It wasn't going well.
They just weren't getting the kind of volunteer force necessary to really put together a usable sample. Leonard was arguing for advertising in the tertiary townships that just barely edged onto university land. He'd wanted to spread out from day one, but LePonte just could not understand where he thought he was getting the funds.
No number cruncher in the world would be able to pull that out of their tiny starting grant, but somehow Leonard was convinced that if they just set up outreach clinics in Maryland and - god forbid - West Virginia, the work would be saved. Which was probably true, really, but with just the two of them it was hardly even feasible for one clinic to take subjects.
More subjects, more data, more proof. That was the mantra.
Or, as it stood, few subjects. Some data.
'Maybe we should try New York again,' Leonard said. His cowlick was at full attention. Beneath it, his pinched face had gone sallow weeks ago.
'Why? What's the point? We have nothing.' LePonte was tired, it made him snappish.
'But the center at NYU said -'
'It doesn't matter.'
Silence filled up by the dripdripdrip on tin. Not an aggressive rain, but one with no sense of purpose. Outside, the ground would be just damp enough to stain their leather shoes.
'We don't have to set up clinics,' Leonard suggested. 'We could just travel in the area. Advertise on our own.'
'We're not minstrels, Kilmer,' LePonte remarked with a pinch at the bridge of his nose. 'Besides. We need to bring them here. It's no good if they're not here. No readings, no evidence, no new review at NYU.' For a second he thought Kilmer might smile at the rhyme, and he thought that if that happened, he'd probably have to punch his teeth in.
'What about Bonnie Tedesco?' Leonard said instead. 'She's promising. Let's just focus on that.'
'Bonnie Tedesco is going home to her mommy in twenty-three hours,' LePonte reminded him. 'We're not going to last much longer without results.'
'We have more time.'
'We don't,' LePonte broke out, and brought a hand down on the tabletop with a smack. 'We are all out. Leo, this is it.'
Everything was eggshell in the study. The carpet, the walls. It was supposed to be cleansing, to suggest space. It made LePonte feel as though he were sitting in a padded room banging his head against air. The space it suggested was smothering.
Leonard folded his arms. His bug-face contracted even tighter beneath his youthful swipe of hair, and there was quiet.
The typical dose of clozapine - their brand, anyway - was just enough to produce a mild sedative effect. Long-term use could induce tremors and low white blood cell counts, which had, in some patients, caused immune disorders and death; the drug had been recalled in the late '70s. The doctored dose Kilmer and LePonte were using was a mixture of a few more modern atypicals, designed to act as an antipsychotic that would (or could, they hoped) bring on a more productive seizure.
This was not exactly what they were disclosing to their small batch of study subjects.
Bonnie Tedesco was thirteen. She had a retainer, and had carefully placed a yellow and red plaid backpack below her bed on the first evening. Inside, they had discovered over the course of the tests, she kept a teddy bear (never to be seen save on camera), a notebook, and an expensive pack of drawing pencils.
Bonnie's mother was a nonentity. From the medical records Kilmer and LePonte had requested before accepting her as a trial subject, they knew that she'd gotten pregnant when she was seventeen. It was unclear as to whether she'd since died or - as Leonard had put it - done a runner. Her father worked in a veterinary clinic, though not as a doctor. It put him in an awkward financial position, which he'd taken several uncomfortable moments to explain to them when he brought his daughter to the clinic.
LePonte had not admitted the pang of guilt he'd felt after that. He'd looked at Leonard, and when Leonard had not looked back, he'd understood that guilt was not something the two of them would discuss.
They gave the girl a double dosage at 11pm and waited. Ostensibly, the drug was supposed to positively affect her night terrors, to soothe her mind and cull away whatever it was that kept her up at night. She was also being given supplements to keep her white blood cells from depleting to a dangerous level. That was the surface of the study.
The bedroom was dark. It was kept that way, to help the patients sleep. LePonte sat in a wicker chair he'd brought with him from his small apartment, a notebook on his lap, and watched. She was out, her breathing steady, the IV drip in her left arm an eery transparent glimmer against her skin. She snored slightly. It was oddly comforting, that gentle huff and release. LePonte knew that Kilmer was opposite the one-way glass to his right, and that their every move would be recorded on the two cameras mounted in respective corners of the room... but there was a stillness to it all that had the power to unnerve. Given enough time in a dark room watching someone else sleep, every breath becomes surreal.
Exactly thirty-two minutes after administering the dose, the stillness changed. Not a sound but a movement of air, a vibration that skittered over LePonte's clean-shaven cheek like a thousand imagined insects. His eyes jumped from his lap to the bed, marking each wrinkle in the sheet. It took a moment to find the source of the shift, and when he did, LePonte felt his skin begin to crawl.
It was nothing they hadn't seen before. A common side effect of most antipsychotics: tremors. Her hand, the one with the IV in it, was shaking. Not profoundly, but rather just enough to send the line into a series of soft undulations that rolled across the room in minute, near-indiscernible waves. It was a subtle thing, but LePonte hated it. The whole situation made him paranoid, but there was something grotesque about that silent jerking of the fingers; it looked unnatural and somehow threatening. The death rattle of a puppeteer unwilling to give up his toy.
He glanced towards the mirror on the wall above the bed, and waved a hand. Two raps back. Kilmer was watching, too.
LePonte bent to his notebook, squinting, and wrote down the time and the symptom. He was still peering at the yellow legal paper when Bonnie Tedesco started screaming.
'Shit!' LePonte remarked, less loudly than expected, and dropped the pad. 'Leonard, get in here!'
'I have to monitor - '
'Shut the fuck up and get in here,' LePonte barked. The shock was over now, and he was trying to get his belt out of the goddamn loops because she was thrashing and her mouth was opening and closing, her tongue was in there somewhere but it might not be in a few seconds. Leonard burst in.
'Fuck,' he said, and lunged onto the bed. 'Get her head!'
LePonte got the belt out and shoved it between Bonnie's jaws. The stuffy room was filled with new sounds, guttural punching cries, muffled by the belt but still so wet and loud they seemed to mirror LePonte's pounding heart. She was seizing hard, the IV swinging wildly. He managed to grab the tower before it toppled and ripped the needle right out of her vein, putting all of his weight on the girl's shoulders.
'Her legs,' he grunted; Leonard promptly sat on Bonnie's thighs.
'Jesus,' Leonard said, and that was when the equipment on the other side of the mirror started to explode.
'Oh, what the fuck,' LePonte moaned, because Bonnie was still trying to tear herself up from the inside.
'Straps,' Leonard reminded him. There was a series of quick popping noises from the other room: the lights? Something else cracked and splintered onto the floor, it sounded plastic. LePonte reached down, pinning her with half his torso, and got ahold of one of the leather straps that dangled from the borrowed hospital bed. By the time he'd gotten it up and put it along the line of her shoulders, it was all over.
They secured her anyway. LePonte left the belt in her mouth. It seemed safer that way.
The monitoring room was a wreck. The halogen lights that lined the ceiling were all shattered, bits of glass littering the floor and sticking in the grout. The TV was on the floor as well. It was still smoldering.
'What the fuck,' LePonte said again. Leonard's face was shining.
'Johnny,' he said. 'Johnny, we did it.' He took LePonte's hands and brought them to his face and kissed them. It was a moment of such rare intimacy that LePonte would remember it years later, when other things were shattered than glass.
And when they went back into the study bedroom and realized that Bonnie Tedesco was dead, that moment would stay too.
They closed up the clinic. It was impossible to do anything else. The grant went with it. So did their positions at Johns Hopkins. Leonard didn't seem to mind as much, but LePonte felt something leave him when he left the school.
They weren't living together when he got the call. For a few days immediately after the incident, LePonte had considered cutting off all contact with Leonard Kilmer. It felt good, thinking that. But it also felt cheap. Like bargaining, except so petty an act of contrition that it would almost make everything worse. And, in the end, there was the fact that Kilmer had been right.
They had done it.
It wouldn't get out. Their findings would never appear in weekly journals or be defended before the Board. But they knew.
And, as LePonte learned several weeks after his dismissal from the PhD program at Johns Hopkins, so did someone else.