Angel of the Dark by Sidney Sheldon

“Psychologically troubled?”

William Boyce lumbered to his feet. “Objection. Leading the witness.”

“Objection sustained. Be careful, Ms. Watts.”

“Yes, Your Honor. Ms. Darcy, in what way would you say the defendant was troubled?”

“Her psychiatrists could give you a clinical opinion. But from my observations, she was withdrawn, poorly socialized among her peer group, prone to fantasy and self-delusion. Child Welfare Services was aware of her as a problem case. She was moved repeatedly between facilities.”

“Why was that?”

Ms. Darcy turned toward her former charge and said affectionately, “Because no one could handle her, that’s why. No one understood her.”

“But you did?”

“I wouldn’t say that, no. After she turned thirteen, she told her caseworkers that she didn’t want to see me again and we lost touch. I never did know why.”

Sofia Basta was crying openly now, with every TV camera trained on her beautiful, tear-streaked face.

“That must have been hard for you.”

“It was,” Rose Darcy said simply. “I loved her.”

Ellen Watts’s next witness, Janet Hooper, had worked at the Beeches, the home where Sophie lived in her late teens. A heavyset woman, with hunched shoulders and heavy bags under her eyes that suggested she might be one of the chronically depressed, Janet Hooper, it soon became clear, felt none of old Ms. Darcy’s affection toward the defendant.

“She was difficult. Rude. Withdrawn. Kinda snooty toward me and my colleagues.”

“Sounds like a typical teenager.”

“No.” Janet Hooper shook her head. “It was more than that. She traded on her looks in a real cold, cynical way. The records from her previous home said the same thing. Once she hit puberty, the boys were all over her, as you can imagine. But she didn’t discourage it. She reveled in it.”

Ellen Watts frowned. “She became promiscuous?”


Alvin Dubray blinked his rheumy old eyes in Ellen’s direction, as if to say, Just what on earth do you think you’re doing? Calling witnesses who painted her client as a calculating slut was hardly the most obvious way to win a jury’s affections. If anything, vilifying “Sophie” was his job.

But Ellen Watts plowed on, regardless. “I see. And how long did that behavior continue?”

“Until she was around sixteen, I believe. Until she got close to Frankie.” Janet Hooper turned toward Frankie Mancini, who met her gaze with his usual withering disdain.

“Frankie Mancini changed Sophie Smith for the better?”

Alvin Dubray couldn’t believe his ears. Ellen Watts was making his case for him.

“Frankie Mancini changed Sophie Smith completely. She was a new person once she met him. Completely under his control.”

The first warning signals went off in Dubray’s mind.

“Under his…control?”

Janet Hooper nodded. “Yeah. Like Frankenstein’s monster.”

Oh God.

“She worshipped the ground Frankie walked on. Did everything he told her to.”

Ellen Watts smiled smugly at Alvin Dubray. “Can you give us some examples, Mrs. Hooper?”

“Well, changing her name, for a start. It was Frankie who started this whole ‘Sofia Basta’ thing. Convinced her she was a Moroccan princess or some such nonsense. That she had a twin sister who’d been separated from her at birth. He created this whole past for her, this whole identity. I think he got the story from a novel. Anyway, Sophie started acting like it was real. She was out of her mind.”

“Move to strike,” droned William Boyce. “The witness is not an expert and not qualified to comment on the accused’s mental health.”

“Sustained.” Judge Muñoz preened self-importantly for the cameras, pushing back his newly dyed black hair. “Where are you going with this, Ms. Watts?”

“Your Honor, the relationship between Mr. Mancini and my client is key to this case. I intend to show that Mr. Mancini’s grooming of my client was cynical, calculated and started from a young age. That she was as much a victim of Mr. Mancini as the men that he killed. Let’s not forget that during each of these brutal attacks, my client was raped by Mr. Mancini.”

“Objection!” It was practically a howl from Alvin Dubray. “She was turned on by the killing! Sex was consensual.”

“With those injuries?” Ellen Watts shot back. “The police reports all said ‘rape.’”

“The police didn’t know she was in on it!”

This was television gold, watching the defense “team” rip each other’s throats out. After two weeks of William Boyce’s monotone speeches for the prosecution, Judge Federico Muñoz finally had the spectacular trial he felt he deserved, complete with a balcony full of salivating television crews and news reporters. Tomorrow his name would be on everyone’s lips.

“I’ll allow it,” he said graciously, “but I hope you have some expert psychiatric witnesses for us, Ms. Watts. The jury’s not interested in the opinions of amateurs.”

Ellen Watts nodded gravely, dismissing Janet Hooper and calling her next witness.

“The defense calls Dr. George Petridis.”

A handsome man in his early fifties, wearing a three-piece suit with a vintage silver pocket watch, Dr. Petridis was chief of psychiatry at Mass General Hospital in Boston. He radiated authority, and both Alvin Dubray and William Boyce noticed with alarm the way the jury members sat up with attention when he spoke. Even Frankie Mancini seemed interested in what the esteemed doctor had to say. Throughout his testimony, you could have heard a pin drop.

“Dr. Petridis, what is your relationship with the defendants in this case?” Ellen Watts asked.

“I treated both of them in the late 1980s, when they were teenagers. I was working as a psychologist for New York State Child Welfare Services at the time, dealing almost exclusively with adolescents.”

“Prior to these homicides being brought to light, did you remember these patients at all? Twenty years is a long time. You must have counseled hundreds of kids since then.”

The doctor smiled. “Thousands. But I remembered these two. I also keep meticulous notes, so I was able to check my memories against what I recorded at the time.”

“And what do you remember about the defendants?”

“I remember an intensely codependent, symbiotic relationship. She was a sweet kid with a lot of problems. She was clearly psychotic. I prescribed Risperdal from our very first session, but she was resistant to the whole idea of drugs. The boy disapproved.”

“What form did her psychosis take?”

“Well, she was a fantasist. At best, she had a very fluid sense of self. At worst, no conscious identity at all, at least none that bore any resemblance to reality. I suspect maternal, prenatal drug use was a major factor. Effectively the kid was like an empty shell, a mold waiting to be filled with somebody else’s consciousness. In a very real sense, the boy ‘created’ her.”

In the front row of courtroom 306, Danny McGuire shivered. “I have no life.”

“Changing her name was probably the clearest external manifestation of her condition. Sofia was the name of her exotic, Moroccan alter ego. It was a psychotic affectation, lifted from a romantic novel one of the nurses had given her as a child. Frankie recognized her attachment to this story and her need for a past, an identity. He pretty much took the two things and meshed them together.”

Ellen played devil’s advocate. “Is a seventeen-year-old boy really capable of that sort of sophisticated manipulation?”

“Usually, no. But in this boy’s case, absolutely. He was highly intelligent, highly manipulative, a uniquely adaptable and capable individual. He was amazing, actually.” Dr Petridis looked across at Frankie Mancini rather like a zoologist might look at a particularly fine specimen of some unusual species.

“In your opinion, was Frances Mancini psychotic?”

“No. He was not.”

“Did you prescribe any psychiatric medication for Mancini at any time while you were treating him?”

The doctor shook his head. “There’s no pill that could have cured Frankie’s problems. We tried talking therapies, but he was highly resistant. He knew what he was doing, with Sophie, with everything he did. He had no interest in changing.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Dr. Petridis. But are you saying Frances Mancini was ‘bad’ rather than ‘mad’? That he did what he did deliberately and consciously, knowing that it was wrong, that it was evil?”

Dr. Petridis frowned. “Bad and evil are both moral terms. I’m a psychiatrist, not a judge. I can tell you that Frankie certainly wasn’t ‘mad’ in the sense of insane. Like most of us, like Sophie, he was a product of his childhood.”

“Did he talk to you about that?”

“Oh yeah,” said Petridis solemnly. “He talked.”

For the next fifteen minutes, Dr. George Petridis outlined the horror story that was Frankie Mancini’s childhood. As he spoke, at least two female jurors were reduced to tears. In the front row, the trio of Matt Daley, Danny McGuire and David Ishag listened intently, hanging on the doctor’s every word. For Danny McGuire in particular, it was like finally being given the answers to a crossword puzzle that had defeated him for years. With each word, the Azrael murders began to make more sick, twisted sense.

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