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It was late when I got the call. "Mr Mason? This is Detective Donahue. Am I correct in my knowledge that you are a qualified psychologist?"
I was rather taken aback by the directness of the speaker, "Yes Detective, may I ask why you are calling?"
The voice replied in its clipped tones, "We require your assistance at St Gabriel's Home for girls. How quickly can you get here?" The whole conversation felt surreal so I answered automatically, "Twenty minutes."
"Good," the clipped words were gone, replaced by a smile and a sigh in the voice, "We look forward to seeing you."
I rushed to groom myself, succeeding in spilling the soup I had been enjoying and finding only mismatched socks, but like a bullet I was in my car and at the Home in twenty minutes.
The towering Detective Donahue and a flock of uniforms ushered me into the fortress of electric wire and graffiti, leading me to a gloomy dining hall. Its single occupant was a shrunken girl with closely cropped hair.
I had been informed that Christina Albany had died under suspicious circumstances that morning and the girl opposite me, Amelia Ester Hord, had been named a suspect by the elderly matron.
"Hello, my name is Mr Mason. I'm going to ask you a few questions now Amelia," I spoke calmly as I sat down on the cracked seat of the chair provided.
The child placed both hands on the table and stared at me with a face like granite, "You don't have to. I did it."
"Did what Amelia?" I asked.
"I killed Christy."
My hand twitched along the page, "What? I mean, how?"
"I put matron's pills in her porridge."
The pen slipped from my sweaty palm; I felt I had stepped from the frying pan into the Inferno.
"Why did you do that?" I asked while looking for signs of remorse. My job, explained by Donahue, was to determine whether the suspect was clinically insane.
The darkness of her pupils was perpetual while the crimson flush crawled up her neck, "She called me a name. A name I hate; runt," she spat the word out into the air where it hung, suspended between us.
"Why that word Amelia?"
"Because my father used to say it while beating me," her hands slipped underneath the table as she recoiled.
The child was a black hole, feeding off my discomfort. She began rocking on her chair, faster and faster, gripped by a hypnotic rhythm. The chair crashed to the ground as she stood and strode towards me. She thrust her face near mine, "You understand me n*****. I know you feel the urge too, I can see it." Then an officer handcuffed her and dragged her out but my heart was steady and my hand was cold. One word can change everything.