Rhonda Shipley had not been upset with him because she had not liked her photograph. She had been upset with him because he had printed "the gory details."
What had he written? That is, what had Telerude, Casey, Kenneth, Chris, Moonie, et al. written for him? He was here to find out.
What time was it? He didn't have a clue; without his PDR, he had no clock; but he hadn't seen another car on the streets for a long time. It must be the middle of the night. He would have called them, but of course he couldn't look up their number without his PDR.
His whole life was in there.
He would never have just left it behind in some pub. No matter how drunk or distraught he might have been. It was like part of his body.
Which meant that someone had hidden it, or taken it.
The woman. "Ennis."
She'd been sent to watch him. It was obvious now. She'd been sent to watch him and to observe his reaction when he got home to his ransacked apartment. And then, when she'd left, she'd taken his PDR.
How could you be so stupid? No woman would go home with you, you dogshit tub of guts, just because she felt sorry for you!
Something in his clothes came to life, began chirping and dancing. He slapped it; killed it? But it came to life again, and he realized it was the disposable phone Mike had given him.
"I think I got something. You know who Frank Olson was?"
"Frank Olson was a CIA agent—that's the Central Intelligence Agency to you; basically the precursor of the PIDA. Anyway, Frank Olson jumped out the window of a hotel in New York. I mean, through a window—he took a running leap, went through the curtains and everything. It only came out twenty-some years later that the reason he jumped through a hotel-room window was that he had fallen into a debilitating depression after—get this—being clandestinely dosed with various chemicals, without his knowledge, by one of his colleagues. Why did one of his colleagues clandestinely dose him without his knowledge with various chemicals, among them a little at-that-time unknown quantity called LSD-25, you ask? Because said distinguished colleague was conducting research, under the project codename MKULTRA, into the manipulation potential of various substances and techniques."
Why did this sound familiar?
"Frank Olson is basically famous for being the first martyr of the U.S. government's behavior-control research."
Aw, fuck out of it. "Mike ..."
But Mike had momentum. "I knew I knew the name. When I wrote Mind Play I looked into all this stuff. It's some scary shit. Let me read you a passage from John Marks's The Search for the 'Manchurian Candidate', which you may find enlightening, if unsettling. So, in 1953—that's how long this has been going on—in a document from 1953, one of these guys, Sid Gottlieb, a respected and well-paid employee of our government, our government, this guy in 1953 listed in a memo the sort of things he wanted to investigate. These were, and I quote, 'operationally pertinent materials along the following lines.' Ahem. 'A. Disturbance of Memory; B. Discrediting by Aberrant Behavior; C. Alteration of Sex Patterns; D. Eliciting of Information; E. Suggestibility; and F. Creation of Dependence.' You see what I mean? Isn't that great?"
"Sure, it's indescribable, but Mike, we're not hatching a plot here for a novel. What does it have to do with anything?"
"You want me to read that list again? How about just item number B: Discrediting by aberrant behavior. Does that sound familiar? Who behaves aberrantly? What sort of person, in our society today, gets his or her behavior labeled aberrant? Ringing any bells now? That's not all. I dogeared some pages in this book when I went through it years ago; here's another quote. 'I was sent to deal with the most negative aspects of the human condition. It was planned destructiveness. First, you'd check to see if you could destroy a man's marriage. If you could, then that would be enough to put a lot of stress on the individual, to break him down. Then you might start a minor rumor campaign against him. Harass him constantly. Bump his car in traffic. A lot of it is ridiculous, but it may have a cumulative effect.' You see what I mean? You see what I mean? They try to discredit you—you, your friend, whoever—by driving you crazy. What better way to discredit somebody?"
"Mike, she didn't even drive a car. I don't even think she had a driver's license."
I didn't, Miranda said.
"Let's not be naive here, Drew. We don't really imagine that their techniques haven't gotten any more sophisticated in all these years?"
The car creaked as the wind rocked it, a predator toying with its prey.
"I don't see the link," Drew said. He wanted desperately to see the link—some link, any link.
"Permit me to propose that we have been looking at this matter in a mistaken manner," Mike said. "On the one hand, we have good reason to believe that your friend, and no doubt hundreds or thousands more like her, agitators and conscientious objectors and civic disobedients of all stripes, are being arrested and put into insane asylums—ostensibly for their own good, because they are 'not well.' Medicine usurped by the state to impose obedience and conformity. The lancet becomes the lance. Alright. Let's call this Hidden Truth Number One, or Conspiracy Theory Number One, or simply Conspiracy The First. You with me so far?"
"Bear with. Now. Conspiracy The First led us to the following quandary: What did your friend know that they didn't want her to know? What dangerous truth, what heinous conspiracy had she discovered, we asked ourselves, that prompted the powers-that-be to decide that she was too dangerous to roam free in the land of the sane? Maybe something to do with a spiked water supply, something to do with virtual reality. Who knows. Let's call this unknown conspiracy, whatever it is, Conspiracy The Second. Right?"
"Now permit me to make a radical proposal. Permit me to invoke Occam's Razor. Are you familiar with the concept of Occam's Razor?"
"Don't attribute to meanness what can be adequately explained by stupidity?"
"No no no, that's Hanlon's Razor. William of Occam's Principle of Parsimony states that, how does it go, Entia non sunt multiplicandum praeter necessitatum. Something like that. Basically, assumptions should not be multiplied unnecessarily. Don't make more guesses than you have to. What I am suggesting is that we have been guilty of multiplying conspiracies needlessly. What I am suggesting is that Conspiracy the First and Conspiracy the Second are one and the same. What your friend and her friend found out is that someone has discovered and is implementing the means to drive troublesome citizens crazy. Or at the very least, make them behave in a crazy way long enough to get them, more or less legitimately under the new laws, committed to a mental hospital."
"You mean," said Drew, "that the government is inducing schizophrenia."
"I didn't say the government. I said someone. But yes, in my considered and informed opinion, I think that some part of the government must be involved."
"Because of Frank Olson? All this because the kid mentioned Frank Olson?"
"That, and this. Here's another quotation from 'Manchurian Candidate': 'In time of war, to reason is treason.' To reason is treason. To reason, treason. T dot reason."
"Which shows," said Drew, "that maybe she read the book too."
"Which shows," said Mike, "that she was on the same trail."
He crushed out the cigarette on the steering wheel. In case someone was watching his movements, he left the butt on the dash at an unaccidental angle, so they would know that he knew that they knew.
Was that a mistake?
He crossed the street, rain like pins on his head and neck. He knocked on the Shipleys' door, then rang the bell, then knocked again.
It just doesn't sound possible. It sounds like make-believe.
Everything new sounds impossible, Mike had said. Every new idea sounds crazy at first. To someone born two hundred years ago the world we live in would be magic. Used to be that protein folding was magic, till Hellman and Jarisch came along and explained chemical attractor sinks. Used to be that people believed UFOs were magical alien flying saucers, till the Persinger model showed that these were simply electromagnetic events produced by the shifting of the earth's crust. Used to be consciousness was magic; distinguished scientists argued with each over whether there could even be such a thing, till the McFadden-Pockett synthesis established that sentience is just the electromagnetic field produced by your brain. Consciousness is no longer magic; now it's a radio wave. So is it so hard to imagine, just imagine, that it might be possible for the radio wave in our head to be interfered with by radio waves from without? Do you really think that every scientific discovery is made public? Do you really think they're keeping no magic to themselves?
A light came on inside and the door swung open.
It wasn't Rhonda Shipley.
"What the hell is going on?" The woman's voice cracked with indignation, but Drew detected the underlying note of worry and fear. So it was easy to be gentle. He adopted his poshest, politest voice.
"I'm sorry to disturb you so late, but it's rather an emergency. Are either of the Shipleys in?"
"I don't even know what-all language you're speaking at me right now, I just woke up out of bed and can't even see straight in front of me. All's I know is my husband is in the other room putting the bullets in the gun so you better not try anything."
"I'm looking for Rhonda or Gerard Shipley. Rhonda or Gerard?"
"Well mister man, you got the wrong place."
"Did they move out?"
"If they the ones lived here before us, then I guess you can bet your ass they moved out, seeing as we live here now."
"Did they leave a forwarding address? It's an emergency."
"Hold on. Hold on. Are you talking about the folks what lived here before us?"
"I guess so. The former tenants. The Shipleys."
"I don't know they name but yeah, they was a card or something some dingus taped up onto the mailbox if that's what you're talking about."
"Oh, good. Indescribable."
"We chucked it."
"I'm sorry if it's some kinda 'mergency but wow, we wasn't about to forward all they shit at our own expense to fobbing Germany. So I'm sorry but excuse me, no."
"No offense or nothing but I gotta work in the morning, so goodnight, hey?"
Drew walked back across the street through the rain. As he blinked the water from his eyes, the street splintered into melting mandalas of diamond and mercury. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a red light turn black.
He got in the car. A brake light.
So the car was pointing away from him. They weren't following him.
Or that was what they wanted him to think. If you were tailing somebody who might suspect they were being tailed, you didn't park behind them. You parked down the street in front of them, then waited for them to drive past.
The card-phone shrieked.
"Mike, I think I'm being followed."
But there was no one on the line.
Fear gripped his throat. He threw the phone as hard as he could into the back seat.
The worm in his stomach, in a voice like an ear popping from a change of pressure, said: That was fucking stupid.
The cancer in his shoulder, in a voice like a heart beating, said: Kill yourself with a knife.
Miranda said, They're right. You are an asshole.
The phone. The phone. The phone.
That's how they trace you. That's how they know where to find you. That's how they locate your skull in space and time.
When did you snap out of it? When did your senses return to you? After the bar. When I got home. You felt clear again, healthy, sane; why? I don't know. Yes you do: because you no longer had your PDR with you. Because they could no longer find you.
His cancer said, Now they've found you again.
The worm in his stomach said, And they're injecting insanity into your body again.
They're beaming schizophrenia into your brain.
"Did you let these fuckers in?" he asked Miranda desperately.
Don't look at me. I came in through the skylight.
The soft spot in the top of your skull. Don't worry—I shut it behind me. These guys, they were already here when I arrived.
Drew retrieved the card-phone from the back seat.
Ha! It still works. I'm not a total asshole after all.
He left it on the dash, next to the cigarette butt, but at a subtly different angle. This would tell anyone capable of decoding the message (anyone on his side) that he knew something was askew.
He started the car and turned on the headlights. He bundled all his papers and the books he had retrieved from Denise's into the detachable hood of his slicker. Then he made a fist, and with one punch shattered the interior light. Then he slipped out of the car, silently eased the door shut, and hurried down the street, away from his pursuers, the wind and the rain like a helpful hand at his back.