Before reading 'Lethal Injection', you'll need to understand the world it's written for. Go here, to understand what the 'Machine of Death' is all about.
Lethal Injection - by Simon West-Bulford
Fruit. Ripe for the picking. That’s all the old woman was to me. Without even a hint of suspicion in her watery eyes, she slid the piece of paper toward me, her hand trembling. We’d been working this one for months and now, at last, she was ready. I used my most sympathetic voice, just the right hint of compassion and the perfect twitch of an understanding smile as I took it from her.
“You’re quite certain you want me to see this, Mrs Layton?”
She winced. “When you see it, you’ll understand.”
I held her gaze for a few more seconds. Enough time for me to check again for any glimmer of doubt. Enough time for me to convince her of my own sincerity. I unfolded the slip of paper, a masterpiece of forgery. The thin silver strip on the right hand side, the company logo watermark on the left. Perfect. I looked at the words printed boldly across the centre and did my best to display profound shock at the prediction.
I passed it back to her.
“I don’t want to die that way, Dr Carver,” she said, quietly.
I sighed, steepled my fingers and leaned across my desk. “Mrs Layton, I understand you’ve had quite a number of sessions with your mortality counsellor since you received the results of your test. Has Dr Stoner not been able to help you?”
“Help me? Did you read that piece of paper? How can anybody bring any comfort to someone with a future like that?” I could see the desperation in her eyes. Stoner had worked a miracle on this one.
“Mrs Layton, may I be frank?”
I saw the muscles in her jaw tighten as she forced herself to stay composed. She nodded.
“It is a well established fact that these predictions are always correct. Unless you continue to work with your counsellor you will never be able to come to terms with your future. Life is for living, Mrs Layton.”
“I know that, but it just isn’t...” the tears began to flow, “working.”
She bowed her head, heaving great sobs of despair.
This was the moment. I’d give her the opening she’d been hoping for with just the right words. It never failed.
“There was a time when people were obsessed about their past, unable to move on and live their lives. These days, because of that damned machine, everyone seems to be fixated on the future instead.” And then I adopted an angry but resigned tone. “Every day I meet dead people. They think they know how they are going to die, but none of them realize... they’re already dead.”
She looked up, dabbing a handkerchief against her eyes. The enormous diamond in her ring sparkled, tantalising me.
“Do you understand me?” I said.
With those four words I knew I’d picked that ripe fruit. She was there, in the palm of my hand, unsuspecting of the first deadly bite.
“You hate that machine, don’t you, Doctor?”
I nodded grimly. “I see more and more people just like you. Looking for a way out. Hoping against hope that the machine could actually be wrong... just once.”
I broke eye contact and glanced around the room, trying to look guarded.
She leaned forward and whispered. “It’s true isn’t it? Please tell me it’s true. It has been wrong before... hasn’t it?”
I stayed silent for a few moments, prolonging the pleasure, projecting the illusion that I was considering whether to let her in on a terrible secret. “You’re aware of a radical group labelled by the tabloids as ‘WADers’, I presume?”
“War Against Determinism,” she nodded, and for the first time she allowed herself a brief smile.
“That’s right. They were spawned by a group of fundamentalist religious believers who saw the machine as a threat to their belief system. They think that any machine able to predict your future removes free will and diminishes belief in God. They’ve made it their mission to prove that the machine is fallible.”
I raised my eyebrows suggestively.
“Oh my God! It is true. Someone has proved it, haven’t they?”
“You were contacted by someone?”
“Yes. A few days after I got the results, just before my first counselling appointment. He didn’t want to reveal his name, but he said the same thing and gave me your name.”
“You understand the need for complete secrecy?”
“And you understand what it is I can do for you?”
The smile dropped from her lips, but the hope remained in her eyes.
“I do... But if the machine can be wrong, perhaps... perhaps you won’t have to do it.”
I leaned back into my chair, crossed my arms and replied in a formal tone that suggested I was no longer interested in helping her.
“Of course, Mrs Layton. I quite understand your reservations. Voluntarily submitting oneself for a death sentence is not a decision one makes lightly. If you are not completely-”
“No! I have made my decision, Dr Carver. I am not going to allow that monstrous machine to have its way, and I...” she drew a long breath, “I don’t want to die a horrible death.”
I smiled warmly and leaned forward again.
“Our way is far more peaceful. It will be at a time of your choosing, within reason of course, and there are a variety of different methods. Lethal injection seems to be the preferred method.”
She was silent for a time. That was normal. I’d lost count of the amount of times I’d seen that reaction – the moment it became a reality. Seeing the struggle in a patient’s eyes wither into a mournful resignation was almost as gratifying as the moments in which I watched them die. It’s what I lived for. Witnessing life fade into empty oblivion always sends a shiver down my spine. I’d seen many Mrs Laytons. She’d be sitting in the chair within a week.
The appointment was over soon after that. I told her to call me once she’d given it some more thought, and if she was still serious, I’d make the arrangements immediately. A date would be fixed, I’d call her back a day later, tell her the address of the underground clinic and of course, the financial details would be organised. I knew she’d call the next day.
* * *
I was almost right - she called two days later. The following day eighty thousand had been wired to my account. Time to do my part. I called Stoner.
“John? Martin here, there’ll be twenty thousand in your account by the end of the day.”
“Good to hear. Any signs of regression?”
“None that I could detect. In fact, I’d have to say that Mrs Layton is a work of art. You get better every time.”
I heard a satisfied sniff before he replied.
“The hardest part was the relaxation therapy. It took weeks to achieve a pliable state. Fortunately, the next stages of suggestion were surprisingly rapid and memory suppression was a piece of cake. I imagine she didn’t even flinch when you discussed her prediction.”
“She didn’t even want to discuss it.”
“Let’s hope we have more like her.”
“Indeed. The execution will be next Tuesday in the basement of the old rectory as usual. Be there at seven fifteen sharp. Can you call the others and let them know they’ve got their money, too?”
“Fine. See you Tuesday.”
I replaced the receiver and sighed. I tried to make this one the same as all the others. Same shit, different victim. But she wasn’t. This one was moving to the next level, and I hadn’t told any of the others yet. I unlocked the drawer in my desk, brushed aside the older slivers of paper and found the most recent – Mrs Layton’s. She doesn’t remember of course, but when she first came into my office, holding that piece of death in her hands, the real prediction that is, she threw up.
It came as something of a shock to me too. Obviously I’d seen it before her. Jacky Snow had done an amazing job hacking into the machine’s interface so that I could check out every prediction it would toss out. When I saw Mrs Layton’s it sent a thrill right through me.
‘THROAT SLIT WITH GRADE 5 SURGICAL KNIFE’
I knew instantly that would be my doing; I’d fantasized about it often enough. So naturally, I got in touch with another one of my contacts right away – Terry Bolton. He works as senior admin at the local police station, screens all the calls that come in and checks for any that might place me under suspicion. A death of that kind would certainly be suspicious and Bolton is quite the expert when it comes to erasing inconvenient evidence.
But using a scalpel? That was not usually my way. Usually I’d be kneeling before my victim whilst they were restrained in a chair, Beethoven’s Moonlight playing in the background. I’d inject 100mg of Pancuronium Bromide into them and stare into their eyes. It’s intoxicating watching those final moments of terror when they can feel every part of their body stiffening in paralysis. I can see the moment of death. In that infinitesimal blink of time a multitude of experience winks out of existence, never to return. It just disappears. And it fascinates me.
Yes, this woman’s death would be different.
* * *
The fat bastard was late again, but at least he’d arrived. I drowned the last of my pint and motioned for the bartender to bring me two more. Bolton slumped his fat ass onto the stool next to mine and I felt his sunken eyes drilling into the side of my head, hostility boring into my skin. I wanted to smile with satisfaction, but that would’ve spoiled the mood.
This place is a stinking shit hole. The landlord could probably attract a better class of customer if he moved everything into the sewers and hired gorillas for bar staff. There’d still be a reek of piss and dingy lighting to keep the regulars happy, but I think he actually likes it this way. Still, this was the perfect place to talk to Bolton. I smelled his guilt, and the atmosphere would help to loosen the loser’s tongue. I slid the beer in his direction, still looking directly ahead of me at the cracked khaki wall behind the bar.
“You’re late, Bolton.”
“Does it matter?” his voice was croaky, as if he’d spent the last few hours shouting. Or maybe wailing.
“It’s another hour of my life I’ll never get back.”
“At least you have one.”
“You can stop feeling sorry for yourself. It’s your own fault you’re a loser.”
Bolton’s hateful stare fell to the bar. He lent his head down to his glass and took a gulp.
“If you want my help, you’ve got a funny way of showing it.”
“As I recall, you’re the one who owned up to me, remember? Why was that exactly?”
I turned to look at him for the first time, keeping my expression deadpan.
“I’m not like the others,” he mumbled. “I can’t keep on doing it. I joined the police ten years ago, thought I could... make a difference.” The last three words were spoken as though they were acid on his tongue.
“So what went wrong? Why did you start helping a serial killer?”
He stared into his glass for almost a minute before answering. I waited, watching him stew. Watching the agony in his eyes. Finally he turned to meet my unsympathetic gaze.
“Money... Alright? It was money... And that fucking piece of paper.”
I nodded. “It said ‘Lethal injection’, right?”
“Yeah, word gets around, doesn’t it? What’s yours?”
I ignored his question. “So clue me in. How does a prediction like that make an idealistic officer of the law, like you, turn corrupt?”
“Five years ago they reintroduced the death sentence, and I was one of the ones that welcomed it. I thought it would be a great deterrent. Truth is, it turns everything on its head. As soon as I saw how I was going to die it turned me, and I thought, fuck it, if I’m going to die like that, like a criminal, I’ll enjoy the ride and get as much money as I can before I die.”
He took another swig from his drink and slammed it back down. “I made a difference alright. I got myself involved in the murder of at least twenty innocent people. And now my soul is as dark and shitty as this place.”
I wasn’t going to give him an inch. Not one scrap of sympathy for his bleeding heart.
“So how did you hook up with Carver in the first place?”
‘Three years ago he saw my ticket. He’s got someone on the inside, hacking into that bastard machine. He’s got people everywhere. Psychiatrists brainwashing people, professional forgers making fake predictions, Machine hackers... and me. Carver offered me a shit load of money if I intercepted any calls from patients thinking they were going to be murdered.”
“And you made sure that Dr Stoner was their counsellor too?”
Bolton’s eyes widened.
“Yeah,’ I said with a humourless smile, “I know about him too.”
He nodded. “Stoner spends months working on each one, pretending to help them come to terms with their death when, in reality, he’s brainwashing them to think they’re going to die a different way and getting them even more worked up about it. Someone else makes a forged prediction, then during one of the sessions Stoner swaps them round, and bingo, instead of thinking she’s going to be murdered, she believes she’ll be burned alive.”
“So what happens then?’
“I think he’s even got someone in with the WADers too. You know, that group of wackos who think the machine takes away free will? People will believe anything if they’re desperate enough. So Carver gets his man on the inside to contact the victim, just when they’re feeling most vulnerable, and sells them this bullshit story that the machine’s prediction can be beaten and they pass on Carver’s name.”
I shook my head, almost in admiration for the heartless bastard who’d dreamed up such a sick scheme. ‘And for a generous fee, Carver’s got someone begging for voluntary euthanasia.’
“Exactly. So... do I get protection?”
“You’ll get what you deserve, Bolton. We all do in the end.”
Bolton grunted. “So, how are you going to get him? I know you did a test on one of the dead victims. Tested her blood in the machine to find out the real cause of death. But you can’t use that as evidence – it’s illegal. And I won’t testify in court either.”
I stood up to leave, drained the last of my beer.
“I just needed to be sure, but don’t worry, Bolton, Carver’s not the only one who has people on the inside.”
Not long now. I could feel my pulse rate increasing, each breath more like a gasp than a normal inhalation. I wondered if Mrs Layton could feel my excitement as I led her down the steps toward the basement. It would explain why she seemed so nervous herself. Usually Stoner would make sure that my victims were preconditioned to be calm and relaxed through certain visual cues prior to entering the room, but this old woman was anxious, I could smell it on her.
I opened the door to my favourite room and set my briefcase down, offering Mrs Layton inside with a comforting smile. Tasteful prints of country scenes hang on walls painted in pale peach. Soft amber lighting gives the place a feeling of warmth and the plush, sand-coloured carpet make the basement feel like a second home. Beethoven’s melancholy tune, moonlight is piped into the air – another subliminal cue designed to make my patient more pliable. A worn leather sofa waits for me against one side of the room and an antique cabinet containing my deadliest cocktails is against the wall opposite.
I watched Mrs Layton and noticed her shivering as she looked at the chair in the middle of the room. Truly, it was a daunting sight; straps were attached to the arms and two front legs, but something was wrong – she shouldn’t be acting this way. And where was Stoner? It was unusual for him not to be on time. I checked my watch – Seven Twenty.
I drew in a deep breath, feeling the skipping of my heart as I sensed danger. It made the experience so much more intense – a beautiful feeling. I knew this one would be different.
“Please be seated, Mrs Layton.”
Without a word she sat in the chair, still shaking. I could see the terror in her eyes, but made no attempt to console her as she placed her hands on each arm. Instead I simply took the straps and secured her ankles and wrists. Once finished I knelt down in front of her and stared hard into those eyes, gateways to another world, doors which I would soon be opening. An understanding passed between us, she knew what I was doing. Knew I was looking beyond the welling tears, beyond the fear, searching hungrily for something deeper.
My breathing was erratic now and alongside the euphoria that bubbled within, I could see her world shrinking back into a tunnel that threatened to rob her of consciousness. And then it came, the moment my own fear was realized. The venomous rebuke of an old woman about to die, confirming that I’d been set up. It had to happen eventually, I suppose.
“Make the most of this, Dr Carver. It’ll be the last time you ever do this.”
I decided to feign ignorance a little longer. It added to the tension and would make the moment of her death all the more delicious.
“I beg your pardon, Mrs Layton. Whatever do you mean?”
She spat right in my face. Surprising though it was, her anger just excited me more.
“You’re a murderer,” she hissed.
“A murderer? Why, Mrs Layton, we are here at your request. I am merely performing a service that our society does not-”
I smiled. She shuddered.
I stood up, went to the cabinet and opened it. Empty. All of my equipment and medication had gone. Somebody had come in and taken all of it before we arrived. Stoner? Maybe, but why? If the police had done it, where were they now? It didn’t matter. This would have happened sooner or later, and if Mrs Layton was going to be my last, this would have to be special. Now I understand why she would be different.
“Have you lost something, Dr Carver?”
I heard the gloating in her voice. Somehow she had been protected from Stoner’s influence. Or maybe this was a setup from the beginning and Stoner was in on it too. No matter. Whatever the outcome, Both of us knew she was about to die.
I left the cabinet and opened my briefcase instead. My eyes settled on the grade 5 scalpel, and after relishing the fantasy of metal against skin, I selected it and showed it to her. A fiery thirst burned inside as I drew closer.
“Dr Stoner is late,” I said. “He likes to watch, but it seems he’ll miss out on this occasion.”
Her eyes were defiant, pouring fuel on my desires. “Dr Stoner won’t be coming,”
“Oh?” I pushed a finger under her chin, lifting her head, just enough to expose the throat. She swallowed, beckoning the blade to come closer and I obliged, resting the cold metal against her flesh. She stiffened.
The door behind me clicked open and I saw a subtle change in her expression. Recognition.
“Stoner?” I asked, still watching her eyes.
“I didn’t think mutilation was your style, Carver.” It wasn’t Stoner’s voice. The door creaked shut and I heard whoever it was walk farther into the room. I wanted to see who it was, but couldn’t tear myself away from the old woman’s stare. Besides, I was in control here; I had no need to fear. My moment of pleasure was coming.
“I felt like a change,” I replied, “and besides, somebody stole my medication.”
“Will you come quietly, or in a body bag?”
I laughed, but there was no humour there.
“You think there’s something funny about all this?” The mystery man walked around me into view. Still unwilling to look away from my victim, I could only see the man in my peripheral vision. He was scruffy, unshaven, dark ruffled hair. His hands shoved into the pockets of a leather coat that was a size too big for him. Casually, he moved to the sofa and sank into it, spreading his arms over the back of it as though settling down for a night in front of the TV. He seemed remarkably unconcerned.
“You’d know why I laughed if you’d seen my death prediction,” I said.
“Lethal Injection,” I replied in almost theatrical tone.
“Uhuh! Like all the others in your cosy little group, then. They all had an interesting story to tell me when I rounded them up, what’s yours? How did a well respected doctor with twenty years of spotless service suddenly become a serial killer?”
I took my time answering, savoring every second. I knew Mrs Layton wanted to close her eyes, but couldn’t. Wanted me to look away, if only for a moment, but I didn’t. I pressed the sharp edge harder against her skin, fighting the urge to slice each time she swallowed. A fearful moan escaped her lips.
“I’ve always been a murderer Mr...”
“Ah, an officer of the law,” I nodded in recognition. “Well, inspector, I spent all my professional career helping people when all I really wanted to do was kill them. Call it what you like - mental imbalance, instinct, curiosity, a fetish. Whatever the cause, I have a love for death.” I pressed the knife a little harder, watching her pupils dilate as the animal fear began to take over.
“But,” I continued, “being brought up in a good and decent home, I decided it was the noble thing to fight my natural impulses. So I went all the way and ruthlessly pursued a career in medicine. Then came that machine.”
“The MOD,” Hammond nodded.
“Yes. I fell apart when I saw my prediction. Knew that one day I’d be tried and sentenced as a murderer. Knew that, sooner or later, I’d lose the battle against my demons. I came to terms with it, yielded to my natural desires and... here I am.”
“You could have carried on fighting,” Hammond said flatly.
“Why? What would be the point? No, this is how it has to be.”
With a flick of my wrist I tore a crimson line across her throat. The scalpel clattered against the arm of the chair as I dropped it. I clamped my hands around the side of her head, fingers pressed against the lids of her eyes. I stared, burrowing into her soul, waiting for that sublime moment.
“This is why I do it, inspector. It’s the ultimate power. I can see the actual moment when this woman’s life will be gone completely. There’s nothing like it.”
There was no reply from Hammond, and as far as I could tell, he hadn’t even moved. Why?
A warm gasp whispered across my face as Mrs Layton expired and a crushing sadness smothered me; it was always over far too quickly. The doorway to beyond had closed again. Unmindful of the blood on my hands I gazed into her glassy eyes for a second more, before turning to look at the inspector.
“There’s more than enough money to go around, Inspector Hammond. May I ask, have you seen your own prediction yet?”