A lot of psychopaths had mastered the art of human interaction. Some were real charmers, with good grooming and a winning smile – at least superficially. It let them get close to their victims.
Sometimes, even untrained folks could detect the evil lying underneath, but it took time. They didn’t always have time to find it out before the killer struck.
Irvine wasn’t charming at all. He didn’t need to be. His method of killing didn’t require any social interaction; just access to a syringe and a moment alone with his victim.
The nurse most recently employed at St. Josephs Medical Centre had surreptitiously ended the lives of at least 16 patients in that facility over seven months, most often by injecting them with a common heart medication. The drug was supposed to be used to kick-start stopped hearts. If you gave it to a perfectly healthy person, the result was typically cardiac arrest. Hospital administrators had noticed an upward tick in mortality among recovering patients – and an alarming incidence of death for patients who had come in with sunburns, fractured arms or mild flu symptoms.
They’d finally caught the bland, monotone-talking gray man when the pharmacist had set up a sting to catch Irvine in the act of stealing the heart medicine. That and some damning circumstantial evidence was enough to put the nurse in the booking room at the local police station. He’d confessed an hour and a half into the interview.
One month later, Keller would have his opportunity to sit across the table from the pale, mouse-faced monster. Irvine’s lawyer had finally agreed to it – but not for free.
“Hello Eddie,” Keller said. The killer stared back at him. His eyes were just in focus enough that Keller knew he was paying attention, though at least part of his mind was elsewhere. “I’m David Keller. I’m a Forensic Psychologist brought in by the D.A.’s office. Thanks for taking the time to meet with me.”
“I have lots of time in here,” Irvine replied.
“You know why I’m here, Eddie?” Keller asked.
Irvine’s body language was subdued, like he was drugged. His staring eyes slowly drifted to Keller’s face. “You want to know how many more,” he said. “You want to know how many I killed.”
“Do you remember, Eddie?” Keller asked. “It didn’t start at St. Joseph’s, did it?”
Irvine slowly shook his head.
“Can you tell me, Eddie?” Keller tried again. “When did it start?”
Irvine shifted a bit in his seat. He stared down at the table. “I want you to understand.”
“That’s why I’m here, Eddie,” Keller said. “I want to understand, too. We had an agreement with your lawyer that you would tell us. And in return, the D.A. can avoid seeking the death penalty. That’s the deal.”
“I’ll tell you,” Irvine interrupted, before seeming to think better of it, clamming up and nodding back and forth like he was in some kind of prayer.
Eddie kept staring at the scratched-up white table, staring at where someone must have scraped it with keys, or maybe fingernails. There was a little brown, rust-colored dot near there. Blood? Maybe someone had banged their hand there, or their head. The killer sitting across from Keller seemed incapable of any kind of swift movement.
“You were going to tell me something just now,” Keller said.
“Do you believe in God and the Devil and all that, doctor?” Irvine asked.
Keller shrugged. If this maniac was going to try to take control of the interview, he was welcome to it – just so long as he spilled about the other victims. Keller decided to play along – in his own way.
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Keller said. “What do you think, Eddie?”
“No God,” Irvine said. “But the Devil? Maybe. Just not the way some people think.”
“Are you saying you think you’re the Devil?” Keller asked. It wouldn’t be hard to try to play an insanity defense if Irvine’s lawyer wanted to go that way.
For Keller, all that mattered was getting the information out of him. Numbers – maybe even names, if he could get them.
Irvine smiled for the first time, just for a second, before the mouse-face resumed its icy neutrality. “Me, the Devil? No, doctor. Not me. But I wanted to ask you to see what you believed. It’s not like you see on commercials or movies, with a little red man in a moustache and horns and hoofs. There’s no contract to sign. But the basic part of it is there, I guess. You make a deal and he gives you something.”
“You sign a contract in blood?” Keller asked. “That kind of thing?”
Irvine smiled again. “I told you it’s not like that. He’s not even called the Devil. There’s no soul to trade. No burning for eternity. But you have to trade something.”
“It sounds like you’ve given this a lot of thought,” Keller said, regretting allowing Irvine to pontificate on whatever crazy theories he had bottled up inside. The psychologist only had an hour with Irvine. He had a job to do. He’d seize the initiative at the first opportunity – but for now, Irvine was in the lead.
“I talked with another doctor when I first came here,” Irvine said. “He was there with the prosecutor.”
“And your lawyer, too,” Keller said. “They were all here. I read the transcript.”
“Then you know about me,” Irvine said.
Keller had a sinking feeling then. What was his plan? Maybe not an insanity defense. Throwing himself on the mercy of a jury?
Keller knew about Irvine’s past – his childhood, growing up in a nightmare home, brutalized by his father, mother, siblings, uncles… pretty much every adult who had known him. In that sense, it was actually impressive that Irvine had managed to even rise to the level he’d got to: forging nursing credentials and faking just enough human empathy to get hired and gain access to his predatory domain. Lots of human beings subjected to far less suffering had ended up as slobbering catatonics, if they had managed to survive at all. Not Irvine. He had kept it together – as much as a prolific serial killer could be said to have kept it together.
It would still be a stupid defense. No matter how badly Irvine had it as a child, he’d probably murdered more than a dozen innocent people. He was never going to be on the outside ever again. The defense was already pretty much hopeless. This deal was Irvine’s only shot at avoiding a lethal injection.
“I was six years old when he first came to me,” Irvine said. “It.”
“The Devil, you mean,” Keller said.
Irvine screwed up his face and rolled his eyes like Keller had just said the stupidest thing. “I already explained. It’s not like that. No Devil. It’s older than that. Really old. It doesn’t even care about good and evil. Not really.”
“You know why I’m here, Eddie,” Keller said. “Why are we talking about the Devil?”
“I didn’t understand what it was saying to me when I was six,” Irvine said, ignoring Keller’s question. “It was just a black shadow on the wall, even when the light was right on it. It didn’t speak a language, but somehow I could hear its voice in my skull. It buzzed in my brain. I was scared of it. But after a while, it wasn’t so scary anymore. It never tried to do anything bad to me, you see. Not like the others. It just talked in its buggy, click-clack voice. And when I was old enough, I could finally understand what it was saying.”
Keller was resigned to letting Irvine blather on, but he was already out of patience. He tried not to show his irritation, but it probably came through in his eyes. If Irvine cared, he didn’t show it.
“It could help me,” Irvine said. “It could help me so I wouldn’t feel anything anymore. And what it wanted – well, I guess it seemed worth it at the time. A good deal for me.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Keller said, throwing up his hands in frustration. “I don’t understand why you’re telling me this.”
“Because I wanted you to know why I killed sixty-six people,” Eddie said. “I told you I wanted you to understand. Someone should know.”
Keller sat up straight and tried to detect the slightest clue from Irvine’s face. He drew in a short breath. “Sixty-six?”
Irvine nodded. “I know their names.”
“You know all of their names,” Keller clarified. “You recorded them?”
“I remember them,” Irvine said. “I have to know their names. If I didn’t know their names, how could I make a deal for them? I wrote them down. The cops should already have found the old list, but I don’t really need it. I memorized them.”
Keller didn’t say anything. He took out a notepad and wrote ‘66’ on it. He circled the number.
“You want me to tell you the names now?” Irvine asked.
“Yes, Eddie,” Keller said.
You want me to start with the first hospital?” Irvine asked.
“If you would,” Keller said, trying not to show any anxiety or eagerness.
“Mount Siyon Emergency, in Portland, Oregon. Richard Goldstein. Lana McTabb. Audrey McTabb. They were sisters. Keith Olderman. Lester Klein. Milwaukee Central Hospital. Janice Jenkins. Allan Shelbey. Ibrahim Al-Arbat. Portia DeLuca…”
He rattled off the names of half a dozen institutions and his victims, one after the other, only pausing for breath. The list was too perfect to be faked or improvised. No duplicates. The police would have them checked out, of course – but Keller was already convinced it would all bear out.
Except there was one problem: the last name. ‘Sammy Montoya’.
Irvine had listed off the names in a perfectly chronological order, in respect of the consecutive sequence of murders. But Keller had the list of all the suspected victims from St. Joseph’s hospital in front of him.
There was no Sammy Montoya on that list.
Irvine saw the psychologist mouthing the name. Just before Keller spoke, Irvine cut in. “Not from the hospital,” he said, as if anticipating his interviewer’s question. “There was no time. I was already caught. But I needed one more. Just one more to complete my end of the deal.”
Just then, the warden entered the interview room, flanked by two burly guards who were looking at the placid, mouse-faced Irvine like he was a rabid wolverine. The warden nodded at them and they had Irvine stand up before they manhandled him out of the room. Irvine didn’t resist.
“Sorry to cut things short,” the warden said. “I know you were in the middle of things, but there’s been an incident.”
Keller stood up and stared at Irvine as the guards moved their cold-as-ice prisoner out of the room. “What’s happened?” he asked.
“Irvine’s cellmate,” the warden said. “The guards thought he was just napping when they brought Irvine out for this interview. Not so much. Can’t do anything for him now..”
“Sammy Montoya?” Keller asked.
The warden flinched. “Yeah, actually. That was his name. He, uh, say anything to you?”
Keller couldn’t answer. He was struck speechless just at that moment. He watched a long shadow stretch across the ceiling from above where Irvine had stood, just before the prisoner was escorted out. The black amorphous blob moved across the pot-light, covering it up for just an instant – just a momentary flicker that Keller couldn’t even be sure really happened. The disturbing shadow moved over him and out the door of the interrogation room where the warden had entered.
Keller didn’t react, even though part of his mind could tell that something had indeed crawled there – if only for an instant. He was not afraid, or even surprised.
At that moment, he didn’t feel anything at all.