervals. As he did this he automatically and unobtrusively penetrated Randall's diatribe with: "I see;" "Uh hunh;" "Hmmm;" "I understand;" "Yes, it can be difficult at first;" "Oh, yes;" "Yes, yes;" and so forth. As well as gentle intimations that, perhaps, just perhaps Randall was slightly exaggerating his symptoms---they all did; but that, even so, he, the benevolent Doctor, would do all he could to attenuate and ameliorate his suffering.
Where's my violin? "Nobody knows the trouble I seen.... Nobody knows my sorrow...."
What the Doctor was really thinking about was what he would have for dinner that night at The Sloping Seagull. What shall it be? The cheddar-stuffed meatloaf and spinach-and-parmesan stuffed baked potatoes? Is that too much cheese for his cholesterol level?
The grilled possum and home fries? The deep-fried duck and macaroni and lentil casserole? Or how about ham and eggs? Because anytime is the right time for breakfast.
What kind of wine should he have? Well, that depended on what he had to eat, didn't it? He would trust the judgment of the sommelier.
Meanwhile, back at the asylum, the rest of the conversation went like this....
Detective: Do you have any idea why you're here, Randall? This place?
Junior Detective: Any idea at all?
Randall: Somebody's thinks I'm insane.
Doctor: Who thinks that, Randall? Who thinks you're insane?
Randall: I don't know. Somebody. Everybody.
Junior Detective: Anybody in particular who thinks you're insane, buddy?
Randall: You. All of you.
Doctor: Why would we think that, Randall?
Randall: Cause you put me here. You must think I'm crazy if you---
Doctor: Don't do that, Randall. Don't you dare do that!
Randall: Do what?
Doctor: Engage in that kind of circular reasoning.
Randall: Don't get upset, Doc. I told you the medication makes me a little slow...
Doctor: You're an intelligent man, Randall. An engineer. Don't throw away your intelligence. You do a disservice to yourself and you insult us.
Assistant District Attorney (ADA): Do you like it here, Randall? You like this place?
Junior Detective: Yeah, that's probably it! Randy must like it here. You like it here, Randy? That true?
Randall: Its better here than... Its okay for... I'd rather be home.
Detective: Which one?
Detective: Which one? Which home? You said you'd rather be home than this place. I'm asking you which home you would rather be than here.
Randall: I only have one home. Not that its any of your business.
Junior Detective: That's true for most people, Randy. But not for you. Never has been.
ADA: Are you sure you don't know why you're here, Randall?
Randall: This is a Kafkaesque nightmare.
Detective: Ah, Kafka. Persecution without reason. I suppose you're like Job from the Bible, whom God has allowed Satan to set upon, to test your faith.
Junior Detective: You think if you just hold on, keep denying everything, all of this will, somehow, just go away? You think you can click your heel together and get back to Kansas? If you do, I got to tell you, as a friend---
Randall: You're not my friend.
Junior Detective: ---that ain't happening.
Detective: He's right, I'm afraid, Randall. You are in a bit of trouble. The truth is you've been a bad boy.
Junior Detective: A very, very, very bad boy, Randy.
ADA: And the only possible way you can help yourself, at all, is to talk to us. To be forthcoming.
Randall: About what?
Detective: Now we're getting somewhere. Do you admit that you might know something we'd be interested in?
Randall: I don't know what you're talking about.
Junior Detective: Oh, please. Not the Kafka thing again.
Detective: Randall, I'm just saying. Do you think its possible that you know or understand something that we would like to know or understand?
Randall: Sure. Anything is... possible. I know a lot of things.
Junior Detective: Do you now?
Randall: Look, no... I didn't mean that.
Randall: I just mean... I'm smart. I can talk intelligently about many subjects.
ADA: You would so graciously offer us the benefit of your wisdom.
Junior Detective: Mr. Big Brain.
Detective: As though this were a seminar in philosophy.
Junior Detective: A regular Renaissance man over here.
ADA: Are you sure you don't know why you're here, Randall?
Randall: Shouldn't my lawyer be here?
Junior Detective: You think this is a legal situation you're in?
Randall: Isn't that the way it looks to you?
Junior Detective: Frankly, to me it looks more like a moral situation, at this point in the game.
Randall: Does it?
Junior Detective: Yeah, it does.
Detective: Looks that way to me, too, Randall.
ADA: And to me.
Doctor: Shapes up that way to me as well.
Randall: Not very clinical and objective, Doc.
Doctor: I took my Hippocratic oath but there is my human soul to consider.
Randall said that he wasn't feeling well---no one could have cared any less---and that he needed to go to the bathroom. The two orderlies were called back in. They re-secured his wrists and ankles and escorted Randall to the bathroom.
As long as they were taking a break, the Junior Detective was going to step outside to take a smoke break. His partner, the Detective, told him that cigarettes would be the death of him. The Doctor "tsk'ed tsk'ed," wondering how anybody could be a smoker in this day and age, with all that is known about its hazards. The Junior Detective shrugged it off, saying that everybody had to die from something.
The Assistant District Attorney cracked his knuckles. Then he cracked each finger including the thumbs. He really shouldn't be doing that, he knew; but he figured when the time came for him to be stricken with elderly arthritis, they will have found a cure.
The Doctor would have been content to sit there and play with himself. But that wouldn't have been professional with other people around. Always the good trooper, keeping up appearances, he sat there flipping pages over, nodding over his clipboard. He frowned at times, as though in deep concentration. He scratched with his pen, as though making important doctorly notes. But no, he was playing games of tic-tac-toe on blank sheets of paper.
He continued to be primarily absorbed with the question of dinner at The Sloping Seagull. Perhaps a nice turtle soup to start? But what he was really looking forward to, what really got him salivating was anticipation of the next time the Seagull would---hopefully very soon---be serving an out-of-the-way, exotic delicacy.
The restaurant had a special dining room several levels below the public eating forum, for its preferred, most discerning, most well-heeled patrons.
The truth was that the best thing his father had ever done for him, reflected the Doctor, was to die and leave him all his money. Mommy Dearest had died five years before of ovarian cancer. To be even more truthful, the original will---which hadn't been nearly as generous to the Doctor (he told himself that his father hadn't been in his right mind when he'd dictated it)---had been destroyed.
To be brutally frank, somebody (no one knows who) had pulled a torch job on the law offices of his father's attorney. Unfortunately, all of the offices records, including the aforementioned will, had been destroyed. Tragically, there had been the matter of the poor paralegal who'd been working late.
He hadn't known about her. He was sorry about that. He hadn't meant that to happen. But he quickly put that out of his mind, and focused on the beautiful things that all that lovely money allowed him to enjoy. Like meals at The Sloping Seagull. Particularly those served in the special dining room below.
Just a month ago the Doctor had enjoyed the best thing ever in that special dining room. Illegally poached African ape brains done with a light lemon sauce. Complemented by the perfect wine: a smooth, buttery nut flavored pinot noir. Why, he still had dreams about that meal.
Sure it was a risk. But the risk was part of the adventure, right?
The Assistant District Attorney did finger-stretching exercises and listened as the Detective said, "Well, Doctor, what do you think?"
The Doctor looked up from his tic-tac-toe. "About...?"
"Our boy, Randall."
"Oh, he'll crack soon. No doubt about it."
"Any truth to his claims of 'diminished capacity,' as far as you can tell?"
"Not a chance."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
"He mentioned some side effects from medication..."
"Sugar pills," the Doctor said.
"Sugar pills. The old placebo effect."
"But why was he complaining about side effects?"
"Just the power of suggestion. Randall believes that he is taking supposedly powerful, allegedly brain-altering narcotic mood-regulating medicine, so he is feeling the effects as though he really was taking such medication."
"But why does he mention those specific side effects, the 'garlic taste' in his mouth, the ear aches, and so forth? Are those usual side effects?"
"Yes they are. Those are similar side effects he would experience had I been giving him the medication that is usually indicated for his alleged kind of mental defect."
"So how does Randall know about them?"
"Easy," said the Doctor, "I told him. You know, I casually mentioned what the side effects would be."
"Is that standard operating procedure?" the Detective said.
"Of course not. But, as you and I agree, Randall doesn't belong here."
The Doctor smiled. "I'll tell you the truth. I couldn't resist messing with his head."
"Besides, its better for you," the Doctor said.
"Nobody will be able to make any kind of backdoor argument that maybe the medication caused some brain damage, thus rendering truly crazy even if he wasn't before."
"Yes, I suppose that might turn out to be useful," the Detective said.
Randall had been strip-cavity-searched, once again before being returned to the interview room, this time by another uniformed correctional officer. He was returned to his seat by the two orderlies, who undid his wrist and ankle restraints and then left the room.
The Junior Detective returned shortly thereafter. His senior partner took him aside briefly, to confer in whispered voices in a corner of the room, before re-commencing the interview.
Randall poured himself another cup of water. Once again he swished it around. Once again he thought it tasted stale. Once again he conceded that it was better than nothing. Because his throat was still dry and the water, for all its stale-ness, was no less wet than water should be. And once again he wished he at least had a slice of lemon to liven it up.
Randall: You know, Doc, I'm kind of hungry.
You and me both, buddy!
Doctor: You know the rules, Randall. Dinner will be served at eight o'clock. As usual.
Randall: What about my lawyer?
Detective: You want a lawyer?
Junior Detective: Let me get this straight. Do you want a lawyer or do you want your lawyer?
ADA: What they're trying to say, Randall, is: Do you want to call your own lawyer that you already have? Or: Do you want to have us appoint a lawyer for you?
Junior Detective: What's the matter, Randy? Cat got your tongue?
Detective: Its not a trick question, Randall. You're the one who made the request. Do you want to make a phone call?
Randall: I want a lawyer, damn you!
Junior Detective: There now, Randy, was that so hard?
ADA: Are you sure you don't know why you're here, Randall?
Randall: You keep saying that.
ADA: Saying what?
Randall: Asking me if I know why I'm here.
Junior Detective: Let me guess: This is a Kafkaesque nightmare, right?
Detective: Don't you remember what happened to your last lawyer, Randall?
Randall: I don't know what you mean.
Junior Detective: Poor Randy, that amnesia isn't getting any better, is it?
Detective: You had a lawyer. An expensive one that your rich father-in-law paid for.
Junior Detective: Yeah, Randy, your rich father-in-law.... as opposed to your other father-in-laws that ain't so rich.
ADA: There were issues with your last lawyer, Randall.
Randall: What issues?
ADA: You see, Randall, because of what happened to your last lawyer, concerns were raised about your competency to stand trial.
Junior Detective: Aid in your own defense.
Detective: And that's why you're here. Right, Doctor?
Doctor: Quite so, quite so.
ADA: You fired your attorney mid-stream and told the judge that you wanted to represent yourself. The judge allowed it, reluctantly. But he insisted---really gave you no choice---that you keep your lawyer on as 'second chair,' back up. You were doing okay for a while there, cross examining witnesses, trying to discredit various experts, and so on, and then you---
Junior Detective: Hey, let me tell this part, okay? I love this part!
ADA: Go ahead.
Junior Detective: Here's what happened, Randy---
Detective: Like you don't remember.
Junior Detective: ... anyway, what happened was: one day you got up on the table during court. You said---and I was laughing my ass off at this point cause you sounded just like Perry Mason---'Your honor, at this time I would like to respectfully ask for a continuance.' When the judge asked why, you said in that Perry Mason voice, 'Your honor, my client,' meaning you, 'is unable to continue at this time.' You said, 'He,' meaning you, 'is incompetent, incoherent, and inconsolable, thoroughly unable to assist with his,' meaning your, 'own defense.' 'Your honor,' you said, 'my client is utterly, incontrovertibly, and sad to say, perhaps, irretrievably insane.' You added, 'Insane! Insane! Insane! Insane, I say!' I got to tell you, Randy, I was spilling my guts out. You know, the way you kept repeating the word 'insane,' reminded me of those old 'Crazy Eddie' commercials. Remember those from back in the day? This consumer electronics store.... the commercials on T.V. would have this guy yelling something like: 'We will not be undersold because the prices at Crazy Eddie are insaaaaane!' That's what you made me think of when you went off like that, Randy. Like I said, you had me laughing my ass off. I had to get out of there.
Detective: Do you remember any of this, Randall?
Randall: (silence) (hesitation)
ADA: Well do you? Again, not a trick question.
Junior Detective: Ah, give Randy a break, he's thinking.
Randall: (silence) (hesitation).
Doctor: Are you confused, Randall?
ADA: Are you sure you don't know why you're here, Randall?
Detective: Do you think we're asking you these questions for our amusement?
Junior Detective: Speak for yourself. I'm having a blast. I like to pull the wings off butterflies as well.
Randall: (silence) (hesitation).
Doctor: Randall, do you remember the incident?
Randall: I told you before, I want a lawyer.
Doctor: Don't you realize where you are?
Junior Detective: Hey, Randy! This ain't an interrogation. This is a therapy session for you, right Doc?
ADA: You're really not entitled to a lawyer under the circumstances, having been found, temporarily, incompetent to stand trial and aid in your own defense. That is why you are here, undergoing observation and care at this place.
Doctor: As the head of this institution, I prescribe the course of your care. I only want to make you whole again, Randall. I'm a healer. You see, I really do believe that unauthorized visitors... people like, oh say, lawyers, would only hinder your recovery. As your doctor I only want what is best for you.
It dawned on Randall that his situation was hopeless. They meant to break him and they did, indeed, accomplish this. Against a concentrated, committed effort of four extremely determined, wickedly clever, and thoroughly unscrupulous men Randall hadn't had a chance. Against his will he said things he didn't mean but couldn't take back.
So much for dissociative amnesia and some such folderol like that. He had put up a false front because he thought a stay at a mental hospital---a home for the theoretically unwillingly evil---preferable to a prison full of consciously evil inmates. Here Randall had thought he could get himself cured of his vaguely defined psychosis and be released in a fraction of the time he would have served if he had been convicted of having committed mass murder while in full possession of his faculties.
Randall was an engineer. He was a perfectionist in all things but especially design. He had a compulsive commitment to perfection in design, the absolute ideal alignment of form and function. So it was with his love life.
Having long ago realized that he was the perfect man, it was just as obvious to him that one such as he deserved the perfect woman. He set out to find his perfect woman to be his wife. Since he had encompassed male perfection in one being, how hard could it be, he had thought, to find the same embodiment of perfection in a female of the species?
He had tried many venues: bars, social clubs, professional associations, the Internet. He even frequented "gentlemen's clubs" of various pedigrees. Hoping, perhaps, to find the perfect woman gyrating on stage, swinging from a pole, only "dancing" as a way of covering the enormous expense of graduate school, as she works toward her PhD in astrophysics.
Only frustration rewarded his efforts; and visions of The Bride of Frankenstein came dancing in his head. If he could not find the perfect woman, he would build her. He would build her through bigamy.
Randall yawned and stretched. "Feels good to talk about this openly, frankly."
Now that he was talking, they could let Randall eat something. The Junior Detective stepped outside into the hall to make the call. A large pizza pie: four cheeses, sausage, peppers, and black olives. A bottle of beer---the perfect man in there likes beer; Bud Light is his preferred brand. It was to be one of those enormous, ghetto-blaster-sized forty-ounce bottles.
He could eat his pizza and wash everything down with his beer, getting himself happy. When the food came, it was the Junior Detective, again, who went down for it, meeting the delivery man outside. The interior of this institution was no place for uninitiated civilians.
Randall grinned wolfishly at the aroma. He would eventually eat every morsel of the pizza and drink every drop of the beer. Between mouthfuls of bread, cheese, meat, and slurps of his ambrosia, Randall continued telling his story, such as it was.
He had found five women. Each was beautiful and accomplished. Each had advanced graduate degrees. Each had a particular, excellent trait in abundance, which he prized in the female of the species.
As individuals they were his inferiors, of course. But unwittingly combined, they amounted to the one woman that was almost good enough for him.
Not only was Randall the perfect man; but he had the ability to maintain his perfection over time. But the same could not be said for Randall's wives. They had a tendency to: grow old in spirit; put on unsightly pounds, especially after child birth; grow more bitchy and unpleasant; lose muscle tone; grow more confused and disorganized; grow more obsessed with the children, taking the focus away from where it was most deserved---HIM; grow more and more jealous...
Frustrating as all this was, no obstacle was insurmountable. Randall was an engineer, after all, and he had essentially created a machine. What had been a perfect machine at one time. But a machine nevertheless.
All machines wear out and break down. Parts get old, rusty, and bent. The machine must be maintained. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Parts must be repaired or replaced. Replaced!
The five women Randall was married to now, were not the same five women he had been married to five years ago. Nor were those the same as five years previous to that. And so on and so forth.
His goal may have been insane, but he was not. He knew that it was murder he was committing, many times over---and what that meant. Not only had the faulty parts needed to die to be replaced (divorce simply was not practical under the circumstances); but dozens of others had to die at the same time, so as to obscure the true target of the excisions as well as their motive----a train derailing here, a mass poisoning epidemic there effected by tampering with supermarket products, a church exploding, an office fire, a series of rape-murders, whatever it took.
Randall's inquisitors had questions. Had he done all of this by himself?
Was Randall willing to name them?
Yes. He did name them. He gave their full names and other particulars. He told everything he knew about them.
What did Randall think was their motive for helping him?
Garden variety psychopaths. They thought it was fun.
How many women did Randall think he and/or his confederates disposed of?
Give or take.
Was Randall willing to recall and help locate the remains of some of the women, so that there families can at least have some closure?
Yes he was.
Did Randall understand that they were not promising him anything?
He did. He didn't want anything.
Then why did he agree to help?
Randall was finished with those dead women. They could do nothing for him now. He could say no more about it than that.
The Assistant District Attorney typed up Randall's statement on his laptop; and printed the form from his tiny, portable printer. He had Randall read it over and sign and date it in three places, affirming that he had given his statement voluntary, free of any coercion.
Randall had managed to finish the pizza and the beer in one sitting. He wiped his mouth and hands with a towel and moist wipes. He belched loudly and excused himself. The Doctor summoned two orderlies, who came, trussed up Randall, and took him back to his room to pack up his things. He would be leaving this place and driving back with the two detectives in the morning.
As Randall left the room, the Junior Detective said, "You'd think he wouldn't bother packing a bag for his trip to hell."
The Assistant District Attorney said, "He is quite the monster."
"But sane," the Doctor said. "A very sane monster."
The Detective, whose father had been a World War Two veteran, said, "He is quite the Nazi."
The Assistant District Attorney took an early morning flight back to Denver. The two detectives would drive back with Randall.
The next morning the two detectives came for Randall. The Doctor had expedited his release paperwork. They brought Randall outside of the facility, with the Junior Detective holding him by the arm, as they headed for the cruiser.
"You know," said Randall, "I could have killed myself in a hundred different ways in there."
"Why didn't you?" the Junior Detective said.
Randall shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I still love life too much."
"Watch your head," the Junior Detective said, folding the prisoner into the back seat.