From The Book of Cain, by Jeff Lowe
When Sarge left to get Richard Tyler I plugged in my recorder and reviewed his file.
I understood the fear Elton Ricks and the other therapists felt. I understood it only too well. I had been violently assaulted by a disturbed teen I was counseling once. It took a long time to recover from that trauma and get back to work, in part because it overlaid an earlier, hidden trauma that I had never come to grips with.
When I was a young woman I suffered a miscarriage. I say “suffered” now, but back then I wouldn’t have used that word. I told myself it was just a common medical event, nothing to worry about, certainly nothing to derail a career, and I dismissed any need to grieve. I got divorced, changed my discipline from surgery to psychiatry and specialized in treating troubled teens. Boys, mostly. Often, boys who had suffered from toxic relationships with their mothers. But it was only after the assault, in counseling, that I realized that I had always seen myself as the mother of a boy. And my mothering instinct, warped as it was by my miscarriage and the grieving process I denied myself, motivated me in my work.
In fact, I wrote about toxic mother-son relationships and their influence on the mental stability and criminality of teenage boys. That book was what prompted Violet Tyler to contact me to help Richard.
After my assault, my own psychiatrist advised against my getting back into this work. But here I am. Aware of my inner motivation, but not beholden to it. I am no one’s mother. I offer this autobiographical note only to contextualize Richard Tyler’s actions and the likelihood of a hidden motive that may be revealed and successfully treated, and thus deliver him from the hell that is prison.
I do fear, of course, that he may be suffering from a true identity disorder. A lot of kids might play at being Cain for any number of reasons. But to actually believe you’re the reincarnation of the first murderer? Religious delusions are not my area of expertise. And treating teenagers is hard enough without having to tiptoe around the sensibilities of the people who hired me to do it.
And what if Richard saw me as a mother figure? That’s not unusual with these kids. My own counseling revealed how I would unknowingly act out my own mothering urges with my patients, and I learned how to avoid that. So I would be careful not to exude that with Richard. But what if he did kill his own mother? How dangerous is that for me? I had long felt that nothing in my life, not my miscarriage, my divorce, or the death of my father, was as traumatic as the assault. And yet I could not sanction the idea of asking Sarge or another rapid response unit member to stay with us. It would have to be Richard Tyler and me, alone.
Having spoken with his aunt, Violet Tyler, I had reasons for both comfort and trepidation. Violet had, apparently, raised Richard in the first few years of his life because his mother rejected him. Then, after Richard’s younger brother died in an accident, his mother took him away from Harlington. They stayed away without any contact for ten years, when Richard suddenly showed back up in Harlington, by himself and with some indication that he had already begun calling himself Cain.
At that time Sheriff McKenzie, a friend of the Tyler family, was investigating a cult that was suspected of kidnapping and murder. Richard was there for less than a day, but in that time he had some interaction with the cult—and though Sheriff McKenzie and Violet Tyler both called the boy’s actions “heroic,” their descriptions simply did not seem plausible to me. I wanted Richard to tell me his version.
Then Richard disappeared from their lives as abruptly as he had come. They had no further contact with him until after Richard’s assault of the Kernell boy when a Pico County detective contacted Sheriff McKenzie about the cult symbol. Without that, the courts would have processed Richard Tyler as a John Doe, as he had no school record, no medical record, no fingerprints from any juvenile record, no social contacts, and the fact that he would only identify himself as Cain.
An unsolicited tip from a mystery caller led detectives to where he lived in an old trailer nestled in the woods off a remote county road. There was some very odd, and in some cases gruesome, evidence of strange activities that went on there, but investigators could not piece together a clear picture of his life, nor was his mother found.
Richard refused to help himself during the court proceedings, and he refused to acknowledge Sheriff McKenzie and Violet Tyler, both of whom tried their best to convince the court to go easy on the boy.
Violet Tyler dearly loves her nephew and it is not an exaggeration to say she hates Richard’s mother and blames all the boy’s problems on her. “Absolutely evil” are the words she used to describe her former sister-in-law. However, I’ve been around quite long enough to realize how skewed perceptions can be when family fault lines reach earthquake conditions. I resolved to take Violet’s opinions with a grain of salt until I could get another perspective either from Richard or his mother.
If she’s alive, I thought. If Richard had not murdered her. This possibility was beginning to trouble me very deeply. I almost had a panic attack when Sarge knocked on the door.
Sarge didn’t introduce us, but just led the boy in and said, “Ma’am, your patient is here.”
My heart was pounding. I stood and offered my hand, desperately trying to tamp down the trembling I felt. “Hello,” I said as cheerfully as I could, “I’m Doctor Lillian Last. It’s nice to meet you.”
Richard’s hands were large and callused, palm and knuckle, like the hands of an old-time ditch digger or bare-knuckle fighter, and the muscles of his forearms looked like steel cables under the skin. His handshake was a lot like Sarge’s, though he did not restrain his power quite as much. It hurt, though I’m relatively sure he didn’t intend that. Nor did he introduce himself.
Sarge said, “Do you want me to stay?” and I was just about to respond when I realized he was talking to Richard, not me.
Richard just shook his head, and Sarge left the room and closed the door. “Please,” I said, “have a seat.”
Of all the teenaged patients I had ever seen, Richard Tyler had by far the hardest, the most severe look about him. All the ways people had described him—seventeen going on thirty-five, tough, strong, fighter, dangerous predator—seemed to fit. He had the bad-boy look that mothers love in their sons and some teenaged girls find irresistible. But I empathized with Elton Ricks and the other therapists. A lot of kids you counsel look anywhere but directly at you. They roll their eyes, look to the side, look up at the ceiling, down at their feet, out the window (that’s a favorite), but avoid eye contact. Richard looked directly at you, either right into your eyes or scanning your face and body as if sizing you up as an opponent. It was, to say the least, unsettling.
I have tried hard to forget the boy who assaulted me, to stop projecting his look, his movements, his voice, on my other patients. But alone in that office with Richard Tyler, my fear got the better of me and I recalled him. And I thought: Richard Tyler could do to that boy what that boy did to me. “Cain” was by orders of magnitude more dangerous and intimidating than the boy who nearly killed me.
As I felt the panic grow I became desperate to find something, anything, that would reveal some softness, some humanity in him. I said, “I talked to your Aunt Violet. She says hello.”
Immediately his gaze seemed to drift out of its predatory focus, as if he had turned it inward. The faintest hint of a smile appeared, and a small but deep scar on one cheek gave him a dimple there. He turned his head toward the window and said barely above a whisper, “Hello, Aunt Violet.”
Elton Ricks had kept the blinds drawn over the window, likely to keep his “clients” from getting distracted with the view. Richard’s smile was small comfort to me and I was still feeling trapped, even claustrophobic (which I’m not) in that closed room. I stood and stepped to the window. Then I raised the blinds.
In the west, opposite the rising sun, was a rainbow. Trying to sound light and cheerful I said, “Oh my, look. A rainbow. Isn’t it wonderful?” I turned back, fully expecting to meet his predatory glare, but his countenance had utterly changed. Gone was the hard, dangerous man. Here was an innocent five-year-old boy, staring at a rainbow that seemed to fill him with wonder in the purest sense of that word. I just about melted. He could have been my own child.
I had no reason to expect that I would succeed any more than all the others who had tried and failed to convince this troubled young man to reveal his mysteries. In fact, I quite expected to fail. But before I had even begun to try, with no prompting at all from me, as he stared at the rainbow as if in a trance, Richard Tyler began to talk.
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