The Cure (Excerpt)

Check out The Cure by Douglas E Richards, available September 17th from Forge Books!

Erin Palmer had a devastating encounter with a psychopath as a child. Now a grad student and scientist, she’s devoting her life to studying these monsters. When her research catches the attention of Hugh Raborn, a brilliant neuroscientist who claims to have isolated the genes responsible for psychopathic behavior, Erin realizes it may be possible to reverse the condition, restoring souls to psychopaths. But to do so, she’ll not only have to operate outside the law, but violate her most cherished ethical principles.

As Erin becomes further involved with Raborn, she begins to suspect that he harbors dark secrets. Is he working for the good of society? Or is he intent on bringing humanity to its knees?

Hunted by powerful, shadowy forces, Erin teams up with another mysterious man, Kyle Hansen, to uncover the truth. The pair find themselves pawns in a global conspiracy—one capable of destroying everything Erin holds dear and forever altering the course of human history…



Erin Palmer parked her fifteen-year-old Dodge Intrepid, which continued to be more reliable than it had any right to be, especially given the time it spent in the relentless desert sun, and checked herself in the rearview mirror. Her hair was pulled back into an ugly, severe bun so tightly that it looked as if she had an oversize forehead. She removed a pair of glasses from a case—glasses containing large, strangely shaped lenses set in thick, brown plastic that seemed to clash in every way possible with the contours of her face—slipped them on, and checked her makeup, which added fifteen years to her face and left the impression of wrinkles rather than a silky-smooth, flawless complexion.

She exited the car and adjusted her drab but professional outfit, which had virtually no waist and was cut in a way that made it unclear to anyone seeing her from the neck down if she was a man or a woman, covering every inch of her body more surely than a burka.

She left the car and walked past a sign that was surrounded by cacti and sagebrush, a tiny oasis of landscaping in an otherwise barren and uncared-for desert landscape. The sign read, Arizona State Prison Complex—Tucson.

Another day at her home away from home.

As she approached the entrance, the main yard came into view within the fenced-in perimeter, the coils of razor wire on top of the tall fences looking as lethal and intimidating as ever. Inmates exercised or conversed in small clusters throughout the dry, dusty yard, every last one of them wearing orange: some wearing cotton slacks and an orange T-shirt, some having chosen orange sweats in the chilly morning desert air, but all of the clothing stamped with giant black letters, ADC, which stood for Arizona Department of Corrections.

She submitted to scanning and security procedures with a mechanical detachment and finally walked through two heavy metal doors that slid open before her, triggered by a guard manning a control station. The doors were programmed so that the second door wouldn’t release until the first door was closed behind her, so that for just a moment she was trapped between two impenetrable doors, in what she’d learned was called a sally port. As she cleared the second door, which slid shut behind her with a solid thunk, she waved her thanks to the guard behind her.

To Erin’s right a familiar sign read, Welcome to ASPC, Tucson—Medium Security Prison. Medium was a misnomer if ever there was one. No one was getting out of this facility unless they were let out.

“Alejandro,” said Erin cheerfully to her favorite prison guard, who met her just inside the grounds. “Good morning.”

“Good to see you, Erin,” he said, having long since become completely comfortable using her first name, which she had insisted upon, rather than the Miss Palmer he had used in the early days. He began to escort her to the side yard where she would spend the entire day.

“How was your daughter’s birthday party this weekend?” asked Erin.

“She loved it,” he said with a big smile. “The balloon guy was a big hit. And a lot less expensive than a magician,” he added.

Erin nodded. “Good choice. Those magicians can be hit or miss. And you got the added benefit of the kids getting to keep the balloons when your guy was finished.”

They entered a side yard, whose most distinguishing feature was a massive trailer that was parked dead center—a long rectangular container that had been unhitched from the cab of an eighteen-wheeler. Makeshift wooden stairs led up to its entrance.

Inside the trailer there was carpeting, an office, an all-important airconditioning unit, and a smooth, white, doughnut-shaped MRI apparatus, with a perpendicular platform emerging from the bottom of the doughnut hole. The platform would slide the heads and upper torsos of patients inside the white torus, which generated a potent magnetic field, so they could be bombarded with radio frequency pulses and have their brains mapped. The trailer may have been mobile, but it now seemed as permanent a fixture in the prison as the fences, and it was an office Erin had occupied for three or four days a week for many years.

When they arrived at the trailer, Erin handed Alejandro a printed list of names. “I’ve got a pretty packed schedule today,” she said.

“When don’t you have a packed schedule?” he replied in amusement.

They chatted warmly for another five minutes and then he left, returning a few minutes later with a man named John, dressed in orange, although not restrained in any way.

“Welcome back, Miss Palmer,” said John affably. “How was your weekend?”

“Good,” she said flatly; noncommittally. She made sure she always acted professionally, but was never friendly. But this wasn’t always easy to do. The man in front of her now was even more charming than most of the men she worked with—and that was saying a lot. He was relaxed and confident. He was of average height but managed to look trim and appealing, even in prison orange. He had striking blue eyes that stood out against jet-black hair, a masculine and very symmetrical face, and no tattoos or piercings to mar his classically handsome features.

“Are you ready for today’s session?” asked Erin, keeping her voice monotone.

“Absolutely,” replied John enthusiastically. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Yes, he was the total package. He was handsome and charming and smooth as silk. He had also, three years earlier, beaten a young couple into a bloody paste with a tire iron. They had been out on a date and had paused during a stroll for an extended kiss, leaning against his car as they did so and inadvertently scratching it.

When it was over, John calmly carried the tire iron he had used to kill them to a nearby field, buried it, and returned to his apartment, where he had showered off to remove the significant amount of blood that had splattered on him. He had then ordered a pepperoni pizza—since he had worked up quite an appetite—and settled in to watch a movie on cable.

Since this had happened at night and there were no witnesses, it was more luck than skill that had enabled the police to finally catch him five months later. When asked if he felt remorse for what he had done, a look of disbelief had come over his face and he had said, “Why should I feel remorse? They got what was coming to them. I had just gotten that car repainted the week before. They didn’t care about me. Why should I care about them?”

Erin forced herself to remember the exact reason John was here every time she met with him. He smiled at her pleasantly. “Let’s do this thing,” he said, straightening his orange shirt.

Erin nodded, keeping her face impassive. Yeah, she thought grimly, this John is a real charmer all right. She took a deep breath, motioned him into the trailer, and then followed.

Alejandro watched them both enter, waited for the door to shut, and then walked purposefully over to his post near the entrance to the trailer.


Erin had been in graduate school now for over five years, and her thesis should have been completed already, but it was at least a year or so away. The truth was that she didn’t much care. She had bigger goals than this, and was in no hurry. And even though her thesis advisor, Professor Jason Apgar, mouthed platitudes about her needing to speed it up, she did great work, marred only by a few unfortunate incidents that had been found to be totally unrelated to her work. Graduate students were slave labor, and she required almost no supervision, had a mind as sharp as a razor, and was more dedicated than anyone in the school. She knew Apgar wouldn’t rush her to get her PhD.

As John filled out a standard questionnaire, her mind wandered to the first time she had met Jason Apgar. She had been accepted into six graduate programs, and she had set up a meeting with him before committing to a school. Her first visit to the University of Arizona. Her first visit to Arizona, period.

The school was an oasis, about a square mile in area, in the middle of Tucson’s Sonoran Desert, at the foot of a barren mountain range, one of five minor mountain ranges surrounding the city. A significant portion of the main campus had been designated an arboretum, and plants from around the world were labeled along a self-guided walking tour, which naturally included plenty of cacti. While it wasn’t Princeton or the University of Chicago, both of which she had been accepted to, it was highly regarded academically, especially in her field of interest, and it formed a thriving social community of forty thousand students. Yes, it was as hot as the surface of the sun in the summer, but during most of the academic year it was sunny and pleasant, and she had been assured that the school took its air-conditioning very seriously.

After touring the campus and grabbing a quick lunch, she made her way over to Dr. Apagar’s office for her scheduled meeting. He shook her hand and motioned for her to take a chair sitting in front of a desk so cluttered with stacks of scholarly papers and miscellaneous items that he had to rearrange several tall stacks so they could have an unobstructed view of one another.

“Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with me, Dr. Apgar. I really appreciate it.”

“Not at all,” he replied. “And please, call me Jason.”

She acknowledged this request and he continued. “I understand we’ve accepted you into the department, but you haven’t committed yet.”

“That’s right. I wanted to meet with you in person before making any decisions.”

“So I take it you have interest in my work, then?”

“Very much so,” replied Erin. “I’ve read all of your papers with great interest. Your work with prison inmates is fascinating. More than that,” she amended. “It’s groundbreaking.”

Apgar couldn’t help but smile. “Thank you,” he said. “I would wholeheartedly agree with you on that, but my modesty prevents me.”

Erin laughed.

Apgar raised his eyebrows. “The school is very keen to get you here, Erin. They sent me your records, and I can see why. Top GRE scores, top grades, a course load that was very broad, lots of neuroscience to go along with psychology, even molecular biology. You took on a course load that would break the backs of most students, and performed extremely well. Very impressive.”

She nodded in acknowledgement.

“So what questions can I answer for you?” he said. “I can tell you about the graduate program’s course requirements, research requirements, teaching requirements—whatever you want. I can talk about the culture here. The climate. Anything I can do to help you make your decision.”

“Thank you, um… Jason,” she said awkwardly. “But what I’d really like to do is learn more about your research with prison inmates. Your methodology and conclusions were fairly straightforward—and very profound. But I had some questions about the nuts and bolts of what you did.”


“So I know you conducted MRIs on prisoners. And I know what you found. But how did you do it? In practice? Did you actually go into a prison? Or were the prisoners brought to a medical facility?”

“The entire study was done on prison grounds,” he replied.

She nodded slowly. “Yeah, that makes sense for security reasons. But I never would have guessed they’re set up to do MRIs in a maximum security prison.”

Apgar smiled. “They aren’t. But it turns out there are a number of companies that have mobile MRIs for rent or lease. The rental units are quite nice. It’s like they’ve put a doctor’s office inside the trailer of an eighteen-wheeler. You just order one up. A driver brings it to the prison, is screened, drives through the gates, sets up the trailer in the prison yard, and then drives off in the cab. The trailer is parked there for months or years at a time.”

“That has to be pretty expensive.”

“Not as much as you might think,” he said. “And my lab has been awarded a significant amount of grant money—more than enough to cover it.” He paused. “And I did the study in a medium security prison, by the way. Not maximum.”

Erin’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t understand. According to your paper, you studied serial rapists, murderers, and torturers. How are these people not in maximum security prisons?”

“How much do you know about psychopathy?” he asked her.

She paused as if searching her mind. She suspected she knew almost as much about the condition as he did. “A little,” she lied.

“If you know anything, I’m sure you know that psychopaths are not psychotic. It’s unfortunate these two words are so similar, because this has caused tremendous confusion in the general public. People use the abbreviation psycho to stand for both conditions, but most of the time they use the word psycho as a stand-in for crazy. With respect to psychotics, this is true. They are crazy. They kill because little green men inside their heads tell them to. Psychopaths, on the other hand, are chillingly sane. They know exactly what they’re doing at all times. And why. They just don’t care. They have zero conscience.”

Erin nodded.

“They are also the most manipulative human beings in existence. And the smoothest liars. And they don’t feel fear, or guilt, or remorse, or doubt. If you catch them in the most bald-faced of lies, this doesn’t embarrass them in the slightest—or trip them up. They just switch gears or introduce even bigger lies to cover it up.” He paused. “And they never take responsibility or blame for anything they do. John Wayne Gacy tortured and murdered thirty-three young men and boys and buried them in the basement of his house, but was quoted as saying that he saw himself more as a victim than a perpetrator.”

Erin fought to maintain a look of interest even though all of this information she knew as well as her own name. “Fascinating,” she said.

Apgar nodded. “But getting back to your question,” he said. “The decision as to what type of facility a prisoner is put into isn’t entirely dependent on the crimes they’ve committed, but also their behavior while incarcerated. The ones I was dealing with all started in a maximum security facility, of that you can be sure.”

Erin nodded. If he had but said this simple sentence to answer her question she would have grasped the situation immediately, but she knew she would have to wait patiently while he connected the dots for her.

“Psychopaths aren’t crazy and they can be the most charming and cooperative beings on the planet to get what they want. So they are brilliant at manipulating the system. They tend to be model prisoners. The kind who are eventually transferred to medium security facilities. They enroll in counseling, take classes, pretend to become born-again Christians, anything to play the system. Not all violent criminals are psychopaths. The ones left behind in the maximum security facilities are violent for a host of other reasons, but don’t have the psychopath’s gift for manipulation.”

“I see,” said Erin with a smile. “When you explain it that way, medium security makes sense.”

“But don’t get me wrong, if you’ve never been to a prison, medium security will seem like maximum security to you. Medium isn’t the same as none. You still have the high fences, nasty coils of razor wire, guards, and multiple doors you have to get through to enter the prison.”

“Was it hard to get the psychopaths to participate in your studies?”

He shook his head. “Not at all. We pay them a dollar an hour, but even if we didn’t, they’d be happy to do it. What else are they doing?”

Erin raised her eyebrows. “A dollar an hour?”

Apgar smiled. “We actually debated if this was too much. We pay students twenty-five an hour to participate in studies. But that would be a king’s ransom to prisoners, who are paid more on the order of one to three dollars a day for their work in prison. Which they can spend in the prison canteen or in other ways I’m not sure I want to contemplate. It would be unethical to pay them more, because this would be seen as coercive when we’re asking them to sign the informed consent forms.” He paused. “But boredom isn’t the only reason they’re eager to help. It gives them another chance to be manipulative and try to exploit the system. That’s why they’re so happy to undergo group therapy and any other rehabilitation programs offered by prisons. Believe me, they don’t want to get better. They’re quite happy with themselves, and never question their own behavior, seeing it as totally rational and rewarding. Group counseling just makes them worse, because they’re able to use it as a learning experience. They don’t learn the error of their ways. They learn how to make better use of psychology to manipulate and deceive others. As if they weren’t good enough at this already. Studies have shown that psychopaths who participate in this kind of counseling are more likely to commit violent crimes when released than those who don’t.”

Erin knew that she should act surprised by this result, since it wouldn’t be intuitive that prison programs that had such positive effects on normals would totally backfire on psychopaths, but she was too eager to get back to the subject. “Okay,” she said. “So you enter the prison, pass though the heavy doors and checkpoints, and then what? You go to the semi and a guard brings you each subject according to a schedule?”

Apgar nodded. “Right.”

“I’m trying to picture it. So are their hands cuffed behind their backs? In the front? Are their ankles cuffed also?”

Apgar shook his head and looked amused. “No. They aren’t restrained in any way.”

Erin digested this for a few seconds, looking as though she wasn’t quite sure if she believed him. “So how many guards go with you into the semi?”

“None,” said Apgar. “None?” repeated Erin incredulously. He sighed. “I know you’re picturing Hannibal Lecter in his prison cell wearing one of those scary masks over his face. The kind of psychopath who would kill you if he could get near you for a second. But it doesn’t work that way in real life.” He paused. “At least it hasn’t so far,” he added. “Knock on wood.”

“But these men have committed savage, brutal acts.”

“I have to admit, it took a while getting used to. The first time I was alone in a contained space with someone who was in prison for torture and murder, I was… a little nervous.”

“A little?”

“Okay, I was stressed out of my mind. But it worked out. And other researchers had been alone with these people before, and there had never been an incident. The prisoners have far more to lose than to gain by trying to harm a researcher. They make some good money—at least relative to the prison economy—and they get a diversion. If they pulled anything it would be a one-way ticket to a maximum security facility forever. And a long, long stint in solitary confinement.”

“Still. I’d think you’d want at least one guard.”

“I did. Believe me. Especially in the beginning. But you can’t. The work is conducted under researcher/subject confidentiality. So no guards, no video monitors, no audio. Just me and a violent psychopath. And this works out for the best. You’d be surprised how many of them, knowing I can’t repeat anything they tell me, will boast about other crimes they’ve committed. Rapes, murders, robberies—the works. I can’t repeat it, but made anonymous, this information helps enhance my research results. They wouldn’t say a word if a guard were present.”

“I have to admit, this is something I would have never considered.”

“They love the fact that I’m sworn to silence. This is carefully explained to them at the outset. Unless they tell me of someone in current jeopardy, or talk about a prison break or a violent act they’re planning to commit—in the future—I’m sworn to secrecy.”

Erin tried to imagine what it must be like to sit in a trailer in the middle of a prison alone with these inmates, and felt her skin crawl.

“And they truly are incredible at manipulation,” continued Apgar. “You think you’re prepared, but you’re not. Even researchers who have studied psychopathy their entire lives get taken in.” He shifted in his chair. “Early on, there was an inmate I interviewed before I saw his file. He had me absolutely convinced he was falsely accused—had just been the victim of circumstance. He spent an hour telling me what had happened in incredible detail. He fell in love with this girl who told him she was twenty. But she was really seventeen. The father found out and was totally unreasonable, making sure he was prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for statutory rape. The father had connections, so he made sure this poor guy had the book thrown at him.”

Apgar paused, remembering. “It’s difficult to explain how convincing he was. Unless you were there. How articulate and persuasive. At the end of the session, I was ready to march into the warden’s office and fight for this guy’s freedom. Become his personal advocate. But then I checked his file.” He shook his head, and a troubled look came over his face. “The guy had raped and beaten three girls under the age of fourteen. There were photos in the file.” He shuddered. “He had cut them with a razor and their faces looked as though they had been at the wrong end of a wood chipper. It’s a wonder they survived.”

Lava-red hatred flashed across Erin’s eyes, but only for an instant. Not long enough for Apgar to detect, even if he had been paying close attention.

The professor leafed through a stack of papers on his desk and pulled out a single sheet. “I felt like the biggest idiot in the world to have been taken in, but I’ve swapped stories now with many others in the field, and it’s happened to all of us. That’s why when you’re dealing with a psychopath, you can’t let your guard down for an instant.” He handed her the page he had been holding. “This says it about as well as anything I’ve read. I use it in the graduate course I teach, Psych 850.”

Erin looked down at the sheet and began reading.

Good people are rarely suspicious: they cannot imagine others doing the things they themselves are incapable of doing. Then, too, the normal are inclined to visualize the [psychopath] as one who’s as monstrous in appearance as he is in mind, which is about as far from the truth as one could get… These monsters of real life usually looked and behaved in a more normal manner than their actually normal brothers and sisters; they presented a more convincing picture of virtue than virtue presented of itself—just as the wax rosebud or the plastic peach seemed more perfect to the eye, more what the mind thought a rosebud or a peach should be, than the imperfect original from which it had been modeled.

Erin finished and turned her gaze back to Apgar.

“Any idea who wrote that?” he asked. “Where it’s from?”

Erin had recognized it instantly. It was from The Bad Seed, by William March. She faced Apgar and shook her head. “No idea.”

“It was written by William March, author of The Bad Seed. The novel was turned into a film and a Broadway play. You should see it sometime.”

No thanks, thought Erin. “Yeah, maybe I will,” she said.

“Anyway, I know most people are fascinated by the idea of working with psychopathic killers. Believe me, when I was doing this research and it was fairly well known, I was a big hit at cocktail parties. Like you, everyone is interested in what happened after I entered the prison. But after I made my discoveries on the differences in their brain structure compared to normals, I’ve turned to other research projects. I haven’t studied psychopaths for six months now.”

For the next thirty-five minutes, Apgar went on to describe several other research projects going on in his lab, and his plans going forward.

Erin asked a polite question or two along the way, but mostly waited patiently for him to finish. She had known from the start she wanted to join his lab. The purpose of the entire exercise had been to get a feel for his personality, and she liked what she saw. Not that she even needed to like him. It was only necessary that she not hate him. And she had decided he would be a pleasure to work with only a few minutes into their discussion.

When he had finished describing the last of his research projects she leaned forward and stared at him intently. “Professor Apgar… Jason,” she corrected. “How would you feel about taking on another graduate student? I’d love for you to be my thesis advisor. If you’re okay with that, I’m willing to commit to Arizona immediately.”

“I’m flattered,” he said. “And I’d welcome the chance to take on someone with your impressive background. I have six grad students in my lab now, but I have ideas for enough projects to occupy fifty of them. In which research area would you see yourself working?”

Erin took a mental breath. “I’d like to revisit your work with psychopaths. Further define the differences in their brain structure. Test how their brains react to various other stimuli. I’d want to devote myself a hundred percent to this area.”

Apgar’s eyes narrowed and his face scrunched up in disapproval. “I thought you were asking questions about this for the same reason everyone does. I had no idea you were thinking of actually doing this sort of work yourself.”

Apgar leaned back and rubbed the back of his head absently. “You do realize you’d have to go into a prison like I did—a lot. Frankly, that’s why I didn’t pursue this project any further, even though there’s clearly additional fertile soil to till. It’s just not exactly the work environment I wanted to spend any more time in.” He grinned. “Not exactly the tweed jacket and pipe existence I envisioned for myself as a professor.”

Erin laughed. His personality couldn’t have been further from this stereotype.

“Are you really prepared to be left alone, one on one, with a psychopathic murderer?” said Apgar, serious once more.

“Yes,” said Erin, but it came out far more timid and uncertain than she had wanted. “Yes,” she repeated, stronger this time. “I can hardly wait,” she added wryly, raising her eyebrows.

He studied her for several long seconds. “So why so interested in psychopathy?” he asked. “I mean, when you ask young women what they want to do when they grow up, working with psychopathic killers doesn’t usually make the top of the list.”

Erin lowered her eyes, trying to conceal the intense emotional pain that had flared up in response to this question. So what would she tell him? That her family was brutally murdered by a psychopath while she watched? That she had been emotionally crippled by the experience for a long time? That she had only managed to regain a semblance of equilibrium by vowing to devote her life to studying the evil that had rained down on her and her family?

Would she tell him she had had spent year after year training her mind and body so that she would never feel helpless again, becoming an expert in multiple martial arts and with multiple weapons?

No. Of course she couldn’t. She knew Apgar’s history well. He had pioneered brain imaging techniques and had mapped the brain and studied emotional reactions extensively before he had conducted his studies with psychopaths, an obvious extension of his work. He hadn’t begun with an interest in psychopathy. His impetus to study this condition was purely intellectual. While hers was a tad more… visceral.

So acknowledging the role her past had played in her current interests was out of the question. Apgar might question if she wanted to settle a vendetta rather than push back the frontiers of human knowledge. Instead of being worried about what an inmate might do to her, he would worry about what she might do to them.

Numerous scientists had found their calling in response to personal tragedy. Researchers who had devoted themselves to finding a cure for Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s after having watched a parent or grandparent suffer from these horrible afflictions. How many oncologists had chosen this field because they had been helpless to prevent cancer from slowly and horribly choking the life out of a loved one? Erin’s devotion was no different. And maybe Apgar would see it this way.

But maybe not. Many would view her passion to study psychopathy quite differently than they would view the passion of an oncologist who had lost a loved one to cancer. Apgar could be one of them. So she wasn’t about to give him an honest answer and take this risk. Fortunately, the records of what had happened, and her subsequent counseling, had been sealed. This was a secret she was prepared to take with her to her grave.

So instead of the truth, she responded to his questions with platitudes about coming across his work and recognizing the breakthrough nature of it. Of always having been fascinated by psychopathy after seeing The Silence of the Lambs and other such movies.

When she was done, he studied her for a few seconds longer and then said, “You do realize that movies and the media sensationalize the condition. Just so you know, while up to one percent of the population can be classified as psychopathic, a very, very small percentage of these are the Hannibal Lecter type. Vanishingly small. Even among the prison population.”

“Yes, but even the ones who can fool the system—the doctors and lawyers and politicians—are almost always engaged in cons, or whitecollar crime, or unethical behavior. And they leave endless shattered lives in their wakes.” Seeing Apgar’s eyes widen, Erin hastened to add, “I mean, you’d have to guess that, wouldn’t you? At least I would. Or am I wrong about that?”

“No,” said Apgar with an amused look. “Good guess. I couldn’t have said it better myself.” He sighed. “Will you at least let me try to convince you out of this?” he asked.

Erin shook her head. “I’m afraid not,” she replied, and then with an incandescent smile added, “like you said, this is the kind of stuff that’s endlessly fascinating to people. So I may be in what you might call a… hostile… work environment, but at least I’ll be a hit at cocktail parties.”

Apgar couldn’t help but laugh. But he still wasn’t entirely convinced. “Look, let me preface this by saying I’m happily married and not hitting on you or anything.” He smiled sheepishly. “But you must know you’re a beautif… that you’re, ah… quite attractive. There haven’t been any incidents with this type of research, for the reasons I explained. But psychopaths have poor impulse control. And they are men, after all. Men incarcerated in an all-male prison year after year after year. Sending you alone into an enclosed room with them would be tempting fate. You have to be aware of your effect on men. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable sending you alone into a room with normal men, who have great impulse control.”

Erin frowned deeply. She had a flawless complexion, a figure a bikini model would envy, and a grace and agility that had arisen from years of training in martial arts and other forms of self-defense. Her hair was a deep chestnut-brown, and glowed with health and vigor, and her features were strong but delicate.

“I really thought the prisoners would be bound,” she admitted unhappily. “And that you’d have a guard in there with you.” She shook her head in determination. “But no matter. I’m sure I can find a way to overcome this little… problem. I’m willing to bet I can make myself look pretty hideous. I can wear clothing so that inmates will barely be able to tell I’m a woman, let alone a woman who might have any physical appeal.”

Apgar sighed. “At the risk of being accused of sexual harassment, that would take quite some doing.”

Erin smiled back sweetly. “Thanks for the compliment,” she said. She paused for several seconds and then, in a level just above a whisper but with undeniable intensity, added, “But I think you’ll find that when I set my mind to something, I don’t let anything get in the way.”


Erin’s mind returned to the present. Had it really only been five years since she had met Jason Apgar? Sometimes it seemed like five days. But for some reason, today it seemed like an eternity ago. An eternity in which she had given herself a literal prison sentence, just as surely as if she had been convicted by a judge.

She had intended for this to be a normal session with the human monster named John, who could casually beat two people to death over some scratched paint. She would strap goggles containing a visual LED display over his eyes, pack his head with pillows, and slide it and his upper torso inside the doughnut-shaped MRI device. Then she would take a baseline. Finally, she would begin collecting new data.

Simple and routine.

But it wasn’t to be. John insisted on talking. In a different way, and about a different subject than he had ever spoken of before. After thirty minutes he showed no sign of slowing down. He seemed filled with remorse. And Erin believed him.

And, strangely, she was as horrified by this turn of events as she was elated.

The Cure © Douglas E Richards 2013


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