I talk with crazy people; it’s my job.
It was inevitable, since I followed in my father’s footsteps to pursue a PHD in Psychology. But my mom’s a lawyer; she didn’t want me stuck in academia like my father, the professor. The sum of her life advice was: get as much money as possible while you’re young and retire early. The results of their combined influence was that I fell somewhere in between. I’m an expert witness in trial cases where the defendant’s sanity is in question. Oh, and the crazy people, they don’t pay so well. I represent the plaintiffs.
It happens all the time in big money liability cases. The insurance company won’t pay for deliberate sabotage but will pay out, for instance, if space aliens were telling the employee to shove that pipe wrench in the assembly line’s gears. In the former case it turned out that he simply wanted a week off to go camping.
The short story is that insurance companies hire me to talk to these people who claim the aluminum foil hats are blocking mind control rays from Venus and find out that they’re actually just really bad liars. Most of the time. This story is one of the exceptions.
Wawrzyniec Jaworski (say that 10 times fast) was led handcuffed into my office by a pair of plainclothes policemen. I examined him as he entered; he was gaunt and unkempt with dark bristly hair and thick round glasses that made his eyes look tiny. He was wearing dark slacks worn at the knees and a plaid button down shirt with cuffs that barely touched the bony knobs of his wrists.
After some negotiation, I convinced the policemen this thin engineering type wasn’t going to overpower me and take me hostage with a letter opener. They un-cuffed him and waited outside the door. I had been reviewing his file all morning and papers detailing the minutia of his life were spread across my desk. I lifted page 1 from the top and prepared to make introductions. I must have been mangling the pronunciation of his first name because he stopped me.
“Everyone calls me Larry.”
And this was how I was introduced to the man who blew up Vermont.
It had been on the news for weeks, Reactor 4 of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant had catastrophically melted down following a series of errors so grievous that reportedly, they could not possibly be accidental. I had, sitting in my office, the Osama Bin Laden of the Nuclear Power Industry.
I’m not technical and reading the post-mortem reports on the accident set my head spinning; Boron control rods, SCRAM operations, neutron poisons, negative void coefficients, here’s a taste:
“The negative void coefficient in the reactor core caused an unanticipated increase in power and associated pressure. Additionally, increasing power oscillations led to the reduction of core flow and resulted in a failure of the recirculation pump.”
Reading the AP reports wasn’t much better. Although written with the layperson (i.e. me) in mind, the sequence of events that were reported to have happened were so far-fetched that they were hard to wrap my head around.
The replay of the night’s events goes something like this:
9:55 PM – Larry Jaworski arrives at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant for the night shift as normal.
10:15 PM – Larry stops to say hello to his coworkers on his way to get a cup of coffee.
10:16 PM – His coworkers fail to notice him continue down the hall and enter the core 4 control room.
10:18 PM – Larry initiates a series of unauthorized stress test procedures which raise the operating temperature of the reactor core to dangerous levels.
10:20 PM – On the way back to his desk, Jaworski stops to chat about hockey with a coworker at the water cooler.
10:25 PM – Frank Thompson, the night-shift security guard at the cooling tower access tunnel fails to notice as Jaworski runs by.
10:27 PM – Jaworski jams the water cooling intake pipe with, let’s say for argument’s sake, a beach ball.
10:30 PM – Frank again fails to notice Jaworski pass by.
10:32 PM – Jaworski sprints up three flights of stairs and reenters the core 4 control room in time to manually bypass the computer-initiated SCRAM procedure.
10:35 PM – Now that a full-on nuclear meltdown is occuring, for reasons unknown, Jaworski returns to the cooling tower access tunnel to remove the obstruction, Frank notices Larry at this time but, as he is currently evacuating the facility he doesn’t stop Larry.
10:45 PM – A plume of superheated steam destroys Reactor 4 and deposits radioactive fuel over 300 square miles of Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
7:15 AM – Jaworski is apprehended 30 miles away from the facility wandering barefoot through the woods. He seems confused and disoriented.
The crimes that Larry Jaworski was alleged to have committed were the terrorist’s equivalent of vaulting down dark cellar stairs (with a 1/4 turn) while solving a Rubik’s Cube and sticking the landing.
Of course Larry Jaworski is the type of person who probably solves the Rubik’s Cube blindfolded.
2nd generation Polish, accepted to CalTech at 17, graduated with a PHD in nuclear physics (awarding him a Master’s degree ‘in passing’) a mere six years later. Here in Boston, Larry’s what we call “wicked smaht.”
I return the paper to my desk and tent my fingers, trying to exude an air of calm rapport.
“So Mr. Jaworski, Larry, why don’t you tell me, in your own words, what occurred at Vermont Yankee on the evening of October 9th.”
“The last thing I remember is… I was taking off my shoes.”
“From the beginning, if you please.”
“I arrived at work late. I had to change a tire. A bull moose ran me off the road and my tire tore on a stone wall.”
“The report here says you arrived 5 minutes before the start of your shift.”
“No, I was at least 10-15 minutes late. I remember checking the time. I stopped by my desk and then went for a cup of coffee.”
“Was that when you entered the reactor control room?”
“No, that wasn’t me.”
“The report says your retinal signature was used to bypass the door security.”
“No, there must be some mistake. When I returned to my desk I noticed something was wrong. The water pressure readings for the reactor’s cooling system were rising.”
“What did you do then?”
“I took the stairs down to the sub-level to check the intake valves.”
“And that’s when you ran into Mr. Thompson?”
“Yes, the alarms had started to sound. I went down the access tunnel to check on the problem.”
“And what did you see?”
A short pause.
“The intake valves. They were clogged with fish.”
“Yes, brook trout I believe, hundreds of them. I turned to leave but then I saw someone had followed me down the tunnel.”
“Well, I can’t be sure, it was dark in the tunnel. But, well, this person looked just like me.”
“He looked like you?”
“Exactly, like my twin. That’s when I sat down to take off my shoes.”
“Why would you do that?”
Larry Jaworski took a long pause before continuing.
“When I was a boy my grandmother used to tell me stories. Polish folk stories. A reoccurring character in these stories is the Leszy. The Leszy is… in America you might call him the Devil. But he’s different; the trickster god in Inuit mythology, the Raven, may be closer. The Leszy delights in tormenting people but is also a great protector of the animals and forests. It is known that he can take many shapes, many forms. It’s an old Polish folk tale, if you should be tormented by the Leszy you should place your shoes on opposite feet. That’s why, the last thing I remember, I was taking off my shoes.”
I later testified that Larry was telling the truth, in that, he honestly thought that the disaster at Yankee Power was caused by a faerie from a Polish folk tale. What diagnosis did I give on my report? Paranoid schizophrenic. I’m not crazy. I’m very good at reading people. It’s my job.