THE DOCTOR was a young Pakistani resident named Hayani, who by nature was a caring and compassionate soul. His English was heavily accented, and he seemed content to simply sit and chat with Patrick for as long as the patient wanted. The wounds were healing fine.
But the patient was deeply troubled. "The torture was something I could never accurately describe," Patrick said, after they had been talking for almost an hour. Hayani had brought the conversation around to this topic. It was all over the papers, since the filing of the lawsuit against the FBI, and from a medical standpoint it was a rare opportunity to examine and treat one injured in such an awful manner. Any young doc would enjoy being this close to the center of the storm.
Hayani nodded gravely. Just keep talking, he pleaded with his eyes.
Today, Patrick was certainly willing to do so. "Sleep is impossible," he said. "Maybe an hour at the most before I hear voices, then I smell my flesh burning, then I wake up in a pool of sweat. And it's not getting better. I'm here now, home and safe, I guess, but they're still out there, still after me. I can't sleep. I don't want to sleep, Doc."
"I can give you some pills."
"No. Not yet, anyway. I've had too many chemicals."
"Your blood looks fine. Some residue, but nothing significant."
"No more drugs, Doc. Not now."
"You need some sleep, Patrick."
"I know, but I don't want to sleep. I'll get tortured again."
Hayani wrote something on the chart he was holding. A long silence followed in which both men occupied themselves with thoughts about what to say next. Hayani found it difficult to believe that this kind man was capable of killing another, and especially in such a ghastly way.
The room was lit only by a narrow ray of sunshine along the edge of the window. "Can I be honest with you about something, Doc?" Patrick asked, his voice even lower.
"I need to stay here as long as I can. Here, in this room. In a few days, they'll start making noises about moving me to the Harrison County Jail where I'll get a bunk in a small cell with two or three street punks, and there's no way I can survive."
"But why do they want to move you?"
"It's pressure, Doc. They have to slowly increase the pressure on me until I tell them what they want. They put me in a bad cell with rapists and drug dealers, and the message will be conveyed that I'd better start talking because that is what I'm faced with for the rest of my life. Prison, at Parchman, the worst place in the world. You ever been to Parchman, Doc?"
"I have. I had a client there once. It's hell, literally. And the county jail isn't much better. But you can keep me here, Doc. All you have to do is keep telling the Judge that I need to remain under your care, and I stay here. Please, Doc."
"Of course, Patrick," he said, then made one more entry on his chart. Another long pause as Patrick closed his eyes and breathed rapidly. Just the thought of jail and prison had upset him mightily.
"I'm going to recommend a psychiatric evaluation," Hayani said, and Patrick bit his lower lip to suppress a smile.
"Why?" he asked, feigning alarm.
"Because I'm curious. Do you object?"
"I guess not. When?"
"Perhaps in a couple of days."
"I'm not sure if I can do it so soon."
"There's no hurry."
"That's more like it. We shouldn't hurry anything around here, Doc."
"I see. Of course. Perhaps next week."
"Maybe. Or the week after."
THE BOY'S MOTHER was Neldene Crouch. She now lived in a trailer park outside Hattiesburg, but at the time of her son's disappearance she lived, with him, in a trailer park outside Lucedale, a small town thirty miles from Leaf. According to her recollection, her son had been missing since Sunday, February 9, 1992, precisely the same day Patrick Lanigan died on Highway 15.
But according to Sheriff Sweeney's records, Neldene Prewitt (her married name then) had first called his office on February 13, 1992, with the news that her son was missing. She was calling all the surrounding sheriffs, as well as the FBI and the CIA. She was quite disturbed and at times near hysterics.
Her son's name was Pepper Scarboro-Scarboro being the name of her first husband, Pepper's alleged father, though she'd never been certain precisely who the father was. As for his first name, no one could remember exactly where Pepper came from. She had named him LaVelle at the hospital, a name he'd always hated. He'd picked up Pepper at a young age, and had vigorously asserted it as his legal name. Anything but LaVelle.
Pepper Scarboro was seventeen at the time of his disappearance. After successfully completing the fifth grade, after three attempts, he dropped out of school and pumped gas at a local station in Lucedale. An odd child who stuttered badly, Pepper discovered the great outdoors as a young teenager, and loved nothing better than to camp and hunt for days, usually alone.
Pepper had few friends, and his mother rode him constantly for an assortment of shortcomings. She had two smaller children and various men friends, and she lived with the rest of her family in a dirty trailer with no air conditioning. Pepper preferred to sleep in a pup tent deep in the woods. He saved his money and bought his own shotgun and camping gear. So Pepper spent as much time as possible in the De Soto National Forest, twenty minutes but a thousand miles away from his mother.
There was no clear evidence that Pepper and Patrick had ever met. Coincidentally, Patrick's cabin was situated in the general vicinity of the forest where Pepper liked to hunt. Patrick and Pepper were both white males, roughly the same height, though Patrick was much heavier. Of much greater interest was the fact that Pepper's shotgun, tent, and sleeping bag were found in Patrick's cabin in late February of 1992.
The two disappeared at approximately the same time, from about the same area. In the months after their joint disappearances, Sweeney and Cutter had determined that no other person in the state of Mississippi had turned up missing around February 9 and remained so for more than ten weeks. Several, most of them troubled teens, had been reported missing in February of 1992, but by late spring all had been accounted for. In March, a housewife up in Corinth evidently fled a violent marriage and had yet to be seen.
Working with FBI computers in Washington, Cutter had determined that the nearest person reported missing shortly before Patrick's fire was a shiftless truck driver from Dothan, Alabama, seven hours away. He had simply vanished on Saturday, February 8, leaving behind a miserable marriage and lots of bills. After investigating this case for three months,
Cutter was certain there was no connection between the truck driver and Patrick.
Statistically, there was strong evidence that the disappearances of Pepper and Patrick were related. If, by some chance, Patrick didn't perish in his Blazer, Cutter and Sweeney were now almost positive Pepper did. This evidence, of course, was much too speculative to be admitted in a court of law. Patrick could've picked up a hitchhiker from Australia, a hobo from parts unknown, a drifter from a bus station.
They had a list with eight other names, ranging from an elderly gentleman in Mobile who was last seen driving errantly out of town, in the general direction of Mississippi, to a young prostitute in Houston who told friends she was moving to Atlanta to start a new life. All eight had been declared missing months and even years before February of 1992. Cutter and the Sheriff had long since declared the list worthless.
Pepper remained their strongest prospect; they just couldn't prove it.
Neldene, however, thought she could, and she was quite anxious to share her views with the press. Two days after Patrick was caught she went to a lawyer, a local sleazeball who'd handled her last divorce for three hundred dollars, and asked his assistance in guiding her through the media maze. He quickly obliged, said in fact he'd do it for free, then did what most bad lawyers do when presented with a client with a story-he called a press conference at his office in Hattiesburg, ninety miles north of Biloxi.
He displayed his weeping client to the media, and said all sorts of vile things about the local Sheriff down there in Biloxi and the FBI and their lame efforts at locating Pepper. Shame on them for dragging their feet for over four years while his poor client lived in sorrow and uncertainty. He ranted and raved and made the most of his fifteen minutes of fame. He hinted at legal action against Patrick Lanigan, the man who obviously killed Pepper and burned his body to hide the evidence so he could make off with ninety million bucks, but he was vague on specifics.
The press, disregarding whatever caution it may have collectively possessed, if any, ate it up. They were given pictures of young Pepper, a simple-looking boy with nasty peach fuzz around his mouth and unkempt hair. A face was thus given to the faceless victim, and he became human. This was the boy Patrick had killed.
THE PEPPER STORY played well in the press. He was properly referred to as the "alleged victim," but the word "alleged" was invariably mumbled under the breath. Patrick watched it alone in his dark room.
Shortly after Patrick disappeared, he learned that Pepper Scarboro was rumored to have been lost in the fire. He and Pepper had hunted deer together in January of 1992, and had eaten beef stew over a fire late one cold afternoon in the woods. He had been surprised to learn that the boy practically lived in the forest, preferring it to home, which he spoke of sparingly. His camping and survival skills were extraordinary. Patrick offered the use of the cabin porch in the event of rain or bad weather, but to his knowledge the kid had never used it.
They had met several times in the woods. Pepper could see the cabin from the top of a wooded hill a mile away, and when Patrick's car was there he would hide nearby. He enjoyed tracking behind Patrick as he took long walks or made his way into the woods to hunt. He would toss pebbles and acorns at him until Patrick would yell and curse. They would then sit for a short talk. Conversation was not something Pepper thrived on, but he seemed to enjoy the break in solitude. Patrick took him snacks and candy.
He wasn't surprised by the assumption, then or now, that he had killed the kid.
DR. HAYANI watched the evening news with great interest. He read the papers and talked in great detail to his new wife about his famous patient. They sat in bed and watched it all again on the late news.
The phone rang as they were turning off the lights and preparing for sleep. It was Patrick, full of apologies, but in pain, and scared, and just needing someone to talk to. Since he was technically a prisoner, his calls were restricted to his lawyer and his doctor, and only twice a day each. Did the doctor have a minute?
Of course. Another apology for calling so late, but sleep was impossible now, and he was deeply upset by all the news and especially the suggestion that he killed that young kid. Did the doctor see it on TV?
Yes, of course. Patrick was in his room with the lights off, huddled in his bed. Thank God those deputies were in the hallway because he was scared, he had to admit. He was hearing things, voices and noises that made no sense. The voices were not coming from the hall but from within the room. Could it be the drugs?
It could be a number of things, Patrick. The medicine, the fatigue, the trauma of what you've been through, the shock both physically and psychologically.
They talked for an hour.