- white room (i)
- white room (ii)
- We All Make the World
- white room (iii)
- Look Both Ways
- white room (iv)
- white room (v)
- Scary Clowns, Shibboleths, and the Desert of Ozymandias
- white room (vi)
- white room (vii)
- The Good Jane and the Bad Jane
- white room (viii)
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Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field…”
— Genesis 4:8
Conscience: the inner voice that warns us someone may be looking.
— H. L. Mencken
white room (i)
IT’S A ROOM AN UNINSPIRED PLAY — wright might conjure while staring at a blank page: White walls. White ceiling. White floor. Not featureless, but close enough to raise suspicion that its few contents are all crucial to the upcoming drama.
A woman sits in one of two chairs drawn up to a rectangular white table. Her hands are cuffed in front of her; she is dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit whose bright hue seems dull in the whiteness. A photograph of a smiling politician hangs on the wall above the table. Occasionally the woman glances up at the photo, or at the door that is the room’s only exit, but mostly she stares at her hands, and waits.
The door opens. A man in a white coat steps in, bringing more props: a file folder and a handheld tape recorder.
“Hello,” he says. “Jane Charlotte?”
“Present,” she says.
“I’m Dr. Vale.” He shuts the door and comes over to the table. “I’m here to interview you, if that’s all right.” When she shrugs, he asks: “Do you know where you are?”
“Unless they moved the room…” Then: “Las Vegas, Clark County Detention Center. The nut wing.”
“And do you know why you’re here?”
“I’m in jail because I killed someone I wasn’t supposed to,” she says, matter-of-factly. “As for why I’m in this room, with you, I guess that has something to do with what I told the detectives who arrested me.”
“Yes.” He gestures at the empty chair. “May I sit down?”
Another shrug. He sits. Holding the tape recorder to his lips, he recites: “June 5th, 2002, approximately nine forty-five a.m. This is Dr. Richard Vale, speaking with subject Jane Charlotte, of…What’s your current home address?”
“I’m kind of between homes right now.”
“…of no fixed address.” He sets the tape recorder, still running, on the table, and opens the folder. “So…You told the arresting detectives that you work for a secret crime-fighting organization called Bad Monkeys.”
“No,” she says.
“We don’t fight crime, we fight evil. There’s a difference. And Bad Monkeys is the name of my division. The organization as a whole doesn’t have a name, at least not that I ever heard. It’s just ‘the organization.’”
“And what does ‘Bad Monkeys’ mean?”
“It’s a nickname,” she says. “All the divisions have them. The official names are too long and complicated to use on anything but letterhead, so people come up with shorthand versions. Like the administrative branch, officially they’re ‘The Department for Optimal Utilization of Resources and Personnel,’ but everyone just calls them Cost-Benefits. And the intel-gathering group, that’s ‘The Department of Ubiquitous Intermittent Surveillance,’ but in conversation they’re just Panopticon. And then there’s my division, ‘The Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons…’”
“Irredeemable persons.” The doctor smiles. “Bad monkeys.”
“Shouldn’t it be Bad Apes, though?” When she doesn’t respond, he starts to explain: “Human beings are more closely related to great apes than—”
“You’re channeling Phil,” she says.
“My little brother. Philip. He’s a nitpicker, too.” She shrugs. “Yeah, I suppose technically, it should be apes instead of monkeys. And technically”—she lifts her arms and gives her bracelets a shake—“these should be called wristcuffs. But they’re not.”
“So in your job with Bad Monkeys,” the doctor asks, “what is it you do? Punish evil people?”
“No. Usually we just kill them.”
“Killing’s not a punishment?”
“It is if you do it to pay someone back. But the organization’s not about that. We’re just trying to make the world a better place.”
“By killing evil men.”
“Not all of them. Just the ones Cost-Benefits decides will do a lot more harm than good if they go on breathing.”
“Does it bother you to kill people?”
“Not usually. It’s not like being a police officer. I mean cops, they have to deal with all kinds of people, and sometimes, upholding the law, they’ve got to come down on folks who really aren’t all that bad. I can see where that would give you a crisis of conscience. But the guys we go after in Bad Monkeys aren’t the sort you have mixed feelings about.”
“And the man you were arrested for killing, Mr.—”
“Dixon,” she says. “He wasn’t a bad monkey.”
“He was a prick. I didn’t like him. But he wasn’t evil.”
“Then why did you kill him?”
She shakes her head. “I can’t just tell you that. Even if I thought you’d believe me, it wouldn’t make sense unless I told you everything else first. But that’s too long a story.”
“I don’t have anywhere else I have to be this morning.”
“No, I mean it’s a long story. This morning I could maybe give you the prologue; to get through the whole thing would take days.”
“You do understand you’re going to be in here for a while.”
“Of course,” she says. “I’m a murderer. But that’s no reason why you should have to waste your time.”
“Do you want to tell the story?”
“I suppose there’s a part of me that does. I mean, I didn’t have to mention Bad Monkeys to the cops.”
“Well if you’re willing to talk, I’m willing to listen.”
“You’re just going to think I’m crazy. You probably already do.”
“I’ll try to keep an open mind.”
“That won’t help.”
“Why don’t we just start, and see how it goes?” the doctor suggests. “Tell me how you first got involved with the organization. How long have you worked for them?”
“About eight months. I was recruited last year after the World Trade towers went down. But that’s not really the beginning. The first time I crossed paths with them was back when I was a teenager.”
“I stumbled into a Bad Monkeys op. That’s how a lot of people get recruited: they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, they get caught up in an operation, and even though they don’t really understand what’s happening, they show enough potential that the organization takes notice. Then later—maybe days, maybe decades—there’s a job opening, and New Blood pays them a visit.”
“So tell me about this operation you stumbled into.”
“Well, it all started when I figured out that the janitor at my high school was the Angel of Death…”
Nancy Drew, Reconsideres as a Bad Seed
IT WAS THE FALL OF 1979. I WAS fourteen years old, and I’d been sent away from home to live with my aunt and uncle.
Where was home?
San Francisco. The Haight-Ashbury. Charlie Manson’s old stomping grounds.
Why were you sent away?
Mostly to keep my mom from killing me. We’d been fighting pretty much nonstop all that year, but towards the end of the summer things got especially bad. You know, physical.
What did you fight about?
The usual. Boys. Drugs. Me staying out all night with my friends. Plus there was my brother. My dad had taken off a few years before, and to support us my mom was working twelve-hour days, which she hated, and so I was supposed to watch Phil, which I hated.
How old was Phil?
Ten. Smart ten, I mean he knew enough not to drink Clorox or set fire to the apartment. Plus he was a really internal kid, the kind where if he had a book to read, he’d sit quiet for hours. Which is one reason I resented having to watch him: there was nothing to watch. It was like babysitting a pet rock. So what I’d do instead, a lot of the time, I’d take Phil out and park him somewhere, go off and do my own thing, and come back later and pick him up. And if my mom got home before us, or if it turned out she’d tried to call in from work to check on us, I’d just make up some story about how I took Phil to the523e zoo—and Phil, he’d back me up, because I’d threatened to sell him to the gypsies if he didn’t.
That worked out OK for a while, but eventually my mother got wise. One time I didn’t bring Phil home until nine o’clock at night, and she knew the zoo wasn’t open that late. Then this other time, I got caught shoplifting at a record store, and by the time I talked my way out of it, the library where I’d left Phil was closing. One of the librarians found him in the stacks and reported him abandoned.
It was after that that my mother and I really went to war with each other. She started calling me her bad seed, saying I must have gotten all my genes from my no-good father. Looking back on it now, I don’t blame her—in her shoes, I’d have done some name-calling too—but at the time, my position was “Hey, I didn’t ask for a little brother, I didn’t volunteer to be deputy mom, and if you think I’m a bad seed now, just wait until I get busy trying to earn the title.”
You say the fights turned physical.
Yeah. Slaps and hair-pulling, mostly. I gave as good as I got—we were about the same size—so it wasn’t like abuse. More like scuffling. She had more anger than me, though, and every so often she’d escalate to weapons: belts, dishes, whatever was handy. And like I say, I gave as good as I got, but long-term, that wasn’t a healthy trend.