Author’s Note: This scene occurs early in the thriller HUNTER. Investigative journalist Dylan Hunter has been invited to witness a prison meeting between crime victim Susanne Copeland and her imprisoned attacker, Adrian Wulfe—a cunning psychopath. In the wake of the attack, Susanne’s traumatized husband, a renowned plastic surgeon, committed suicide. Susanne is a CIA analyst, and she is accompanied to the meeting by her best friend, CIA security officer Annie Woods. The meeting has been arranged by Wulfe’s prison psychotherapist, and the “Restorative Justice Program” he describes is not fiction: These are the actual procedures and language employed by the Virginia Department of Corrections. Dylan Hunter has his own personal reasons for being present—secrets revealed later in the novel.
Editor’s Note: The following excerpt from Hunter is part of The Writers Series in which we feature the work of contemporary writers who integrate, in their own way, the ideas and Romantic Realism of Ayn Rand.
The escort directed Hunter into a narrow, sterile cinderblock room. It was painted cold white and lit by fluorescent tubes in the ceiling. A row of blue plastic chairs lined one wall. They faced a tinted observation window that ran the full length of the room, made of one-way shatterproof glass. It allowed him to see into the next room without being seen.
The adjoining room was divided into two facing cubicles by a waist-high cinderblock wall, topped by its own thick window. It was the kind of window you see at the teller counters in banks—laminated glass, embedded with a circular speaking grill. On either side of the window, stainless-steel surfaces served as desktops; beneath them twin metal chairs were bolted to the floor. This allowed pairs of seated people to converse through the window grill.
For his part, Hunter could roam the full length of his observation room to watch the occupants in either of the two cubicles. Though soundproof, their ceilings were miked; a speaker in his room let him listen in on the conversations.
After a moment, the door opened at the far end of the cubicle to his left. Annie Woods entered first, leading a nervous-looking Susanne Copeland by the arm. They each took a chair, Annie the one nearest to his window.
He stood there, unseen, looking down at her.
Only once before, in his teens, had a female affected him at first sight like this. That girl had a vaguely similar look. He wondered why each of us, in our youth, seem to fixate on certain physical and stylistic traits that become our “type.” He’d never known what his own type was, until he had seen that girl long ago.
Well, you’re seeing it again.
Her eyes were what first riveted him. Smoky gray, set wide, crowned by brows that arced up and outward. The subtly feline look accentuated by her mouth—wide, full-lipped, turning up at the corners when she smiled. Short, tousled chestnut hair framing a pale oval face. Her neck, like the rest of her, gracefully long-lined and slender, suggesting an incongruous delicacy.
She wore a short brown suede jacket over a white cotton blouse and jeans. She would have looked just as sensational wearing a canvas sack. If it weren’t for the window, he could have reached down and touched her hair.
Steps approaching in the hallway.
Get a grip.
He watched the door at the end of the other cubicle. Saw motion in its narrow window.
It swung open.
The first man to enter was short and pudgy and wore a red plaid shirt and tan slacks. He had receding, copper-colored hair and a goatee, both wiry and unkempt. Smiling, he moved purposefully across the room to the window where the women sat.
“Hi. I’m Dr. Frankfurt. We spoke on the phone. Susanne, so good of you to come.” He took the chair opposite Annie, and they exchanged introductions.
Hunter kept his eyes on the open doorway. A corrections officer stood there waiting, then stepped back.
Adrian Wulfe strode in.
The guy was huge, about six-six, big-boned and lanky. He wore pale blue-gray prison coveralls. His eyebrows drooped downward at the outside, giving him a faintly sad look. His hair was a bit shorter than Hunter recalled from his photo, but still tossed back loosely, indifferently. As he moved to take his seat, Hunter saw that his nose in profile was large and blade-like, reminding him of an American Indian. He didn’t speak, but nodded once at Susanne, in acknowledgment.
Her eyes bore into him, wide and unblinking. Her lips were a thin scar, and her fingers gripped the edge of the stainless-steel desktop.
Annie’s eyes were filled with contempt.
Frankfurt tried to break the ice. “Let me say: It’s so good of you all to do this!” It sounded forced, like a comic trying to warm up a tough crowd. “Susanne, I know this is a big step for you, just as it is for Adrian. I’m so proud of you both. And Ms. Woods, thank you so much for accompanying Susanne. I understand that you’ve been a central pillar in her restorative support system. That’s why—”
He blinked. “Restorative support system. Friends, family, peer-group members—all those who have been there to help her through the Four Restorative Stages.”
“Look, I don’t know a damned thing about your ‘restorative stages.’ I do know that Susanne has some things that she needs to say”—she pointed right at Wulfe—“to that piece of crap that’s stinking up your room.”
Hunter laughed, wishing that they could hear him.
Wulfe eased back in his chair, staring at her. He smiled slightly; it looked pasted into place and didn’t reach his eyes.
Frankfurt didn’t notice; he was too preoccupied waving his hands around, as if erasing a student’s embarrassing mistake from a blackboard. “Now, I fully understand how difficult this is for all concerned. But we’ve already taken the first big step, so please let’s try to move forward in a mutually positive spirit. Your role here, Ms. Woods, is only as a nonparticipating observer, to lend emotional support to Susanne. So before we begin, let me explain how this Restorative Justice Dialogue will proceed.”
He leaned forward, continuing his contrived eagerness. “First, the victim”—he nodded toward Susanne—“will have the opportunity to explain how she feels and felt, and what needs were not met as the result of the offender’s actions. Then, the offender must repeat what he has heard, and he must continue to listen and repeat what the victim says she feels and needs.
“Once our victim feels completely heard, then she will be ready to listen to what Adrian, our offender, feels and needs now—and also what he felt and needed at the time of the offense. Susanne then will reflect those feelings and needs back to her offender. At the end of our dialogue, Susanne will make a request to Adrian, and Adrian will do likewise. Our aim is to arrive at a strategy for resolution.”
Hunter watched as Annie’s expression moved from incomprehension to incredulity to indignation. She got up from her chair and leaned toward Frankfurt, just inches from the glass, her palms flat on the counter.
“Are you telling us,” she said slowly, through her teeth, “that Susie is supposed to sit here and swap feelings with this—”
They turned to Susanne.
“It’s okay. Really. Remember, I get to speak first.”
Something unspoken passed between the women. Annie sat down slowly. Crossed her arms. He saw that she and Wulfe locked eyes.
“For the last time, Ms. Woods, I must caution you that you aren’t to interrupt the dialogue between Susanne and Adrian...Susanne, would you like to go ahead and say something to Adrian?”
She drew a breath, released it. Placed her hands on her lap. Raised her eyes to Wulfe’s.
“Two years ago, on a beautiful July evening, you and two young thugs destroyed my life. I don’t have to tell you what you did. But maybe he”—she glanced at Frankfurt—“doesn’t know the whole story. So let me tell it.
“Arthur and I were going home from a friend’s house, down a country road, when we had to stop because of a flat tire. He tried to change it, but the lug nuts were too tight. And out there, we couldn’t get a cell signal. So we were just standing beside the car, waiting for somebody to come along, when the three of you drove up. At first, you pretended that you wanted to play Good Samaritan. You were all smiles. Next thing I knew, your friends grabbed me, and you punched Arthur and knocked him down.
“Then you dragged us into the weeds beside the road. And you held Arthur down, and you made him watch—while they raped me.” She paused. “And you know what else they did to me, too...And through that whole nightmare, I remember Arthur screaming and crying and I heard you laughing and hitting him and telling him to shut up, and then laughing some more at what they were doing to me, and telling them to hurry up, because they didn’t have a lot of time, and it was your turn.”
She stopped. Her eyes were closed.
Adrian Wulfe’s face was expressionless.
“It must have made you feel so very powerful to do that to Arthur, didn’t it, Mr. Wulfe? I mean, to hit him, hold him down, humiliate him like that? After all, Arthur wasn’t a great big guy like you. And Arthur wouldn’t have known how to overpower or hurt someone. Because he never wanted to. He was a doctor, Mr. Wulfe. A plastic surgeon. Unlike you, he devoted his whole life to fixing people’s injuries—not causing them. Sometimes, he even had to repair the horrible damage that monsters like you cause.”
Frankfurt squirmed in his seat. Wulfe sat motionless.
“You and I both know you were going to kill us that night, Mr. Wulfe. You wouldn’t have wanted to leave us alive to identify you. It was sheer dumb luck for us that you didn’t—if you want to call us lucky for surviving. If it wasn’t for that pizza delivery kid driving past with his windows down, who heard our screaming and radioed for the cops, I wouldn’t be here. Of course—” Her voice caught. “Of course, Arthur isn’t here. Is he, Mr. Wulfe? No, because he couldn’t deal with it.”
She turned to Frankfurt, her eyes blazing. “So, doctor. You want me to talk about how I felt. You want me to talk about how I feel. You want me to say what I need. Let me tell you what I need. I need my husband back. I need the wonderful man who shot himself ten days ago, to end the hell that son of a bitch put him through. I need the husband he took from me! I need the man he murdered, just as sure as if he’d bashed in his skull with the tire iron that night. So tell me, doctor: How do you suppose he’s going to ‘restore’ my husband? And why in God’s name should I give a damn about his feelings and his needs?”
Frankfurt shifted again uncomfortably.
“You’re right, Mrs. Copeland.”
They all turned to Adrian Wulfe.
“There’s absolutely no reason why you should care about anything I feel or need. Absolutely none. Everything you said about me—you’re right. It was monstrous, what I did. Inexcusable.”
Susanne just stared at him, as if she no longer had the capacity for speech.
“The only reason I asked for this meeting,” he continued, his voice rumbling deep and soft, “was to give you the chance to say these things to my face. Things you need to say, but weren’t given the opportunity to say in the courtroom. But there’s no reason for you to listen to me. Nothing I can say could ever undo all the suffering I’ve caused you and your husband. It would be insulting of me to even try to apologize.”
Susanne Copeland was trembling. A tear began a thin track down her cheek.
“Do you have anything else that you’d like to say to me, Mrs. Copeland?” Wulfe asked. “I’ll stay here as long as you want me to.”
She shook her head. Tears were now flowing freely. Annie reached out to touch her shoulder.
“In that case, doctor, there’s no reason she should have to endure my presence any longer.”
He rose to his feet. Nodded to Susanne. Then met Annie’s angry frown with a little smile.
You goddamned manipulative fraud.
Hunter rushed to the door, yanked it open. In the hallway, a few feet away, two waiting corrections officers leaning against the wall straightened when they saw him.
Two seconds later, the door to Wulfe’s cubicle opened and he emerged.
Hunter went for him. “Wulfe!”
The prisoner looked his way, startled. The guards jumped between them, one blocking his path while the other pushed Wulfe in the opposite direction.
“Hold on, buddy! You stop right there!” the nearest officer yelled to Hunter, pressing him back.
He stopped. He wasn’t about to hurt innocent people just to get at the guy.
“Look at me, Wulfe.”
Towering above the head of the other guard, the inmate stared back at him.
“See this face? I want you to remember it in your nightmares. Because someday, it’ll be the last face you’ll ever see.”
* * *
© 2011 by Robert Bidinotto. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.
Robert Bidinotto’s thriller HUNTER is available in ebook, print, or audiobook editions from Amazon at this link. Learn more about the Dylan Hunter thriller series and its author at his website, “The Vigilante Author.”
The Atlas Society’s Marilyn Moore recently interviewed Robert about his vigilante hero, fiction writing, and Ayn Rand’s influence on his work.