An earlier draft of "The Repossessed" was first performed in a dramatized reading on February 26, 1984 before the Libertarian Supper Club of Los Angeles under the title "The Psychopath." It first appeared in its current form in Adventures in the Twilight Zone (DAW Books, 1995), edited by Carol Serling, and available from both Amazon.Com and Barnes and Noble. It is posted for entertainment purposes only and may not be crossposted to any other datafile base, conference, news group, email list, or website without written permission of the author.
Copyright © 1994 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.
by J. Neil Schulman
He did not know until he found himself there Tuesday morning-- half past six, as he pushed aside a leather sleeve to check his watch--that it was going to happen again. But here he was once more, this time sitting on a motorcycle parked in front of an expensive Spanish-style house on a quiet Beverly Hills street, and he knew there was nothing he could do to prevent it. Nor, if he was perfectly honest with himself, did he have any strong desire to prevent it. But that was part of the pattern, too.
Two things were different. Usually there was only one person to watch--and it had always been someone he knew. This time, however, there were two--and he did not recognize either of them.
He watched them from behind a parked car, several houses down and across the street. Both were men, large and well- muscled. One was clean-shaven in his mid-forties, wearing a suit and tie. The other, ten-or-so years younger, had long hair with a beard, and was dressed in jeans and red work shirt. Though they were only a few hundred feet away from him, they had no idea that he was here, watching them. But then that didn't mean anything. They never knew.
When talking about what happened in these encounters-- sometimes to his wife, sometimes to the police, sometimes to one of his colleagues at U.C.L.A.--he had described the feeling as a lot like waking up with amnesia. He knew where he was, what he was doing, and how he was feeling--but that was all he knew. He recalled nothing before his appearance on the scene--nothing of who he was or how he had got there.
Perhaps as a necessary defense mechanism against being present at the scene at all, he had become completely detached during his own actions.
So here he found himself, watching the two men as they looked around furtively then--trying one key after another-- attempted to break into a recent-model Mercedes Benz parked in the driveway of a Tudor house.
Then he found himself kicking the motorcycle beneath him into life and speeding down the street. He found riding the motorcycle exhilarating, having no memory of ever having ridden a motorcycle before.
Pulling the motorcycle into the driveway to block the two men, he dropped the kickstand and dismounted casually. Neither of the two men made any attempt to escape. Nor did either of them seem to be at all afraid. Perhaps they knew him, he considered. That would have been true to the pattern; often they did.
The older man wearing the suit said, "Good morning," and began reaching toward his inside jacket pocket.
Immediately--and it was always at this precise moment that he was the most detached--he found himself dropping into a crouch behind the motorcycle and drawing a Glock 23 semi-automatic pistol.
The older man said, "Relax, I'm just--"
But he wasn't paying any attention. He knew he wanted them dead. That was all there was to it.
Taking aim on the two men, he quickly shot each of them--the younger man in his chest, the older man in his stomach.
Even through their contortions of pain, he could see astonishment on the two men's faces as they crumpled to the blacktop in front of the Mercedes.
He found himself walking calmly over to their fallen, bleeding bodies while lights began coming on inside the Tudor house. But he did not care whether anybody was watching. He aimed his pistol once again and carefully shot each of the men in the head.
He awoke suddenly, in a cold sweat as usual.
It always took a few seconds, after these dreams, to reorient himself. He was home, in bed. Everything was all right. He hadn't even awakened Michele this time; she was still asleep, next to him.
Two emotions flooded him immediately. The first was an oppressive guilt for having just killed two men in cold blood. The second was an immense relief: he had been at home asleep, dreaming. He hadn't shot anybody.
He reached for the spiral notebook he always kept at bedside to record his dreams, and immediately checked the digital display on his clock radio for time and day. It was Tuesday morning-- half past six.
Michele turned over and opened one eye. "Jerry?" she said.
"Go back to sleep," he told her, writing down the day and time in his notebook.
"Not another one?"
"Go back to sleep, honey. You don't have to be up for another hour."
Michele brushed blond hair off her face and sat up suddenly. "Jerry! Who--?"
"Nobody we know," he said. "I don't even know why I was there this time. Maybe this one was only a nightmare."
"Oh, thank God," Michele said.
"Go back to sleep," he said once again. "I want to get this down while it's still fresh. You can read it at breakfast."
But he had said this only out of habit. Neither of them had ever managed to fall asleep again after one of his dreams.
Michele adjusted the pillow behind her and pulled up the strap on her nightgown. "Jerry, who was it this time?"
He sighed. "A pair of car thieves," he said. "They were shot by some guy on a motorcycle."
"You were the man on the motorcycle?"
Jerry nodded, half distracted already; he was busy writing it all down.
For maybe the fiftieth time since they'd been married, Michele asked, "Why are you always the killer?"
Jerry continued writing. "I wish I knew," he said. "I wish to God I knew."
The first of these "dreams" had been when Jerry Keller was thirteen, growing up in Natick, a town eighteen miles west southwest of Boston--a small town as only Massachusetts can breed them. A town which in the early sixties had still not recovered from the dwindling of its manufacturing industries and would not reap the benefits of the computer industry until the next decade. The town whose Army Laboratories had produced K-rations and Space Food Sticks. The town whose favorite son was a local boy who played baseball for the Washington Senators. A town with more banks than almost anything else--and more churches than banks.
A town that wasn't expecting murder and didn't believe it when it happened.
The boy who had been killed--Billy White--had been from a working-class family that had lived in the town for over a century. Perhaps his parents were the only ones who truly mourned him; Billy's ninth-grade teachers at Coolidge Junior High School knew him as a troublemaker and a terror to the younger boys. He had been suspended from school once for beating up a seventh-grader in the school cafeteria. But what school officials never learned until after Billy's death was that the seventh-grader he had beat up had been a holdout from Billy's protection racket which had fifteen other boys forking over their lunch money.
Jerry had been one of the fifteen.
It had happened on a school day one January while Jerry had been home sick with the flu. Jerry had been asleep, around eight a.m., when he found himself--in a dream as realistic as his waking hours--behind the wheel of a blue station wagon driving along Cottage Street. Seeing Billy White on the side of the street walking to school, Jerry had found himself twisting the wheel and accelerating directly toward Billy White. The speedometer read close to fifty miles an hour when he hit.
Billy's body broke like a doll's as it was tossed in an arc over the wagon, and landed in a heap on the street. The station wagon continued speeding off ... and Jerry Keller had awakened in a cold sweat, alone in the house.
His mother had come home from the bank, where she worked as a teller, at her usual four o'clock, and had told Jerry that she'd heard at the bank that his schoolmate, Billy White, had been killed on his way to school that morning by a hit-and-run driver.
Jerry had told his mother the dream he'd had that morning-- including the information that it was a blue station wagon which had run Billy down--but she didn't take it seriously; there had been no witnesses and nobody knew what sort of car had done it.
Later that evening, Jerry repeated the story for his father just before the family turned on Eyewitness News to hear that Natick police had identified the hit-and-run vehicle as a blue Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon--owned by a man with several previous arrests for drunk driving.
But Jerry knew that the driver had not been drunk behind the wheel--and that the car had been aimed at Billy White deliberately.
Though his parents eventually came to believe that through some clairvoyance Jerry had witnessed his schoolmate's death, neither of them could accept Jerry's conviction that the boy had been run down deliberately, and Jerry's father forbade him to go to the police with his story.
The incident might have been forgotten entirely had not-- six years later in Vietnam--Private Jerry Keller dreamed the fragging of his lieutenant through the eyes of some fellow private, only to be awakened with the news that Lieutenant Hall had been killed during the night by an enemy fragmentation grenade.
Three years after that, psychology undergraduate Jerry Keller--asleep in his dorm room one midnight--had been inside the heroin addict who mugged and stabbed to death one of Jerry's Columbia University professors. He remembered feeling rage against Professor Simon, even after he turned over his wallet, and a sudden, definite desire to see this smug motherfucker dead.
And U.S.C. doctoral candidate Jerry Keller had been unconscious in his car, after being rear-ended one night on the transition road from the San Diego to the Long Beach Freeway, when the next encounter had taken place. Once again, the murder weapon was an automobile; but this time when Jerry awoke--in Long Beach Memorial Hospital--he felt none of his usual disgust for the killer who had taken possession of his unconscious mind.
This time, the murderer was a union official taking the exit a minute or so after Jerry's accident. The murder victim was not the driver of the pick-up truck that had rear-ended Jerry, but the drunk who--wandering across a freeway exit ramp at eleven p.m.--had caused Jerry to slam on his brakes.
Jerry knew only this about the union leader's motives: the drunk standing on the side of the road looked a lot like a scab.
The frequency of the dreams had accelerated after that. There had been fourteen of them in the last five years. Until these car thieves, though--if it turned out the incident had actually happened--the pattern had always been the same.
The murder victim was always someone Jerry had seen at least once--a loan officer at the bank where Jerry and Michele had their checking account, a famed psychiatrist lecturing on the benefits of electroshock therapy at a symposium Jerry was attending, a third-grade teacher at his son's school whom Jerry had met at a P.T.A. meeting.
The murderer--whenever he or she could be found--had always turned out to be someone familiar with violence from the wrong side.
And Jerry had always felt the killer's emotions, seen everything from the killer's point of view. He found himself inside the killer only moments before the crime, never had access to any other memories the killer had, and could never see anything not seen by the killer at the time.
Four years earlier, Jerry had decided to begin relating these dreams to the police.
Sergeant David Englander, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, at first had agreed to see Jerry only because the man making these claims to impossible knowledge was a respected psychology professor from U.C.L.A. But since that initial meeting, Jerry had provided information that had led police to killers in five cases--and in two of them, information Jerry provided had caused police to reclassify as homicides what had previously been thought accidental deaths.
Of course, news of his abilities had eventually leaked out to the press, and for a time Jerry had been besieged with phone calls from police departments all over the world for help with unsolved murders. Over and over again, Jerry had calmly explained that he had no abilities of use in investigating any murder which he had not dreamed about, and he had no way to make himself a hidden witness every time somebody decided to knock off somebody else.
The only lasting significance of this press coverage was the tag which a national weekly tabloid had provided Jerry--and which colleagues in the psychology department used to rag him during faculty meetings. A clever headline writer--looking for a capsule term that would describe a psychology professor who could telepathically enter the minds of killers--had dubbed Jerry "the Psychopathic Keller."
He wished sometimes that he could witness the murder of that headline writer; to Jerry's mild regret, the man had remained unmurdered and in perfect health.
That morning, after Michele had left to drop the kids at school on her way to work, Jerry phoned Sergeant Englander. Thrown into close proximity over a long period of time, the two men had become friends. "I've had another one, David," Jerry began his call.
"Who, when, and where?" Englander asked.
"A motorcyclist shooting two car thieves grabbing a Mercedes, this morning at six-thirty," Jerry said, "on a residential street in Beverly Hills."
"Jesus Christ," Jerry heard Englander say softly.
Jerry's heart sank as whatever hopes he had of this latest one being just an ordinary nightmare faded away. "You've got one?"
"Can you drive over to my office?"
"No, I can't. My--"
"You have classes today?" Englander interrupted him.
"No," Jerry said. "But I've got office hours for students today between ten and noon. And my--"
"Expect me at your office at noon, Jerry," Englander said. "I'll buy you lunch."
"For Chrissake, David," Jerry said, "what was it?"
"Haven't you turned on a TV or radio this morning?" Englander asked.
"No," Jerry said. "The dream woke me at six-thirty so I shut my clock radio off before it went on."
Jerry could hear Englander sigh over the phone. "At six- thirty this morning, Ray Laughlin, a five-year California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer, was--for some unknown reason--in Beverly Hills. He shot and killed two collection agents taking back a Mercedes."
Jerry couldn't manage to say anything.
"Yeah," Englander said, and hung up.
"'Psychopath,' Ms. Webster," Jerry told the red-haired grad student sitting across the desk from him, with her legs provocatively situated, "is not the favored term anymore. 'Sociopath' is the preferred word nowadays. Of course the media have given me a personal reason for disliking the older term."
Jeanette Webster barely smiled. "But, Dr. Keller," she objected, "isn't the real question whether either term has a scientifically verifiable meaning? Isn't psychopath--or sociopath, if you prefer--a useful word to describe a person who has never internalized society's taboos against killing?"
"I don't see that as a question at all," Keller said, "if by 'scientifically verifiable' you mean a proposition you can test in the laboratory. 'Conditioning' is a word we can test--either a rat will or won't, with predictable regularity, learn a maze given the proper reinforcement. I know of no way to test for behavior which--ultimately--is disdained when performed by private individuals for personal reasons, but which is perfectly acceptable throughout most of the world when performed by that same individual in an official capacity."
"Isn't that a rather value-laden viewpoint?" Jeanette asked.
"Is it?" Keller shot back. "I give you as example the federal agents who raided the Branch Davidians at Waco. The original Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents opened fire first on a house containing children. The FBI took over the operation and proceeded to torture these same children with the amplified sounds of rabbits being killed and endless repetitions of Nancy Sinatra's song 'These Boots are Made For Walkin'' -- this last named is torture above and beyond the call of duty. Finally, either by deliberate intent or by criminal negligence, the tanks being used to insert CS gas into the house sparked the fire that destroyed them all. Both the governments' agents and the so- called sociopath see their acts as justified -- and consequently, feel no remorse about them. Both of them see themselves as the disinterested agents of forces outside their control. Convince me--aside from our understandable personal preference that people shouldn't randomly kill one another--that there is any observable difference between the act of the official killer and the private killer, and I'll consider 'psychopath' or 'sociopath' a useful scientific term."
Keller looked up and saw a large man in a somewhat worn suit standing in his doorway. He rose, ending the interview. "I'd like to see if you can answer my objections in your next paper," Keller told his student.
Jeanette Webster stood up, nodding, grabbed her booksack, and left.
Sergeant Englander walked into the office.
"How does The Source appeal to you?" the Detective asked Jerry.
"Okay," Keller said. "But you're eating my sprouts."
They started discussing the case while walking across U.C.L.A's lush Westwood campus to the parking lot.
"Jerry, this one just doesn't make any sense," Englander said. "We're not talking about a corrupt cop on the take from a car-theft ring. Everyone who knows Laughlin says he's a Boy Scout. That's not just a figure of speech; the guy's a Boy Scout troop leader. The two men he shot, they check out clean, too."
Jerry shrugged. "What does Laughlin say?"
"He doesn't remember anything after going on duty. Says he has no idea how he even got to Beverly Hills."
"All I know, David," Jerry repeated, "is that it was deliberate. I know. I always know."
"Couldn't you be mistaken for once?" Englander asked. "The way I had it figured, Laughlin follows these two guys for some reason and sees them breaking into a car--doesn't know they're repo'ing it. One of the repo' agents starts reaching for his I.D., Laughlin thinks he's going for a gun, and shoots without thinking. Possible?"
Jerry shook his head. "David, I know the desire he felt-- the determination to kill. And--if you don't want to go by feelings--I saw him walk over to them while they were on the ground and shoot each of them in the head."
"Christ." Englander sighed. "That's what one of the neighbors said, too. But why?"
"You know I never know why," Jerry said. "I'm in there--God only knows how or why--I tell you what I feel and what I see. That's all."
"Yeah," Englander said.
They came to the visitor's section of the parking lot. "Where's your car?" Jerry asked.
"Right over there," Englander said, pointing to an unmarked Dodge. "But can we take your Porsche? I love riding in those things."
"I don't have it anymore," Jerry said. "I tried telling you on the phone this morning. I got four weeks behind on the loan payment and the bank repossessed it last week."
Sergeant Englander looked at Keller carefully. "That's the psychic link we've been looking for!"
Keller looked startled. "What do you--"
Englander rushed on. "Is it possible these were the same agents who took your car?"
"I suppose it's possible," Jerry said slowly. "It would make sense. I was wondering why this one didn't seem to fit into the pattern. Yes. Yes, now that I think about it they would have to be."
"Well, I'll be damned." Sergeant Englander shook his head ruefully. Then he thought another moment, glanced over to his Dodge, and said, "Listen, instead of driving over to The Source for lunch, how does walking over to The Good Earth sound to you?"
"Okay," Keller said. "But you're eating my sprouts."
It wasn't until the next morning at half past six, while he was shaving, that Sergeant Englander thought it was too much of a coincidence that his friend Professor Keller had always met the victims he saw killed--and in several cases had good reason to resent them. Englander stopped shaving, with his old-fashioned, straight razor poised mid-air in front of the bathroom mirror, while he realized that he was so long coming to this conclusion because it horrified him so much.
His horror was not caused only by the thought that a close friend might be a cold-blooded murderer, although that was certainly part of it. What really horrified Sergeant David Englander was his realization that there was no means in the legal code under which he operated--from the United States Constitution on down to the daily operating procedures of the Los Angeles Police Department--for investigating, indicting, trying, or punishing a criminal who did not rely on physical means. If Jerry could enter other people's minds and make them commit murder, then how on Earth could a criminal justice system which relied entirely on witnesses and physical evidence do anything about it?
It couldn't, Englander concluded; and even more horrifying was Englander's knowledge that if Jerry Keller was able to commit murders which society's legal system was powerless to prevent, that it would be the duty of Sergeant David Englander to resort to extra-legal means to stop a mass-murderer: Sergeant David Englander would have to become a murderer, himself.
But there were even-more-horrifying moral questions, Englander, considered. If Jerry was asleep while he was committing murder, then how could Jerry be considered responsible for his own actions? And if Englander killed Jerry to prevent him from committing further murders, wouldn't he be killing a man who in his own conscious mind was innocent?
Or would he have to leave out the moral question entirely, and kill Jerry the same way--and for the same reasons--that one shot a rabid dog?
As he stood there before his bathroom mirror, David Englander knew that what he was contemplating was in violation of every objective standard by which he had lived his life. He knew that what he was considering was illegal. He knew it would be viewed as immoral--that it might, in fact, be immoral. He knew that there was a reasonable chance that no matter how carefully he acted, if he killed Jerry he might be caught, tried, convicted, and sent to the gas chamber.
Sergeant David Englander also knew that he had already pledged his life to the protection and service of his community. He knew that if he became utterly convinced that Jerry was a mass-murderer, then it would be necessary for Sergeant David Englander of the Los Angeles Police Department to set aside his badge--and his feelings for a friend--and to execute Professor Jerry Keller.
"You're right, Jerry, you're right," Englander said aloud to himself, as he recalled the conversation he'd overheard the day before between Jerry Keller and his graduate student. "There isn't any difference between a psychopath and an executioner."
What David Englander had failed to take into account, as he spoke these words to his bathroom mirror, was that it was half past six in the morning, and Jerry Keller would still be asleep.
Thus, Englander was completely taken by surprise when he looked into his bathroom mirror and saw not his own face but Jerry Keller's.
Sergeant David Englander was only slightly more surprised when he watched his right arm, living its own life, drawing his old-fashioned straight razor directly toward his throat.