This has been one hell of a fortnight, to say the least. I work nights, as that tends to be the time most suspects are brought in for initial diagnosis and processing. I woke to a phone call Monday afternoon from a colleague who works the day shift, asking if I had seen the email from Philly PD Headquarters. I told him I hadn’t and booted up my laptop to check my inbox. There was a very unusual, urgent message from the Police Commissioner sitting a few items down next to a red arrow. This is the email:
Subject: Reassignment of Mental Health Professionals for Duration of Week
Mental Health Professionals,
The last twenty-four hours have been trying for our law enforcement family and I am personally calling on you to help your brothers and sisters who wear the uniform. Beginning Sunday night there have been a rash of attacks on civilians and Philadelphia police officers. These attacks have been unconventional, heinous, and brutal. I need you all to be available to counsel victims and witnesses of these attacks.
Effective immediately, you are all being pulled from your current assignments. You will convene tomorrow (Tuesday, May 14) at the Philadelphia Convention Center on Arch Street at 7:30 AM for grief counseling services. The Deputy Commissioner will be in touch shortly with more information.
I read the email twice in case I had missed something, but it was just as vague the second time. I asked my colleague, who had been waiting patiently on the line, if he knew anything about the attacks. He didn’t; in fact, he had called me because I was working ASD Sunday night and he thought I might have had a prisoner transfer or overheard some officers talking. Sunday was the night Northcott was brought in and the arresting officers, Kelley and Felzer, didn’t seem to know about any attacks. Things must have gone tits up after I slipped out early with Northcott’s file.
I tried searching the internet for information about the attacks, but was wholly unsuccessful. All I could find was a story about a vagrant attacking and chasing a woman in Rittenhouse Square until the police showed up and intercepted the man. There was absolutely nothing about any attacks on police officers. Much later in the evening, around 7 PM, the Deputy Commissioner finally sent out her email. I was hoping for a little more elucidation about what had happened, but the email served only to confuse me further. I was starting to smell a cover-up.
Subject: Mental Health Services Coordination Meeting
Mental Health Professionals,
As stated by the Commissioner, please arrive at the Convention Center no later than 7:30 AM. At that time in Exhibit Hall G there will be a meeting so we can all coordinate our treatment plans and discuss some common issues the officers may be experiencing. Most of you will be treating officers on-site in Exhibit Hall D, but a few will be transported to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital to counsel officers still under physicians’ care.
Many of you are friends with officers, but I am directly ordering you not to discuss any of the events of Sunday night or Monday morning until the conclusion of the coordination meeting tomorrow. Failure to adhere to this order will result in a disciplinary hearing and docked pay.
In essence, we were blocked from treating – or even talking to – any officer until we had gone through the coordination meeting. That is not the usual procedure. It is so far from the usual procedure that I considered breaking orders and calling Officer Kelley to find out what the top brass wanted to keep quiet. The only thing that stopped me was the docked pay; I bought a fancy new car just a few weeks ago and I didn’t want to have to refinance for a longer loan period. I settled for a second, more diligent Google search that led nowhere and waited for the meeting.
The coordination meeting was a joke in terms of coordination; the ten minutes spent divvying us up between the hospital and the conference center could easily have done over email. Obviously, the second portion of the meeting was why they called us in. The Deputy Commissioner told us that the men who had carried out the attacks had also used aerosolized hallucinogens, causing the civilians and officers in the area to perceive the attackers as demonic beings. The Deputy Commissioner asked that we quash these perceptions as quickly as possible during our treatment and stress that the attackers were men of flesh and bone.
I was assigned to counsel witnesses at the conference center. I like to record my sessions so I can go back and make notes for further treatment. This was no exception. The following is a partial transcript of my first session of the day:
Jefferson: Alright… Give me a rundown of what happened.
Calaveras: There was a call about an assault in progress. Deluca and Jones took it before I could get on the radio, but Briggsy – uh, my partner, and I decided we should head over, too. It was a slow night and we thought the intimidation factor of four officers would lead to an easier arrest. We were a few blocks away when Jones radioed that a civilian was down outside the Barney’s.
J: Um… Hm. Barney’s? In Rittenhouse Square?
C: Yeah. You know it?
J: I’ve walked by it. I read a story yesterday about a vagrant chasing a woman. She had some cuts from a minor attack but got away alright.
C: This woman did not get away, Doc. Jones called for EMTs. She wasn’t moving. Then Jones said they were going to move to apprehend the suspect. We advised that they wait until we were on scene.
(Calaveras shakes his head)
C: When we got there, Jones was on the ground bleeding from his gut. Deluca was kneeling with his back against the squad car and his gun in his hands. He was pale as a ghost. Briggsy was in the army, so he’s good in combat situations. He sees Jones and he’s like, “That poor motherfucker needs a hospital, Cal. Call another ambulance.” Then he gets out and runs to Jones. I call for EMTs and go ask Deluca where the suspect is. He won’t say nothing. Nothing. Just looks at me like I had sex with his mom and then throws up on both our shoes.
(Another pause, Calaveras shifts in his chair)
C: Anyway, I go get the shotgun from the trunk and see how Briggsy’s coming with Jones. Jones don’t look good. He’s awake, but he keeps saying, “It bit me.” But that ain’t no bite he’s got. Then we see the guy. He looks naked and sort of hunched and deformed… I pump the shotgun and yell for him to drop. He starts running at us. Briggsy and I both blast him half a dozen times and he drops. When we got up to him, though… Man, he was messed up. And we didn’t do it. Totally bald, totally naked. His mouth was weird and it looked like he filed his teeth or something. Or put nails in his gums. Looked like he broke his legs when he fell. Must have had weak bones. It was weird. He didn’t really look human.
J: Well, I think it’s important to realize that he was just human. Also, from what I hear, the people who did this put chemicals in the air that made you see things that might not have been there.
C: No, Doc. I know what I saw. And before you say anything, I got a picture. Look.
(Calaveras pulls out his phone)
As soon as I saw the picture, my interview with Northcott came right back to me, specifically the part about the strange place the Eldridge went after Virginia: “They were even more grotesque. Their legs bent the wrong way and their skin hung loose on their muscles. The teeth…” The picture on Calaveras’s phone fit exactly what I imagined when Northcott spoke those words to me. I asked that Calaveras forward that picture to me and then hastily finished counseling him. I would have felt bad, but he didn’t seem too shaken up about the whole thing. He was confident that Jones would be alright and that the thing he shot was a “body mod freak tweaking out”. I left the convention center without a word. Someone else would have to cover the patients I had been assigned. I got in my car and headed to the Naval base to find Northcott.