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“It’s one of the crybabies,” the guard told her. “He’s trying to kill one of the psychos.”

Dr. Alycia Liddell swore under her breath and grabbed her keys. Only two weeks into the drug trial and the prisoners were changing too fast, starting to crack.

In the hospital wing, a dozen guards crowded around an open cell door. They were strapping on pads, pulling on helmets, slapping billy clubs in their palms. It was standard procedure to go through this ritual in full view of the prisoners; more often than not they decided to walk out before the extraction team went in.

The shift lieutenant waved her to the front of the group. “One of your babies wants to talk to you,” he said.

She leaned around the door frame. In the far corner of the cell, wedged between the toilet and the wall, two white men sat on the floor, one behind the other, like bobsledders. Lyle Carpenter crouched behind, his thin arms around Franz Lutwidge’s broad chest. Lyle was pale and sweating. In one hand he gripped a screwdriver; the sharpened tip trembled just under Franz’s walrus-fat chin.

Franz’s eyes were open, but he looked bored, almost sleepy. The front of his orange jumpsuit was stained dark.

Both men saw her. Franz smiled and, without moving, somehow suggested a shrug: Look at this fine mess. Lyle, though, almost let the screwdriver fall. “Doc. Thank God you’re here.” He looked ready to burst into tears.

The doctor stepped back from the door. “Franz is bleeding,” she said to the lieutenant.

“Lyle stabbed him in the chest. It looks like it stopped, but if he’s bleeding internally we can’t wait for the negotiation team. I thought you might want to take a crack at getting Lyle to drop the weapon.”

“If I can’t?” But she already knew the answer.

“I’ll give you three minutes,” he said.

They wanted her to put on pads and a helmet, but she refused. Lyle and Franz, like the other 14 men in the GLS-71 trial, were low-risk prisoners: liars, thieves, con men, nonviolent offenders. The review board wouldn’t allow her to enroll the more aggressive prisoners. Still, she’d succeeded in finding men with very high scores on Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist. They were all-star psychopaths–or sociopaths, to use the term some of her colleagues preferred.

The lieutenant let her take only three steps into the cell before he said, “That’s good.”

Lyle’s eyes were fixed on hers. She smiled, then let concern show in her face. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on, Lyle?”

Franz said, “I’m not sure he knows himself.”

“Shut up!” Lyle said, and the hand holding the screwdriver shook. Franz lifted his chin slightly.

“Just focus on me,” she said to Lyle. “If you put down the weapon, we can talk about what’s upsetting you.”

“I fucked up, Doctor Liddell. I tried to stop him, but I couldn’t–”

“Call me Alycia, Lyle.”

“Alycia?” He looked surprised–and touched. She never permitted the prisoners to call her by her first name.

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Credit: Owen Smith

Tagged: Biomedicine, drugs, fiction

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