Yesterday I posted the forward to the novel I’m writing under the working title The Psychopath Across the Street. Judging from the number of people who read it, the post is quite popular. Therefore, for the next week, until I leave for Paris on Sunday May 7, I’m planning to post daily excerpts from the rough draft of the book. What follows is the first few pages of the rough draft of Chapter 1. It is longer than my typical posts. I’m anxious to learn if people have the patience to read it.
By the way, while I am in France and Spain until June 1, I will post a daily summary of my trip including photos. Once I’ve accumulated enough material from my travels, my hope is to use them as the basis for another book.
Brigitte Catherine O’Hara, as I have chosen to call her, was born in Miami, Florida on February 9, 1956, the youngest of three girls and the daughter of John O’Hara, an immigrant from Limerick, Ireland, and Katrina O’Hara née Higgins, who despite her Irish-sounding maiden name had moved to Miami from San Juan, Puerto Rico when she was 21 years old.
Brigitte is an Irish name that means strong-willed, a moniker that fit our protagonist perfectly. She proved to be a handful for her parents and older sisters. Even before she learned to walk, she was always in trouble and had a defiant personality. When she couldn’t get her way, she would pound her fists on the floor, stamp her feet, and scream. When those tactics didn’t work, she would hold her breath and turn red in the face. She quickly learned that this was an almost infallible way to get her parents to back off and allow her do whatever she wanted.
Katrina was a stay-at-home mom, as was common in those days, especially among women of Puerto Rican heritage. Katrina tried to keep a close eye on Brigitte, but sometimes she got busy and forgot her. Once when Brigitte was four years old and her elder sisters Catherine and Rosaline were at school, Brigitte found a pair of scissors in Katrina’s sewing basket. Katrina was busy in the kitchen and so engrossed in her own thoughts as she prepared the evening meal that she forgot about Brigitte until it occurred to her that her daughter had been quiet for far too long.
When she found Brigitte, she discovered that the child had used the scissors to cut the curtains in her parents’ room as high as she could reach before she became bored and searched for something else to cut. She found just what she was looking for in Catherine’s room, the clothes hanging in her closet. Katrina found Brigitte in the closet sitting on the floor surrounded by pieces of fabric. Brigitte had pulled all of Catherine’s clothes off their hangers and had cut large pieces of cloth out of them.
On another occasion, Brigitte slipped out of the house while Katrina’s back was turned and climbed over the fence into a neighbor’s yard. Katrina was alerted when she heard the loud yelping of a puppy in pain. She looked around and saw the kitchen door standing open. She rushed outside and peered over the fence to see Brigitte kicking the neighbor’s puppy, which had been left alone in the backyard while its neighbors were at work. Luckily, the puppy survived, but it walked with a limp ever after and was mistrustful of strangers until its dying day.
Katrina tried to make amends with the neighbors, offering to pay for the puppy’s veterinarian care, but it was no use. They wanted nothing to do with her. “Just keep that brat of a kid away from us!” the wife yelled at her. “It would be better for all of us if you moved to another neighborhood.”
When Brigitte was five, it was time to start half-day kindergarten. She didn’t do well. She was obviously very bright and creative, but the only interaction she had with the other children was to take advantage of them. The children brought their own lunches to kindergarten, and when it was time to eat, Brigitte was often able to wheedle the choice deserts from the other kids. If a child refused to give Brigitte what she wanted, she took it by force. She was usually nice to the teachers, or at least she did her best to please them as long as she could get something in return. However, the slightest criticism from a teacher could send Brigitte into a screaming tantrum.
When Brigitte was eight years old, her parents had a new picture window installed in the living room of their house. When the installation was finished and the installers had left, her parents stood by the window admiring their new purchase. The cost of the window with installation had been $680, but given the wonderful view, it was well worth the price. John and Katrina were standing at the window admiring their new acquisition when behind them Brigitte picked up a hammer that one of the work crew had carelessly left behind, pushed her way between her parents, and swung the hammer at the window with all of her strength, smashing it. A piece of falling glass seriously cut Brigitte’s right arm. Brigitte looked at the blood flowing out of the cut dispassionately as if she were looking at something that had happened to someone else and had nothing to do with her. “I didn’t think I would hurt myself,” was her only remark.
In the emergency room at the hospital, things got worse. The emergency room doctor was easily able to stitch up the wound, which was not very deep. However, the doctor had doubts about how the wound had occurred. The story that Katrina and John told them about Brigitte’s having smashed a picture window didn’t sound believable. He suspected child abuse and suggested to the hospital staff that Brigitte talk to a counselor without her parents’ being present.
“How did you hurt your arm?” the counselor asked Brigitte.
“My daddy did it to me,” Brigitte responded. “He cut me with a knife.”
“Why did he cut you?”
“Because I didn’t clean up my room.”
The counselor was astonished. “He cut you with a knife just because you didn’t clean up your room?”
“He’s very mean to me, and he’s always hurting me. I think he should be in jail. He beats my mommy, too.”
“Why don’t you go into the playroom and play while I talk to your mommy and daddy?” the counselor asked.
However, the counselor didn’t talk to Brigitte’s mom and dad. She called the Florida Department of Children and Families and reported that she suspected that she had a case of child abuse so severe on her hands that she feared for the child’s life.
Katrina and John, sitting in the emergency room waiting room with their daughter Cathy, as Catherine was commonly called, couldn’t understand what was keeping Brigitte so long.
“Maybe she’s hurt worse than we thought,” Katrina worried.
“Naw, I don’t think so,” John replied. “Her cut wasn’t much more than a flesh wound. I really think we could have bandaged it ourselves if you hadn’t insisted on bringing her to the hospital.”
“I’m bored,” Cathy piped in. “When are we going to go home? There’s nothing to do here.”
“You should have brought one of your books,” her father replied.
“I wish I’d a stayed home with Rosy,” Cathy said.
Rosy, or Rosaline, was now 17 years old and had not accompanied the rest of the family to the hospital. She didn’t like Brigitte and was glad to have some time away from her. No one liked Brigitte.
“I don’t see why we’re worried about my dumb little sister,” Cathy continued. “She doesn’t care about us, so I don’t see why we should care about her. Let’s just go home and leave her here.”
Just then, the door to the emergency room opened, and two police officers and a heavyset, middle-aged woman walked in. “John and Katrina O’Hara?” one of the officers asked.
“Yes,” John replied.
“You need to come with us down to the station. We have some questions to ask you about your daughter.”
“But, we can’t just leave Brigitte here,” Katrina interjected.
“She will be well looked after,” the officer said. “And is this young lady one of your children, too?”
“Yes,” Katrina answered, “this is Brigitte’s sister Cathy.”
“Cathy will have to go with Ms. Gabar from Children and Families. Brigitte will go with her, too.”
“I don’t understand,” John protested. “You can’t just come in here and take us away from our kids as if we were criminals. All we did was bring our daughter here for treatment after she hurt herself.”
The taller of the two officers, on whose badge John managed to read the name Sergeant Jorge Gómez, spoke, “Let’s not make this any more difficult than we need to. Come along quietly, and we’ll do this as gently as possible. If we need to put handcuffs on you both, we’ll do that. By the way, don’t you have a third daughter?”
“Yes, Rosy, she’s at home,” Katrina responded.
“You left a child alone by herself?” the Sergeant asked with astonishment in his voice.
“Rosy is hardly a child,” John answered. “She’s 17, almost 18. She’s a young woman and very responsible.
At the police station, Katrina and John were taken to separate rooms. Katrina was left to sit alone in a room with no windows for almost half an hour. Then a young woman entered. “I’m Detective Magdalena Osorio. You can just call me Magda. Take a seat at the table. Can I get you something to drink? Tea? Coffee? Water?”
“No,” Katrina replied as she took her seat across the table from Detective Osorio, “I just want to know what’s going on. Why have you arrested us?”
“You’re not under arrest. There are a few things we’d like to clear up. Tell me about your husband. How do you get along with him?”
“We get along well. I would say that John is the ideal husband.”
“Don’t you two ever have fights? Does he get angry at you?”
“We have disagreements just as any couple does. I wouldn’t call them fights. Just normal family quarrels.”
“What about when he loses his temper?” Detective Osorio asked.
“He doesn’t lose his temper. He has as sanguine a personality as a woman could wish for in a husband.”
“But, isn’t your husband from Ireland? He has an Irish accent.”
“Yes, he was born in Limerick, but he’s an American citizen now.”
“The Irish have a reputation for losing their tempers.”
Katrina was beginning to get irritated at this line of questioning. “As a fellow Latina, I’m surprised that you would stereotype my husband that way just for being an immigrant. I don’t know about other Irish people, but my husband almost never loses his temper. Do you ask the same racist questions about Latinos?”
Detective Osorio was not going to allow herself to be drawn away from his line of questioning. “Doesn’t your husband John hit you sometimes?”
“No! Absolutely not! Detective Osario—“
“Call me Magda.”
“Magda, if you insist, I have no idea what’s putting these strange ideas into your head, but John is very even tempered. He would never hit anyone let alone a woman. He’s as sweet and as gentle a man as a woman could want.”
“How did your daughter get hurt? Who cut her?”
“She cut herself. That is, she smashed a window with a hammer, a brand new window that we had just had installed, and a piece of glass from the broken window cut her arm.”
“You have to admit that story doesn’t sound very believable. Would you believe that story if our roles were reversed and you were questioning me? Would you like to think it over and see if you can’t come up with a better explanation about how Brigitte’s arm got cut?”
“I tell you she did it to herself in a fit of anger. You don’t know our daughter. She’s not a normal child. She picked up a hammer and without warning smashed an expensive picture window. Brigitte has a terrible temper, and I don’t know where she gets it. As I said, her father is a gentle man, and even though I’m Puerto Rican, I don’t have a stereotypical puertorriqueña’s hot temper. Her two sisters threw the occasional temper tantrum when they were very small, but they outgrew them before they reached Brigitte’s age. No one else in our family is like Brigitte. I keep hoping she will calm down as she gets older, but she is getting worse. I know that it sounds unbelievable that a child so young could be so bad, but she is. Sometimes I think she’s possessed by the devil or an evil spirit. I’m not religious, but I wish I were. I would hire a priest or a brujo to perform an exorcism.”
“That’s all for now Ms O’Hara. I’m afraid I’m going to ask you to wait here for a short while yet. Can I get you anything to drink before I leave? Do you need to use the restroom?”
“No, nothing. Just leave me alone, and then get us out of this place. And, if you don’t believe what I’m saying, you can go to our house and see the smashed window for yourself.”
Katrina wasn’t completely alone in the room. There was a closed-circuit TV camera concealed in one of the vents. Lieutenant Alfredo Prado was watching her on a monitor, but there wasn’t much to see. Katrina put her arms on the table, dropped her head onto them, and began to sob.
“I saw your interview,” the lieutenant said to Detective Osorio when she came into his office. “How did she strike you? Is she believable? Do you think she’s being abused?”
“She comes across as very distressed, almost a nut job, but given the pressure she’s under, that’s probably understandable. In any case, I don’t think she hurt her daughter, and I don’t think her husband has been abusing her as Brigitte said. Her husband told the same story about the broken window. They would hardly have had time to concoct a story like that together. No, I think both parents are telling the truth. I could see no marks on the mother. We could ask her to undergo a physical examination, but I think would be a waste of time. I believe Brigitte is lying to us.”
“I talked to Elisa Gabar from the Florida Department of Children and Families. All three of the O’Hara girls are under their care at the moment. Elisa says that not one of the girls has a mark on her except for Brigitte’s cut arm. The two older girls back up their mother’s statement. They say that Brigitte cut herself while smashing a window on purpose. They also say that their little sister is always causing trouble. As to Brigitte O’Hara herself, Elisa says that Brigitte seems happy to know that her parents are in trouble and wants them both locked up in jail along with her sisters. Oh, and I almost forgot—Brigitte is now accusing her two older sisters of sexual abuse.”
“Hmm…,” Detective Osorio said. Maybe this O’Hara woman isn’t such a nut job after all.”
“Just then Sergeant Gómez raised his head from behind a desk on the other side of the room as he was hanging up a telephone. “I just got off the phone with the principal at Brigitte’s school. I reached her at home. She says that the O’Hara girl is a real terror and is always getting into trouble and putting the blame on other kids. She said not to believe a thing that bastard kid says. Pardon the bad language, but that’s a quote.”
“Well,” the lieutenant said, “the decision as to what to do with the kids is up to the social workers. I see no reason to continue holding the parents, and I’m going to recommend that the children be returned to them. But, I hope that the people over there at Children and Families keep an eye on this situation. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this family.”