The sky was a glorious blue, and the sun shone merrily as Tim Lawrence (Psy.D) rattled around the country lanes in his yellow Nissan Micra. He scanned the horizon repeatedly, seeking that formidable structure, within whose walls he had a Terribly Important Appointment.
Perhaps the most important appointment of his not-yet-long-enough-to-be-called-illustrious career, for if it paid off, and he established a working, therapeutic relationship with his patient, his name would surely go down in history as one of the Greats.
First things first: he had to find the place. He glanced down at the map on the seat next to him, and irritatedly brushed away the sweet wrappers and apple core from its pages, taking quick squints in between negotiating the twisting bends and corners, convinced he was on the right track. Finally a sign confirmed that he was indeed headed in the right direction, an arrow urging him ahead towards HM Prison Downview.
He arrived at the imposing gates and flashed his ID card, rather grateful to be waved through without question. Finding a space to park, he brushed the crumbs from his shirt, wished he had less of a spare tyre, and straightened his tie before heading towards the entrance marked ‘All Visitors Must Report To Reception’.
The brusque, uniformed receptionist made him sign in, in triplicate, and double-checked his ID when he informed her which inmate he was here to see. A hint of incredulity and amusement glimmered in her eyes as she wished him luck and handed him over to the officer who would lead him to the room reserved for his inaugural session.
Matching the strides of the young officer, Dr. Lawrence quickly found himself out of breath and disorientated. He could feel his cheeks turning pink, and surreptitiously loosened his tie. He was pleased when they came to an abrupt halt and went through a door into a light, airy room.
An empty room.
“Uh, Miss…Officer…Er…Where is my patient?”, he enquired, trying to sound professional.
“Ms DeVil will be along when she is quite ready”, came the blank reply. Odd, he thought, for the officer to be deferring to the prisoner, but (after all) she was something of a legend – the most famous and widely hated criminal England had seen in many years had ‘enjoyed’ months of press-time after her trial and subsequent conviction for dognapping, animal cruelty and breach of employment rights.
The noise of a throat being cleared behind him interrupted Tim’s reverie, and he spun on his heel to find his patient standing in the doorway, observing him.
She was tall and slender, her prison outfit somehow tastefully adapted so that it almost looked tailored. Her trademark hair was shorter and sleeker, still iconic in black and diamond white. Subtle make-up accentuated her lips, which were currently pursed into a slight sneer, as, under one perfectly-arched brow, her eyes glimmered darkly at him.
“Ms DeVil…won’t you take a seat?” he offered professionally, thankful that no tremors were audible in his voice, for his heart had suddenly fluttered with apprehension, and warning bells seemed to blare as he recalled the accounts from Mr and Mrs Dearly about the mind-games she had employed to get her own way with them.
The arched eyebrow raised further, and her eyes flashed cold amusement as she strode across the room to the chair he had already mentally earmarked for himself. She turned and sat down, crossing one slender leg over the other, watching him for the next move.
“Well, darling, I’m seated. Shall we proceed?”
He scribbled furiously through her re-cap of the trial, the events preceding it and a potted history of her life. Her face remained curious and watchful, but she was engaging, and he could almost feel the cheers and slaps on the back his colleagues would surely give him as he recounted his tale for their entertainment.
“So, Ms DeVil, what made you first want to get into the fur trade?”
Her head snapped up and she looked at him properly for the first time, as though with respect.
“Oh, you are a clever doctor”, she purred “Do you know, in all the time they’ve been flinging medics and psychoanalysts and therapists at me, not one person has thought to ask me that question? They all hear that my Daddy was a hunter who taught me to skin animals after the kill, and they go off on some terribly boring, Freudian tangent. But you’re smart.”
“I was only ten”, she sighed, suddenly switching her demeanour to a languid melancholy “when a quite ghastly girl from my school cornered me on the way home. She had a gang of cronies around her, and well, they were not much enamoured by the recent arrival into their midst of an upper-class, well-bred young lady – that was me – because they were thick-necked ruffians of distinctly inferior stock. It was sheer, bloody bad luck that toppled Daddy from his fortune and required my enrolment in such a vile establishment to complete my schooling, and there they were, darling – large as life and twice as ugly, ready to pick on the new girl.”
“The leader, Roberta, had brought her dog with her, and she encouraged him to attack me. He was a huge brute of a mutt, with all higher thoughts kicked out of him, and he did her bidding. And they stood around me laughing as he knocked me down and shook me, then they watched in delight as I wet myself in sheer terror. And they told everyone in school the next day” Cruella’s face was taut, and her lips drawn back in distaste at the memory. Tim found himself spellbound and quite forgot to write a transcript of the encounter.
“What happened then?”, he asked breathlessly.
She snapped out of her trance and glared at him (unnecessarily, he felt) “Oh I remembered my Daddy’s tricks and I followed that little bitch to her house one day after school and killed the dog. I took its skin as a trophy and the idea of owning furs began to appeal to me. I’ve still got that one somewhere…”
Dr. Lawrence (Psy.D) recoiled slightly in his chair at the revelation, and remembered that he was supposed to be helping his patient to rehabilitate “Um. Well. That all sounds rather unpleasant. But so is what you did to get locked up here. So shall we see if we can work together on a strategy to move things forward and return you to the outside world?”
She grinned then, unnervingly “Oh my dear Doctor Lawrence – you needn’t worry about me. I have devised my own therapy, involving those very creatures I hate so much. I presumed that some form of immersion therapy would be best, so I arranged with the warden that I could undertake dog training.”
“Dog training?” he couldn’t hide his astonishment.
“Oh yes, darling. They make excellent pets for the prisoners, and do you know, since I began training, I have seen a significant reduction in outbreaks of violence and frustration amongst the inmates. They take good care of their pets and I think it’s all in that warm, loving relationship full of licks and snuggles which occurs between pet and owner.”
“And the staff, too; they like their little pets. It’s not in any way my kind of thing – you will never convert me to a ‘pets’ person – but everyone simply adores me for doing such a good job, so it pays the dividends of having established me as something of a ‘hit’.”
“In fact, why don’t you come along to my room and see my latest effort; Puppy. She’s really rather beautiful and I think you’ll like her a lot.” She rose, elegantly, and motioned for him to follow.
Hastily grabbing his bag and clipboard, Tim trotted after her obediently, following her around several turns to reach her room.
She unlocked the door (she had her own key?) and ushered him in, whereupon an explosion of blonde hair and gambolling limbs bounced across the room and a face buried itself in his crotch in the most embarrassing of doggy greetings.
He jumped back, appalled “WHAT THE FUCK?!”, he bellowed.
“Problem, darling?” Cruella enquired “Most people love that kind of greeting, but if you’re not partial – DOWN! Puppy” she instructed, a note of steel entering her voice as the threat of discipline effected an immediate retreat.
“Good girl” she oozed, warmly, patting Puppy’s head.
Tim, in the speechless stages of apoplepsy, looked on silently as the older woman bent down and took Puppy’s face in her hands, murmuring honeyed nothings. Puppy gazed at Cruella and shivered, but with delight or fear, he was too incensed to tell.
“This. Is. OUTRAGEOUS!” he stormed, his voice strangled with the intensity of his emotions. “I am taking this to the very highest levels and you will be prosecuted with every ounce of might the judicial system can muster forth. You truly are a devil woman.”
He stormed out of the room, and Cruella smiled, taking a seat on the bed and motioning Puppy to jump up with her. Puppy rolled over and submitted to having her tummy rubbed as Cruella’s smile deepened, and the glint in her eyes turned to sparking, electric, terrifying laughter.
He would get precisely nowhere; this green, hot-headed psychologist.
The staff, from the warden down, had all benefitted from her particular brand of pet-training, and none of them would support him in his efforts to rout her from her new kingdom. The prisoners certainly wouldn’t take kindly to his interference.
Generating a system whereby the younger and more malleable prisoners were turned into convenient playmates for the older, more powerful players in Downview had rendered the whole establishment putty in her hands.
She rose and walked to the door, putting her fingers to her lips and letting out three peculiar, shrill whistles, then smiled wryly as she heard the commotion start.
Another thing she’d learned from her past – the mistake Roberta had made and lived to regret – Cruella’s pets were trained to kill.