According to the psychiatrist who examined him in prison, Barry’s problems quite likely stemmed from an incident when he was eight. His parents had taken Barry and his younger sister to a carnival and bought them ice cream. Barry pointed out that his sister’s ice cream cone was slightly larger than his.
“You’ve both got more than you can eat,” their mother said. But Barry argued that it was a matter of fairness, since he was older and bigger, he should have the larger ice cream cone. Linda began to cry and threaten to throw her cone to the ground if they tried to take it away. Barry seemed to remember his mother had given him something else—was it a small toy pistol?—to pacify him.
But there were not always other things to pacify or compensate for the series of injustices, large and small, that Barry seemed heir to in the coming years.
Like when he was named salutatorian of his high school graduating class, despite knowing his list of accomplishments was more lengthy and substantial than that of the girl who was named valedictorian. And so on and so forth through college and graduate school at Stanford and MIT.
Even when he became a full professor of physics at 26, having been wooed away from MIT to Princeton, Barry learned that a colleague, apparently because the man was older, got a better office, with a floor-to-ceiling window view of Blair Hall, while Barry’s office looked out on a dumpster behind the dining commons. His appeal to the department chair might as well have vanished into a black hole for all the good it did.
Success and fairness in matters of the heart seemed to elude Barry as well. He and his friend Lucas were out at a club one night when they met two women grad students. Barry fixed on the prettier of the two, an Asian American named Adrienne, while Lucas seemed satisfied with her plain-looking friend. Adrienne and Barry began dating. After a couple months, when he was feeling that Adrienne was the one, she broke it off, revealing that she had also been seeing Lucas, and they had decided to get married.
And so it went in life and in love. Over the years, Barry always seemed to come in second, never quite able to grab the brass ring.
Then, Barry learned that the Nobel Prize Committee was reviewing his work. He was over the moon! Fate had another plan for him after all. A Nobel would be the ultimate accolade, a thumb of the nose at all those who had disappointed him—going all the way back to the ice cream cone (although he wouldn’t remember that incident until sometime later).
Just an hour before the winners were announced, a Nobel official called from Stockholm. Barry had not won the prize for physics; he’d been runner up. Antoine St. Pierre, a French colleague and rival, had won.
Barry sank into a deep depression and came out of it only when he realized there was but a single course of action open to him. He had to kill Professor St. Pierre.
Quickly, Barry set to work planning the crime. And when the International Society of Astrophysics held its annual meeting at the University of Texas in Austin, he accomplished his mission. The Frenchman died of a gunshot to the heart.
It was while he was in jail, awaiting trial, that the psychiatrist retained by his attorney rooted out the childhood ice cream cone incident. This became the crux of Barry’s defense: that he had felt rejection and suffered his entire life from an insidious inferiority complex, a sense of always, despite his relentless striving and exemplary accomplishments, just missing out. This effort too, however, proved a colossal failure and he received the death penalty. They didn’t mess around in Texas.
The appeals went on for years, each presenting a unique and fascinating approach that set the justice community buzzing, but in the end, as ever, Barry came up short. By a single vote, the US Supreme Court upheld the sentence.
On Barry’s final evening, the warden made a personal visit to death row to take Barry’s order for his last meal. Barry checked off a rack of lamb, potatoes au gratin, Cobb salad and, for dessert, crème brûlée. The warden nodded solemnly and shook Barry’s hand. As the warden started away, Barry called him back.
“Wait a sec, cancel all that. I changed my mind. Ice cream. I want an ice cream cone with two, no three . . . wait . . . with four large scoops.”
David Daniel has published a dozen novels and 200 short stories. Among his books are Reunion, White Rabbit, and The Marble Kite.
Recent short fiction can be found in the anthology Insanity Tales II ; in Sleet; and in Zombie Logic Review .