The next morning, Yolanda bustled around the kitchen, occasionally clanking a pan or stirring the eggs, and singing softly to herself, while a small portable TV blared behind her on the center island. The family sat silently at the breakfast table, oblivious to the delicious smells that filled the room.
"You've barely touched your food," Dylan's mother pointed out. "Yolanda made it especially for you! Scrambled eggs, oatmeal, bacon, fresh fruit... it looks wonderful. Tastes even better."
Dylan looked down. "I feel like total crap," he muttered.
"Hand still hurting you, son?" asked his father.
"No." Dylan's expression didn't change. Suddenly, he turned at the sound of Lady, scratching and whimpering at the glass kitchen door. As usual, the Afghan Hound wasn't allowed in the house, because of his mother's allergy, but the dog's keen nose had her salivating for bacon, her favorite treat. Dylan sighed, grabbed two hot slices off the plate, then opened the sliding door and tossed them at the dog. She caught one in mid-air, and then gobbled up the other on the patio deck in seconds, her shaggy tail wagging gratefully.
His father put down the morning's LA Times, glanced at his son and sighed. Dylan couldn't get this moodiness from me, he thought. This can only be from Polly's side of the family.
"Don't forget, son -- I want you to see Dr. Rosenfield this afternoon, over at his office in Woodland Hills."
Dylan turned to his father and frowned. "I told you I was sorry about the wall. I'll pay for it somehow."
Callahan shook his head. "That isn't the point, Dylan. Your mother and I are worried about you. These mood swings you've been having lately..."
"There's nothing wrong with me!" Dylan yelled. "I feel fine! I just have some... some stuff I've gotta work out, that's all."
His mother smiled, then put her hand out on his and squeezed it lightly. "Honey, that's what Dr. Rosenfield is for. He'll help you work it out. Your father's been seeing him once a week for months. So have some of the executives he's worked with, especially after all the layoffs in the New York office."
"So, you think I'm crazy? Is that it?" Dylan fumed.
"Depression isn't the same thing as being crazy," his father said. "Life is a rollercoaster... we all go through ups and down once in awhile."
But I gotta get off this ride before it kills me, thought Dylan. He knew it'd be tough to hold off Angel another week. Eventually, the little monster would tell the world his secret... and then what?
"You listen to your father," said Yolanda from across the room. She walked over with a plate of white toast, whole wheat toast, and some cinnamon buns and placed them on the table. "He knows. When you get this down, you've got to work it out, either with the doctor or with God."
Dylan rolled his eyes. Some help God's been. "Thanks for the advice, Yolanda," he said sarcastically.
She waved her finger in front of his face. "Now, don't you sass me, Dylan! You mind your parents and go see this man, Dr. Rosenfeld."
"Rosenfield," corrected his mother.
"Whatever." Yolanda glanced over at the TV set. "Oh, my. That is such a sad thing -- that little boy, falling off that mountain yesterday."
Dylan turned and saw a familiar shape on the screen: Rocky Point, a five hundred foot-high hill in Chatsworth used by climbing enthusiasts and movie crews alike, just two miles from his house. The whole area had a lot of rough terrain, and the hill had been a favorite shooting spot during the 1940s, when studios produced low-budget Westerns and movie serials out in the San Fernando Valley. The reporter was pointing near the top of the jagged peak, but the sound was too low to make out.
"Turn it up, willya Yo?" Dylan asked, staring at the screen.
"...and authorities admitted that this was the fourth such climbing-related death in as many years. The victim, 15 year-old Karl Cecil Andrews, had lived in the area for several years, but was not an experienced climber, according to his family. The LA coroner's office reports that the teenager died of massive head trauma, as well as a broken back and internal hemorrhaging. Witnesses say that another boy climbing the rocks with Andrews had only minor injuries."
The camera cut to a videotaped shot of an LA emergency air-rescue 'copter circling the jagged peaks, while a crowd of onlookers pointed up in the air.
That would be the helicopters we heard yesterday, Dylan thought.
"The incident happened around 2:15PM in Chatsworth yesterday," continued the reporter, "and the boy's family and friends were notified by police less than a half hour later."
The camera cut to a shot of a distraught woman -- Marion Andrews, the 'victim's mother,' according to the on-screen graphic. "Our son never got into any trouble, never had problems with school or his friends. I just can't believe this has happened." A man next to her, obviously her husband, put his arm around her. "K.C. was a great kid," he said, having trouble controlling his emotions. "I just can't figure out why he would do something as crazy as climbing this side of the mountain. It makes no sense to me." The woman began quietly sobbing and the man led her out of camera view.
Dylan froze. The screen showed a school photograph of the deceased boy -- the face was a year or two younger, and the hair was a little shorter, but as it zoomed-in closer, there was no doubt: It was K.C.
K.C. was dead.
And I know exactly who murdered him.
§ § §
Coach Highland sat at his desk, his head in his hands. The Sunday LA Times lay nearby, opened to the high school football section, with a medium-sized headline in the lower-right corner that said 'West Valley Wins in Surprise Division 2 Upset -- Ends Chatsworth High's Winning Streak.'
It should have been a fucking cakewalk, he thought, closing his eyes. But we were totally screwed by goddamned Williams and his temper.
For four years, Highland had lived in the shadow of Coach Wilson. Highland was sure that the moment the old man had been forced to retire, this was his opportunity... a chance to take the team to true greatness. Chatsworth's baseball team had been legendary for decades, but their football team had always paled by comparison. Now, they had their strongest team in years, only to be rocked by injuries, discipline problems, suspensions, the accidental death of one player during practice... it all seemed too much.
Highland sighed for a moment, then thought back to his meeting an hour earlier with the school principal. Meyers was fit to be tied, and had warned him there was an excellent chance that the coach's contract wouldn't be renewed if there was another "embarrassing display" like last Friday night's brawl.
There was a knock at the door. Highland looked up and saw Dylan Callahan's handsome face through the glass. Kyle McDermott was right behind him. Highland motioned for them to come in.
"I wanted to see you two before practice. Close the door and sit down."
The teens nodded and silently entered the room, Kyle walking carefully so as to avoid letting his cleats rip up the carpeting, which was already worn and moth-eaten. The room smelled like moldy old shoes, as it had for the 42 years Chatsworth High had existed.
Highland cleared his throat, then walked in front of them and sat on the corner of his desk. The room was silent except for the wheezing of an ancient air-conditioner shoved in a corner window, vainly spewing out cool air in a meager attempt at overcoming the unusually-warm mid-November weather.
"I'm gonna level with you two," the Coach began, as he began to pace back and forth. "The team fucked-up big-time Friday night."
Dylan nodded. "I know. I saw the whole thing. Jordy Chandler fouled another player, and Williams went nuts and beat the crap out of him."
"You boys have got to understand: you've got to control your temper on the field. Normal aggression is one thing, but focus it on the opposition! Never your own teammates! I've taught you that before!"
"Yeah," snickered Kyle. "Like you've never had any problems with your temper."
Highland stopped pacing and glared at him, nostrils flaring.
"What I think Kyle meant, Coach," said Dylan, giving his friend a disapproving look, "is that it's kinda hard for the team to keep it together when you're screamin' at us every five minutes. Maybe if you just lighten up once in awhile, like Coach Wilson did, we'd get more accomplished. It's just a suggestion."
The man shook his head. "Dylan, I'm doing the best job I know how to do. I'm sorry if you don't agree with my attitude or my methods, but that's all part of tactics -- if I think that's what the team needs to do their job right, then kicking you in the ass once in awhile is exactly what I'll do. That's part of what a coach does."
"Yeah, liked that worked for Bobby Knight," said Kyle with a grin. The legendary Indiana Hoosiers basketball coach had garnered national headlines during the late 1990s for his ultra-aggressive coaching style, which eventually cost the man his job.
Highland fumed. "Don't give me that horseshit, McDermott. You're hanging by a thread as it is."
The tension in the air was palpable. In the distance they could hear a referee's whistle blow, as part of the team assembled outside on the field.
"Anyway, I've been doing some thinking about this," the Coach said, as he leaned against his desk. "I want you two to make me a deal."
"So I'm off suspension?" interrupted Dylan, trying to suppress his glee.
The man nodded. "Yeah. It's obvious we need both of you on the team for us to win. And I need your full cooperation for that to happen."
Dylan nodded. Sounds like the kind of business deals my Dad does, he thought. "That goes both ways, Coach," he said thoughtfully.
"What do you mean, Callahan?" he asked suspiciously.
"Let me have more input on the plays, Coach," he said. "Don't make the offense decisions totally one-sided. Let me take the risk if I think we can win. And lighten up a little bit! It wouldn't hurt you to treat us with a little more respect once in awhile, too."
Highland raised an eyebrow. I can see this kid's got his old man's balls, he thought. That's for sure. "Go on," he said evenly.
"Lose the restrictions on hair and earrings and all that stuff," Dylan continued. The coach started to speak, but Dylan held up his hand. "I know -- you can have your curfew, no drugs, and no drinking, and all that. But give the guys a little room, Coach! This isn't the 70's anymore."
"Anything else?" the coach said, defeated.
Dylan thought for a minute. "Oh, and put Williams back on the team. We're gonna need him as back-up, if nothing else, and I think cutting him was more punishment than he deserved. Maybe just a ten-day suspension."
Highland glared at him.
"Please," added Dylan. "Sir."
Several seconds of silence passed between them.
"Alright," Highland said, at last. "I'll agree to all of that. But in return, I want both of you to give me 110% on the field. And Callahan, you're responsible for getting McDermott to school and to practice every day." He leaned over to Kyle until they were nose-to-nose. "No drugs, no drinking, and no fucking around -- you hear me?"
Kyle nodded meekly. "Yes, sir."
"Then it's a deal?" Dylan asked.
The coach was silent for a few moments, then slowly nodded his head. "Yeah. But what we just talked about stays in this room. We're going to win this goddamned game Friday night and get to the regionals, even if..."
"...even if you have to be a nice guy," finished Kyle.
Highland grinned. "Zip it up, McDermott. You two get your asses out on the field." .
§ § §
Promptly at 4:30, Dylan rocketed across the Valley to a large office building in Woodland Hills, a sprawling upscale suburban area populated by scores of shopping malls, car dealerships, and high-priced physicians. After parking the Beemer in the underground parking garage, he rode the elevator up to the third floor, found the right room, and gave his name to the receptionist.
She peered at him over the top of her glasses. "You're seven minutes late," she said in an irritated voice. "Go through that door, and Dr. Rosenfield will see you immediately."
The doctor turned out to be a genial man in his mid-40s, with bright eyes and a pleasant smile. He wore a casual shirt and jeans, and clicked off his computer screen at his desk and stood up when Dylan pushed the door open.
"Hello. I'm Dr. Rosenfield. Glad you could make it, Dylan. Please, sit down right here." He extended his hand to a plush leather chair in front of the desk.
Dylan glared at him. Some shrink, he thought to himself. No white coat, no beard... Sigmund Freud, this guy ain't.
"No couch?" he quipped.
The doctor laughed, then walked out from behind the desk and indicated a maroon leather couch on the side. "If you insist, we can do it that way. But for most patients your age, I find the direct approach works best. Take a seat."
Dylan stepped into the room, which was much larger than he expected. Along the wall to the right were rows of hundreds of leather-bound books, neatly arranged on immaculate inlaid walnut shelves; to the left was an enormous aquarium, more than 20 feet wide, filled with what appeared to be hundreds of exotic fish. An eerie cobalt-blue light flickered about the room, as the water sparkled and swirled with the erratic movement of the aquatic zoo.
Dylan sat down. He stared at the man, flexing and unflexing his jaw, and drummed his fingers nervously on the arm of the chair.
The doctor hit a button on his desk and soft music began playing through concealed speakers. "Got any requests?" he asked. "I find it sometimes helps to have a little relaxing background music during these sessions."
"Got any Creed?" Dylan said, sarcastically. "Metallica? Eminem?"
The man shook his head. "Nope. Just instrumentals -- classical, new age, jazz... stuff like that. We like to keep it mellow in here."
The boy sighed, then rubbed his eyes wearily. I can't tell this guy anything, he thought.
"So," the doctor began, "your dad tells me you had a fight with a wall the other day, and the wall lost."
"Something like that."
Dr. Rosenfield stood up and put his hands on the desk and leaned forward. "You, ah... play football, right Dylan?"
Dylan nodded. "Yeah. Quarterback for Chatsworth High."
The doctor looked at him thoughtfully. "So your dad tells me. I've got several patients who are professional athletes, pretty successful ones. I can't tell you their names, but... well, one of them gave me this jersey, over here on the wall."
Dylan glanced over. Judging by that number, it was owned by one of the biggest names on the LA Lakers. "You mean you got that from...?"
Dr. Rosenfield laughed. "No names, please. We've got total confidentiality here. Doctor-patient privilege."
Total confidentiality, Dylan thought.
The room was silent for a few moments, interrupted only by the soft music playing in the background, along with the dull murmur of bubbles from the fish tank and a rhythmic hum from a hidden air pump.
"Some of my other patients have had anger-management problems," the doctor said, leaning back in his chair and putting his hands behind his head. "It's particularly common among athletes. I've seen aggression issues many times, and I know how to help people handle them."
Another uncomfortable pause went by.
The doctor sighed. "This might be easier if you'd actually talk, Dylan," he said. "I'm here to help you if I can. At the least, you can maybe describe your problems in a general way, and I can give you advice. That's the way it works. No strings attached."
Dylan looked down at the floor. "I... I don't even know where to begin..." he said in a low voice.
"Well, Dylan, for starters..." he began, "are you using any anabolic steroids?"
The teenager blanched and stared at the doctor. "Those... those are illegal, right?"
The doctor laughed softly. "In this country, yes. But I'm sure you're aware of the use of steroids by pro athletes. High school -- hell, even Junior High. Isn't that right?"
Dylan nodded nervously. "Yeah."
"You're using them, aren't you." Dr. Rosenfield said it as a statement, not a question.
Dylan didn't look away from the doctor's intense gaze. "Yeah. So is most of the team."
The doctor shook his head and leaned forward. "You already know, there's a lot of side-effects from those drugs. What're you doing? Anadrol? Deca?"
"Both. Stacking them on alternate days. 50CCs of Deca, and six tablets of Anadrol, two, three times a week."
Rosenfield nodded, then took his glasses off and laid them casually on his desk. "Well, that might explain the mood swings. So what's upsetting you? School? Grades? Girl trouble?"
More like boy trouble, Dylan thought to himself.
"Drugs? Sexual problems?"
Dylan's face immediately reddened. "Why'd you ask that?"
The doctor stared at him quizzically. "We're just having a conversation, Dylan," he said patiently. "This isn't an interrogation." Touched a nerve there, he thought to himself, as he made a note on a pad on his desk.
Angel's face passed through Dylan's mind. Angel killed K.C., he thought. And I've got to tell somebody about it.
"It's... complicated," Dylan began. "It's kind of a long story..."
Dr. Rosenfield smiled gently. "Well, normally our sessions only go 45 minutes, but you're my last patient for today, and I might be able to stay a little late if it's that complicated."
Dylan braced himself, then cleared his throat and looked straight at the doctor. "Alright. Here goes: for starters, I'm gay. Or at least, I'm pretty sure I am."
The doctor raised an eyebrow. "That's not the end of the world, Dylan. I have several patients who are homosexuals, even bisexuals, and they run the gamut from businessmen to technicians to athletes, and they live perfectly normal lives. The key is to be happy, no matter what your sexual preference. I take it you're fairly certain you're gay? Have you had any experiences with girls?"
Dylan thought for a moment. "I... I had a girlfriend for a year. Up 'til a couple of weeks ago, when she dumped me. I liked her -- in fact, for awhile, I thought I loved her."
"So you're not 100% certain you're gay, then?" Dr. Rosenfield began scribbling into a notebook.
"How would I know for sure?"
The doctor leaned back in his chair. "I could give you a battery of psychological tests to see about where you stand on the Kinsey scale, between purely heterosexual and purely homosexual. But I'll make it brief: who do you fantasize about... during masturbation? That's usually the prime indication of what you desire most."
Dylan sighed and leaned back in his chair. "Lately... guys, I guess."
"Any guy in particular? A schoolmate? Another athlete?" The doctor made several more notes.
"Yeah, maybe a few," Dylan admitted. "But that's not really my main problem."
Dr. Rosenfield nodded reassuringly. "Well, I'm glad to hear you say that, Dylan. Being gay is only part of who you are, and it certainly doesn't have to be a problem these days -- not for you, your family, or your friends. So what's the main thing bothering you? Maybe if you talk about it, we can find a way to work it out -- together."
Dylan took a deep breath. "I'm being blackmailed by a kid in my neighborhood, and I just found out that he murdered somebody yesterday. And I don't know what to do."
The expression on the doctor's face froze. He blinked once, twice.
"And that's just the start. You want the details?" Dylan asked.
Rosenfield took a deep breath. "Just a second." He turned to his intercom and hit a button. "Marcie?" he asked. "I think we're done for the day. You can go home now. I'll take care of things from here. Put the answering service on, and make sure we're not disturbed in here." She squawked her agreement through the speaker, and the man leaned forward on his desk.
"Alright, Dylan," he said, putting his notebook down and leaning forward in the chair. "I'm all ears."
§ § §
For the better part of an hour, Dylan told the doctor everything. Moving from city to city as a little kid. What happened with his friend in Phoenix. Moving to California. Meeting his best friend Kyle. Making the decision to change his life, transform his body, become a star athlete. How he'd struggled with his sexuality since he was 13, finally succeeded in pushing it back for nearly four years, only to have his entire life unravel after meeting Angel several months ago.
Angel... beautiful Angel. More a monster than a mere boy. How Angel had been literally getting away with murder for years. Using people, twisting them to his own purposes, like puppets on a string, making them dance to his every whim. And nobody even suspected him.
Dr. Rosenfield sat silently, occasionally making notes or asking Dylan to elaborate on certain points.
"So you're not positive that this... this Angel boy killed that teenager at Rocky Point yesterday," the doctor said thoughtfully.
"I know what I saw," Dylan said impatiently. "I had sex with both of them on Saturday afternoon. Sunday, I spoke to Angel around 4:30, and he told me that 'K.C. was over.' Those were his exact words."
"But you didn't actually see him kill him," the doctor said.
Dylan rolled his eyes. "You don't know this kid! I saw the clippings," he said. "Angel's pushin' old ladies down stairs, blackmailing priests, getting teachers fired from school, setting fires..."
The doctor nodded. "Right," he said, consulting his notes. "The Porter Ranch fire from a few weeks ago. That was a big one."
"He even murdered his 3 year-old sister!" Dylan said. "Drowned her in the fucking bathtub ten years ago in New Mexico, and made it look like an accident! It all makes sense... if you were to meet this kid, you'd know it immediately. Angel uses people, Dr. Rosenfield! He fucks around with them, then he throws them away after he gets bored with them, or once he gets whatever he wants."
"As if he has absolutely no morality whatsoever," the doctor said, putting his hand on his chin. "Yes, I've heard of this syndrome. It's rare, but it happens."
Dylan sat up in his chair. "Then... then you believe me?"
Rosenfield cocked his head. "Well, I believe that you believe that this -- this Angel -- is capable of violence."
The teenager nodded. "The newspapers in Angel's scrapbook had all kindsa stuff... shit about vandalism, animal torture, fires..."
The doctor stopped him. "Animal torture?"
Dylan thought for a moment. "Yeah. Some Santa Fe newspaper story about cats being tortured and dismembered in Angel's neighborhood."
Rosenfield shook his head. If Dylan is telling the truth, he mused, he could be describing a young serial killer-in-the-making -- or worse. It fits the classic pattern.
"Sounds like your Angel's a bona fide Bad Seed," he replied.
Dylan glanced at him. "A what? He's a fucking nutcase, you mean."
The doctor grinned. "A Bad Seed -- a child who somehow managed to grow into adolescence without any morality, utterly no sense of right or wrong."
"Like a total psychopath?" asked Dylan.
"Not exactly," replied Rosenfield, getting out of his chair and leaning casually on his desk. "By the old definition, a psychopath can't blend into society. At the disorder's greatest extreme, a psychopath would be, in layman's terms, a 'raving lunatic' -- frothing at the mouth, trying to kill every single person he came in contact with, without any rhyme or reason. Totally irrational."
Dylan thought for a moment. "What about Psycho, the movie? That guy Norman Bates -- he's a psycho, right?" That was one of his father's favorite movies, another ancient black-and-white flick.
The doctor rolled his eyes. "Don't believe that stuff in movies, Dylan," he gently chided. "A guy like Norman Bates in the movie would be one in a million. Multiple personalities, schizophrenia, anti-social disorders... a textbook sociopath."
"A sociopath?" Dylan asked.
"Yeah. Nowadays, it's called APD -- Antisocial Personality Disorder. Somebody who has the ability to devalue all human life, including his own, and reacts out of rage and despair. He has no feeling for other people, yet some have the uncanny ability to get close to their victims -- seduce them, if you will -- to get what they want. A person like this might have malignant narcissim, believing himself to be better than everybody around him, that they're all there just to serve him -- almost like they're his servants, his toys -- to do with as he wants.
"It's quite rare in children," the doctor continued, "but it's been known to happen. In the 1950s, they called them 'Bad Seeds' -- completely amoral adolescents or teenagers who'd steal, murder, do anything they wanted without any remorse. Unchecked, they could potentially grow up and become serial killers, mass-murders... who knows what else. That's the theory, anyway."
"Jesus," whispered Dylan. It all made sense, he thought. Angel's a Bad Seed. "What causes a kid to be like this?" he asked.
Dr. Rosenfield shrugged his shoulders. "Hard to say. Most clinical evaluations say it's environmental. But there have been documented cases where young murderers grew up in a perfectly normal home -- almost as if their brains were missing some important piece: the ability to tell right from wrong. Almost like a genetic brain defect."
"Angel's not retarded," Dylan said. "In fact, he's probably smarter than me."
"I don't doubt that," Rosenfield acknowledged. "Maybe 'defect' is the wrong term. Call it one cog missing from the wheel. But other than that, they might seem totally normal, until you looked beneath the surface. Like I say, a true Bad Seed is rare, but they're out there. Maybe more than we know about." The doctor glanced at his watch. "I'm sorry, Dylan," he said, standing up. "It's almost 6:00. We're going to have to call it a day."
"Are you... are you going to tell my parents about this?" asked Dylan warily.
"Not if you don't want me to. But you've got to tell them, Dylan," he said, looking the teen right in the eye. "If even half of what you said is true, you can't deal with this boy yourself. You might even be in danger."
Dylan swallowed and nodded. K.C. said Angel was dangerous, he thought, and he knew him almost as well as I did. "Yeah," he said, getting out of the chair. "Maybe I should call the police."
"I'd be very careful about that," the doctor warned, as he walked to the door and opened it, then paused in the doorway. "You still don't have any real proof, and you could wind up getting sued for slander. Tell your parents first, and let them handle it."
Dylan walked over to him. "I don't know if I can do this, doc," he said. "I'd have to... I'd have to tell them everything."
Rosenfield smiled warmly, then put his hand on the young athlete's shoulder. "Listen to me, Dylan," he said. "Your parents have known you your whole life. I have a feeling they'll accept you for who and what you are. Remember, you haven't done anything wrong."
The teen sighed. "I... I stole my father's watch. But just to pawn it, so I could give Angel his money. And that's the only thing I've done."
"My advice, Dylan," said the doctor, as they walked together down the hall to the elevator, "is that you stay away from this Angel character as much as you can. Avoid him at all costs. And tell your parents everything as soon as you can -- tonight, if possible. In the meantime, I want you to start coming to my office twice a week."
Dylan shook his head. "This is a bad week for me," he said wearily. "We've got semester exams, and Friday is our last qualifying game for regionals. The coach is counting on me."
"Monday then," said Dr. Rosenfield, as the elevator doors opened. "And when I next see you, I want you to think about bringing your parents into our session sometime soon. Maybe that'll make it easier to tell them what's going on with you. I think you'll find they're a lot more sympathetic than you think."
If Angel doesn't kill me in the next few days, Dylan thought ruefully, then my parents will do it for him. He shook his head and stepped into the elevator car with the doctor, and the doors softly whooshed and closed behind them.
Once they reached the parking garage, the doctor bid a curt goodbye to Dylan, after the boy agreed to return to his office at 5:00 on Monday afternoon. Rosenfield headed over to his car, a black 2003 Cadillac STS, then got inside, inserted the ignition key, and hit a button on the center console.
"Mike Callahan," he said. After a moment, there was a click and a computerized voice responded, "dialing now." The speakerphone rang twice then clicked.
"Mike -- it's John Rosenfield. I just got out of the session with your son."
"Give it to me short, John. I have a meeting in five minutes."
The doctor hesitated, then tightened his jaw. "I'm afraid Dylan's got some fairly serious psychological problems, Mike. Paranoia, depression, delusions... and I'm almost certain he's a pathological liar as well."