“Keep your voice low.” “Yes, sir.”
“What’s your name?” “Alice.”
“How old are you?” “Twenty-six.”
“You’re lovely,” he said.
She said nothing.
“Smile for me, Alice.”
She smiled. She didn’t look the least bit dazed. Even her big, dark eyes held no hint of a trance. Yet she was unhesitatingly obedient.
He said, “You’ve got a nice body.”
“Do you like sex?”
“Do you like it very much?”
“Yeah. I like it.”
“When you’re in bed with a man, is there anything you won’t let him do to you?”
“You won’t let him take you in the ass?”
She blushed and said, “Yeah. I don’t like that.”
“If I wanted you, I could have you.”
She stared at him.
“If I wanted you, I could have you right now, right here, on top of this table.”
“If I wanted to take you Greek-style, I could.”
She resisted the idea but finally said, “Is that what you want?”
“If I did want it, I could have it. You’d let me.”
It was his turn to smile. He glanced around the cafe. No one was looking at them; no one had heard. “Are you married, Alice?”
“Why did you get a divorce?”
“He couldn’t hold a job.”
“Your husband couldn’t?”
“Was he good in bed?”
She was even more like Miriam than he had thought. After all these years he could still remember what Miriam had said to him the day she left. You’re not just bad in bed, Ogden. You’re terrible. And you’ve no inclination to learn. But you know, I could live with that if there were compensations. If you had money and could buy me things, maybe I could live with your fumbling sex. When I said I’d marry you, I thought you were going to make lots of money. Jesus Christ, you were at the top of your class at Harvard! When you completed your doctorate, everyone wanted to hire you. If you had any ambition whatsoever, you’d have already gotten your hands on a decent piece of money. You know what, Ogden? I think you’re as inept and unimaginative in your research as you are in bed. You’re never going to get anywhere, but I am. I’m getting out. What a bitch she had been. Just thinking about her, he began to tremble and perspire.
Alice was still smiling at him.
“Stop smiling,” he said softly. “I don’t like it.”
She did as she was told.
“What am I, Alice?”
“You’re the key.”
“And what are you?”
“Now that I’ve opened you, you’ll do whatever I tell you to do. Isn’t that true?”
He took three one-dollar bills from his wallet and put them on top of the lunch check. “I’m going to test you, Alice. I’m going to see just how obedient you are.”
She waited docilely.
“When you leave this table,” he said, “you’ll take the check and money to the cash register. You’ll ring up the sale and take your tip from whatever’s left of the three dollars. Is that clear?”
“Then you will go to the kitchen. Is there anyone back there?”
“No. Randy went to the bank.”
“That’s good,” Salsbury said. “Now, when you go to the kitchen, you’ll pick up a meat fork, a cook’s fork. One of those big, two-pronged forks. Is there one of those in the kitchen?”
“You’ll pick one of them up and stab yourself with it, run it all the way through your left hand.”
She didn’t even blink.
“Is that understood, Alice?”
“Yeah. I understand.”
“When you turn away from this table, you’ll forget everything we’ve said to each other. Understood?”
“When you run the fork through your hand, you’ll think it was an accident. A freak accident. Won’t you, Alice?”
“Sure. An accident.”
“Go away, then.”
She turned and walked to the half-door at the end of the
lunch counter, her smooth h*ps rolling provocatively.
When she reached the cash register and began to ring up the sale, Salsbury slid out of the booth and started toward the door.
She dropped her tip into a pocket of her uniform, closed the cash register drawer, and went into the kitchen.
At the entrance Salsbury stopped and put a quarter in the newspaper vending machine.
Bob Thorp laughed loudly at some joke, and the waitress named Bess giggled like a young girl.
Salsbury took a copy of the Black River Bulletin from the wire rack, folded it, put it under his arm, and opened the door to the foyer. He stepped across the sill and began to pull the door shut behind him, thinking all the while: Come on, you bitch, come on! His heart was pounding, and he felt slightly dizzy.
Alice began to scream.
Grinning, Salsbury closed the first door, pushed through the outer door, went down the steps, and walked east on Main Street, as if he were unaware of the uproar in the cafe.
The day was bright and warm. The sky was cloudless.
He had never been happier.
Paul shouldered past Bob Thorp and stepped into the kitchen. The young waitress was standing at a counter that lay between two upright food freezers. Her left hand was palm down on a wooden cutting board. With her right hand she gripped an eighteen-inch-long meat fork. The two wickedly sharp prongs appeared to have been driven all the way through her left hand and into the wood beneath. Blood spotted her light blue uniform, glistened on the cutting board, and dripped from the edge of the Formica-topped counter. She was screaming and gasping for breath between the screams and shaking and trying to wrench the fork loose.
Turning back to Bob Thorp, who stood transfixed in the doorway, Paul said, “Get Doc Troutman.”
Thorp didn’t have to be told again. He hurried away.
Taking hold of the woman’s right hand, Paul said, “Let go
of the fork. I want you to let go of the fork. You’re doing more harm than good.”
She raised her head and seemed to look straight through him. Her face was chalky beneath her dark complexion; she was obviously in shock. She couldn’t stop screaming—an ululating wail more animal than human—and she probably didn’t even know that he had spoken to her.
He had to pry her fingers from the handle of the fork.
At his side Jenny said, “Oh, my God!”
“Hold her for me,” he said. “Don’t let her grab the fork.”
Jenny gripped the woman’s right wrist. She said, “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Paul wouldn’t have blamed her if she had been just that. In the tiny restaurant kitchen, with the ceiling only a few inches above their heads, the screams were deafening. The sight of that slender hand with the fork embedded in it was horrifying, the stuff of nightmares. The air was thick with the stale odors of baked ham, roast beef, fried onions, grease—and the fresh, metallic tang of blood. It was enough to nauseate anyone. But he said, “You won’t be sick. You’re a tough lady.”
She bit her lower lip and nodded.
Quickly, as if he had been prepared and waiting for exactly this emergency, Paul took a dishcloth from the towel rack and tore it into two strips. He threw one of these aside. With the other length of cloth and a long wooden tasting spoon, he fashioned a tourniquet for the waitress’s left arm. He twisted the wooden spoon with his right hand and covered the handle of the meat fork with his left. To Jenny he said, “Come around here and take the tourniquet.”
As soon as her right hand was free, the waitress tried to get to the handle of the fork. She clawed at Paul’s fist.
Jenny took hold of the spoon.
Pressing down on the waitress’s wounded hand, Paul jerked up on the fork, which was sunk into the wood perhaps half an inch past her flesh, and pulled the tines from her in one sudden, clean movement. He dropped the fork and slipped an arm
around her waist to keep her from falling. Her knees had begun to buckle; he had thought they might.
As he stretched the woman out on the floor, Jenny said, “She must be in awful pain.”
Those words seemed to shatter the waitress’s terror. She stopped screaming and began to cry.
“I don’t see how she did it,” Paul said as he tended to her. “She put that fork through her hand with incredible force. She was pinned to the board.”
Weeping, trembling, the waitress said, “Accident.” She gasped and groaned and shook her head. “Terrible . . . accident.”
Fourteen Months Earlier:
Thursday, June 10, 1976
NAKED, THE DEAD MAN lay on his back in the center of the slightly tilted autopsy table, framed by blood gutters on all sides.
“Who was he?” Klinger asked.
Salsbury said, “He worked for Leonard.”
The room in which the three men stood was illuminated only in the center by two hooded lamps above the autopsy table. Three walls were lined with computer housings, consoles, and monitor boards; and the tiny systems bulbs and glowing scopes made ghostly patches of green, blue, yellow, and pale red light in the surrounding shadows. Nine TV display screens—cathode-ray tubes—were set high on three walls, and four other screens were suspended from the ceiling; and all of them emitted a thin bluish-green light.
In that eerie glow the corpse looked less like a real body than like a prop in a horror film.
Somber, almost reverent, Dawson said, “His name was Brian Kingman. He was on my personal staff.”
“For very long?” Klinger asked.
The dead man had been in his late twenties and in good condition. Now, circulation having ceased seven hours ago, lividity had set in; the blood had settled into his calves, the backs of
his thighs, his buttocks, and his lower back, and in these places the flesh was purple and a bit distended. His face was white and deeply lined. His hands were at his sides, his palms up, the fingers curled.
“Was he married?” Klinger asked.
Dawson shook his head: no.
“Grandparents dead. No brother or sisters. His mother died when he was born, and his father was killed in an auto accident last year.”
“Aunts and uncles?”
“None that he was serious about or that were serious about him,” Dawson said. “That’s why we chose him. If he disappears, there’s no one to waste a lot of time and energy looking for him.”
Klinger considered that for a few seconds. Then he said, “You expected the experiment to kill him?”
“We thought there was a chance of it,” Ogden said.
Smiling grimly, Klinger said, “You were right.”
Something about the general’s tone angered Salsbury. “You knew the stakes when you came in with Leonard and me.”
“Of course I did,” Klinger said.
“Then don’t act as if Kingman’s death is entirely my fault. The blame belongs to all of us.”
Frowning, the general said, “Ogden, you misunderstand me. I don’t believe that you and Leonard and I are to blame for anything. This man was a machine that broke down. Nothing more. We can always get another machine. You’re too sensitive, Ogden.”
“Poor boy,” Dawson said, regarding the corpse sadly. “He would have done anything for me.”
“He did,” the general said. He stared thoughtfully at the dead man. “Leonard, you’ve got seven servants in this house. Did any of them know Kingman was here?”
“That’s highly unlikely. We brought him in secretly.”
For thirteen months, this wing of the Greenwich house had been sealed off from the other twenty rooms. It had been provided with a new private entrance, and all of the locks had been changed. The servants were told that experiments, none of them dangerous, were being conducted for a subsidiary of Futurex, and that the security precautions were needed to protect the operation’s files and discoveries from industrial espionage.
“Is the household staff still curious about what goes on here?” Klinger asked.
“No,” Dawson said. “So far as they can see, nothing’s happened in the past year. The sealed wing has lost its mystery.”
“Then I think we can bury Kingman on the estate without too much risk.” He faced Salsbury. “What happened? How did he die?”
Salsbury sat on a high, white stool at the head of the autopsy table, hooked his heels around one of its rungs, and spoke to them across the corpse. “We brought Kingman here for the first time in early February. He thought he was helping us with some sociological research that had important business applications for Futurex. During forty hours of interviews with him, I learned everything I wanted to know about the man’s likes, dislikes, prejudices, personality quirks, desires, and basic thought processes. Later, at the end of February, I went through the transcripts of those interviews and selected five test points, five of Kingman’s attitudes and/or opinions that I would try to reverse with a series of subliminals.”
He had chosen three simple test points and two complex ones. Kingman craved chocolate candy, chocolate cake, chocolate in every form; and Salsbury wanted to make him ill at the first taste of chocolate. He couldn’t and wouldn’t eat broccoli; but Salsbury wanted to make him like it. Kingman had an ingrained fear of dogs; an attempt to transform that fear into affection would constitute the third of the simple test points. The remaining two indices presented Salsbury with a far greater chance of failure, for to deal with them he would have to design subliminal commands that bored especially deeply into King-
man’s psyche. First of all, Kingman was an atheist, a fact he had hidden successfully from Dawson for five years. Secondly, he was extremely prejudiced against blacks. Making him over into a God-loving, prayer-saying champion of the Negro would be far more difficult than twisting his taste for chocolate into a loathing of it.