The PhD students wear velvet robes and puffy dark hats that look like unshapely mushrooms sprouting from their heads. A few of them glance at Dr. Aaron Henderson as the Dean’s speech about the future of the field of Psychology drones on. He acknowledges them with a smile and a nod, but his mind is on the book he’s currently occupied with writing. The book likely never to be completed. He sighs soundlessly. The drone of academia goes on.
At the reception afterwards, he congratulates the students. Neither of his two are graduating this year, their research interests as frustrated as his own.
“Aaron!” One of the faculty from the medical school, a renowned internist he’s collaborated closely in the past, walks towards him. “It’s been too long.”
“Amelia,” he says, with a warm handshake, the closest he’ll get to an affectionate gesture even with a decades-long friend. “It’s good to see you again.”
As they exchange pleasantries, the kind of updates friends who haven’t seen each other in a handful of months share, his stubborn mind returns to the problem.
“They tell me you’re doing a lot of work out at the prison,” she says. “Studying psychopaths always was your pet project.”
He sighs, rolling his head back to work out the knots that form in his shoulder muscles. “I study apprehended criminals. There is a type of psychopath—a very interesting type—that doesn’t get caught.”
“There’s always a chance.”
“I know. That’s why I’m there.” But the longer he spends in that concrete facility, conducting psychological tests on a collection of men who are little more than a waste of good space, the more he begins to suspect he’s not going to get that lucky.
“Don’t look so down.” She gives him a pert smile that seems more infuriating than kind. “You’ll find some good subjects.”
“I want to write a book. I want to write the definitive book on psychopathy since Hare’s book came out. I have a few decent case studies. I just need one more, actually, but it’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”
“What kind of subject do you need?”
“Someone without a conscience. Someone smart and charming, who applies violence like a scalpel, not a baseball bat. I don’t just want a petty criminal, Amelia. I want a man who can make this book take off.”
She glances around. With a hand on his arm that he can’t help but be acutely aware of, she pulls him into a corner. He breathes out with relief when she removes her hot fingers. He doesn’t like to be touched.
If the other doctor notices his flinching, she doesn’t mention it, furtively glancing around again before turning to him.
“I know someone,” she says, a hint of mischief in her eyes. “A psychopath.”
His heart races at the hope that this could be his break. “That’s wonderful.”
“One thing.” Her smile fades. “You’ll have to…bend your ethical obligations for this one. He’s not going to play by your rules. And if you try to turn him in, he’ll kill you.”
“That’s exactly the kind of man I’m looking for. Where do I find him?” The professor fumbles with his phone in his eagerness, ready to take down a name and number.
Amelia laughs. “He’ll find you.”
A few days later, Aaron has begun to give up hope. Perhaps Amelia’s acquaintance couldn’t be persuaded to show. Perhaps there is no such person in the first place.
He puts his daughters to bed. Eight and ten, they’re almost identical but for their age, with their mother’s blonde hair, his unfortunate nose. Both beautiful.
His wife kisses him in the hallway. “Come to bed.”
“I’ll be there soon.”
She sighs, walking off down the hall.
Downstairs, his study door is open, the light on. Strange, he hasn’t been in there all day. The girls should know better than to play among his books and many, many pages of notes.
He steps inside and freezes. A man with dark hair is laying across the couch as though at a therapy session, a book on Carl Jung in his hands.
“What the hell are you doing here?” the doctor says, softly so as not to alarm his wife.
The man sits up and gives him a wide smile that, under other circumstances, could be charming. “I was invited. Amelia said you’d be expecting me.”
“Not here.” Aaron’s heart hammers with excitement, even as he casts a wary glance at the long knife strapped to the stranger’s thigh. “This is where my family is.”
“If I make a threat, you’ll know it.” He waves a pale hand with long slender fingers. “Your family is perfectly safe.”
Aaron nods, not willing to risk losing a subject he can already tell is very valuable. “Okay. Amelia sent you my way because I’m conducting a study on people like you.”
The man raises an eyebrow, smirking. “People like me? There are no people like me.”
Arrogance. Henderson makes a mental note. “I’m doing a study on criminals,” he says. “My intent is to write a book on the subject.”
“I’d be in a book?” The man sounds delighted.
“If you fit the profile. I’d like to interview you and give you a few psychological tests. Here.” He flips quickly through papers. “This is a consent form. I need you to fill it out and sign it. It means you consent to—”
“I’m not going to put anything down on paper.” The man looks amused. “Do criminals usually do that?”
“I primarily work in prisons,” the doctor says. “So yes. And anything you say here will be strictly confidential unless you tell me you’re planning to harm someone. Yours won’t be the only secrets I’ve kept.” He picks up the consent form, grabbing a textbook off his desk for the man to write on.
The man doesn’t take it. “I’ve never been in prison. And I have no intention of ending up there.”
“Okay.” Aaron puts the form aside. Amelia had told him he’d have to bend the rules, after all. “Can you at least tell me your name?”
The man raises a dark eyebrow, smirking. “Amelia didn’t tell you who I am?”
Aaron shakes his head. “No. She just said you were dangerous.”
“I am. My name is Ras.”
Aaron leans back in his chair, pressing his fingertips together, a mild outward demonstration of a shock that is anything but mild. He’s worked with hundreds of criminals in the dark city, and almost all of them owed loyalty to this man. To his shame, his first thought is not of the danger his family is in, just by having the crime boss in his home, but rather of the possibilities that just opened up before him. A man like Ras could make his book succeed.
“It’s good to meet you, Ras,” Aaron says, though he knows he’s let the silence go on too long to truly regain his footing. “Shall we get started?”
Case Study: “Judas”
The crime boss introduced himself with the expectation that I would know exactly who he was. He wasn’t wrong. He picked his own moniker for this book: “Judas,” and seemed to take some private amusement in it.
Judas was in his mid-twenties, with dark hair and a sly, devious manner about him. He fidgeted throughout the interview, restlessly running his fingers over the knife at his side, or playing with a switchblade he kept in his pocket, but these gestures weren’t threats, merely habits. He told me he was the second in command to the leader of a notorious criminal organization, and that his role was primarily to keep everyone in line, and enforce the boss’s rules.
Judas scored 32 on Hare’s checklist, which would put him in the “psychopath” category, however he remained exceptional in one way. He had formed a remarkable number of strong emotional attachments to the people in his life. He spoke freely of the love he had for his mother, his brother, and his lovers, some of whom were men. He was unconcerned about revealing his bisexuality, despite the fact that in the criminal underworld, expressions of homosexuality often are met with violence. “Might makes right,” he told me. “So anyone who wants to tell me I’m wrong better bring a fucking army.”
Judas’s past was checkered, to say the least. By fifteen, his crimes included arson, theft, assault, and murder, along with too many other lesser felonies and misdemeanors. He spoke of them openly and frankly, excluding any revealing details, and did not show any sign of remorse. “There’s only one kill that I…that I regret,” he said, but refused to go into any more detail, changing the subject with a smile. It was easy to get caught up in his friendly, charming manner, and forget that he had killed well over a dozen people in the last ten years. “I follow orders,” he said. “I trust the boss to know what’s best for [his organization].”
Judas’s case is one that defies the current thinking on psychopathy. Is it really possible for someone to be capable of both love and such a great degree of dispassionate, cold-blooded violence? How do we diagnose such a person, and what treatment approaches could we begin to consider? Is there—
“You didn’t even talk about my skills.” The low, melodic voice comes from just behind Aaron, and he startles, turning to see Ras leaning forward to read the words on the screen. “You’d better add a section.”
“I have limited space for that,” Aaron says, as patiently as he can.
Ras crosses the room and flops onto his couch, looking up at the ceiling. “I got in a fight with my boyfriend,” he says, sounding like a petulant child. “He thinks I’m a monster. And it makes me feel like a monster.”
Aaron sighs softly, reaching into his lowest desk drawer and pulling out Ras’s chart. He taps a pen against the pile of notes that started out as a collection of historical and behavioral data and have since become involved with the ins and outs of Ras’s life in a peculiar and not particularly ethical evolution of their relationship. He’s not really “that kind” of doctor—therapy was something he did briefly in medical school, and hasn’t touched since. But Ras is not the kind of man you say no to, so Aaron diligently scribbles down a few notes, listens carefully, and does his best to offer advice. He’s working on a new theory—he calls it “connective psychopathy” for those who show all the signs of a psychopath but retain the critical ability to make reciprocal empathetic connections—and Ras is his central case study. He’s preparing a presentation for a conference next month that will bring his theory to light for the first time.
But for now, he’s merely a therapist, so he keeps his face pleasantly impassive, makes sympathetic noises, and offers the psychopath the best relationship counseling he can.