A SCANNER DARKLY -- CHAPTER 13
"You show what we regard more as a competition phenomenon than impairment. Sit down."
"Okay," Fred said stoically, sitting down.
"Competition," the other psychologist said, "between the left and right hemispheres of your brain. It's not so much a single signal, defective or contaminated; it's more like two signals that interfere with each other by carrying conflicting information."
"Normally," the other psychologist explained, "a person uses the left hemisphere. The self-system or ego, or consciousness, is located there. It is dominant, because it's in the left hemisphere always that the speech center is located; more precisely, bilateralization involves a verbal ability or valency in the left, with spatial abilities in the right. The left can be compared to a digital computer; the right to an analogic. So bilateral function is not mere duplication; both percept systems monitor and process incoming data differently. But for you, neither hemisphere is dominant and they do not act in a compensatory fashion, each to the other. One tells you one thing, the other another."
"It's as if you have two fuel gauges on your car," the other man said, "and one says your tank is full and the other registers empty. They can't both be right. They conflict. But it's -- in your case --not one functioning and one malfunctioning; it's ... Here's what I mean. Both gauges study exactly the same amount of fuel: the same fuel, the same tank. Actually they test the same thing. You as the driver have only an indirect relationship to the fuel tank, via the gauge or, in your case, gauges. In fact, the tank could fall off entirely and you wouldn't know until some dashboard indicator told you or finally the engine stopped. There should never be two gauges reporting conflicting information, because as soon as that happens you have no knowledge of the condition being reported on at all. This is not the same as a gauge and a backup gauge, where the backup one cuts in when the regular one fouls up."
Fred said, "So what does this mean?"
"I'm sure you know already," the psychologist to the left said. "You've been experiencing it, without knowing why or what it is."
"The two hemispheres of my brain are competing?" Fred said.
"Substance D. It often causes that, functionally. This is what we expected; this is what the tests confirm. Damage having taken place in the normally dominant left hemisphere, the right hemisphere is attempting to compensate for the impairment. But the twin functions do not fuse, because this is an abnormal condition the body isn't prepared for. It should never happen. Cross- cuing, we call it. Related to split-brain phenomena. We could perform a right hemispherectomy, but --"
"Will this go away," Fred interrupted, "when I get off Substance D?"
"Probably," the psychologist on the left said, nodding. "It's a functional impairment."
The other man said, "It may be organic damage. It may be permanent. Time'll tell, and only after you are off Substance D for a long while. And off entirely."
"What?" Fred said. He did not understand the answer -- was it yes or no? Was he damaged forever or not? Which had they said?
"Even if it's brain-tissue damage," one of the psychologists said, "there are experiments going on now in the removal of small sections from each hemisphere, to abort competing gestalt-processing. They believe eventually this may cause the original hemisphere to regain dominance."
"However, the problem there is that then the individual may only receive partial impressions -- incoming sense data -- for the rest of his life. Instead of two signals, he gets half a signal. Which is equally impairing, in my opinion."
"Yes, but partial noncompeting function is better than no function, since twin competing cross- cuing amounts to zero recept form."
"You see, Fred," the other man said, "you no longer have --"
"I will never drop any Substance D again," Fred said. "For the rest of my life."
"How much are you dropping now?"
"Not much." After an interval he said, "More, recently. Because of job stress."
"They undoubtedly should relieve you of your assignments," one psychologist said. "Take you off everything. You are impaired, Fred. And will be a while longer. At the very least. After that, no one can be sure. You may make a full comeback; you may not."
"How come," Fred grated, "that even if both hemispheres of my brain are dominant they don't receive the same stimuli ? Why can't their two whatevers be synchronized, like stereo sound is?"
"I mean," he said, gesturing, "the left hand and the right hand when they grip an object, the same object, should --"
"Left-handedness versus right-handedness, as for example what is meant by those terms with, say, a mirror image -- in which the left hand 'becomes' the right hand ..." The psychologist leaned down over Fred, who did not look up. "How would you define a left-hand glove compared to a right-hand glove so a person who had no knowledge of those terms could tell you which you meant? And not get the other? The mirror opposite?"
"A left-hand glove ..." Fred said, and then stopped.
"It is as if one hemisphere of your brain is perceiving the world as reflected in a mirror. Through a mirror. See? So left becomes right, and all that that implies. And we don't know yet what that does imply, to see the world reversed like that. Topologically speaking, a left-hand glove is a right-hand glove pulled through infinity."
"Through a mirror," Fred said. A darkened mirror, he thought; a darkened scanner. And St. Paul meant, by a mirror, not a glass mirror -- they didn't have those then -- but a reflection of himself when he looked at the polished bottom of a metal pan. Luckman, in his theological readings, had told him that. Not through a telescope or lens system, which does not reverse, not through anything but seeing his own face reflected back up at him, reversed -- pulled through infinity. Like they're telling me. It is not through glass but as reflected back by a glass. And that reflection that returns to you: it is you, it is your face, but it isn't. And they didn't have cameras in those old days, and so that's the only way a person saw himself: backward.
I have seen myself backward.
I have in a sense begun to see the entire universe backward. With the other side of my brain!
"Topology," one psychologist was saying. "A little-understood science or math, whichever. As with the black holes in space, how --"
"Fred is seeing the world from inside out," the other man was declaring at the same moment. "From in front and from behind both, I guess. It's hard for us to say how it appears to him. Topology is the branch of math that investigates the properties of a geometric or other configuration that are unaltered if the thing is subjected to a one-to-one, any one-to-one, continuous transformation. But applied to psychology ...
"And when that occurs to objects, who knows what they're going to look like then? They'd be unrecognizable. As when a primitive sees a photograph of himself the first time, he doesn't recognize it as himself. Even though he's seen his reflection many times, in streams, from metal objects. Because his reflection is reversed and the photograph of himself isn't. So he doesn't know it's the identical person."
"He's accustomed only to the reverse reflected image and thinks he looks like that."
"Often a person hearing his own voice played back --"
"That's different. That has to do with the resonance in the sinus --"
"Maybe it's you fuckers," Fred said, "who're seeing the universe backward, like in a mirror. Maybe I see it right."
"You see it both ways."
"Which is the --"
A psychologist said, "They used to talk about seeing only 'reflections' of reality. Not reality itself. The main thing wrong with a reflection is not that it isn't real, but that it's reversed. I wonder." He had an odd expression. "Parity. The scientific principle of parity. Universe and reflected image, the latter we take for the former, for some reason ... because we lack bilateral parity."
"Whereas a photograph can compensate for the lack of bilateral hemispheric parity; it's not the object but it's not reversed, so that objection would make photographic images not images at all but the true form. Reverse of a reverse."
"But a photo can get accidentally reversed, too, if the negative is flipped-printed backward; you usually can tell only if there's writing. But not with a man's face. You could have two contact prints of a given man, one reversed, one not. A person who'd never met him couldn't tell which was correct, but he could see they were different and couldn't be superimposed."
"There, Fred, does that show you how complex the problem of formulating the distinction between a left-hand glove and --"
"Then shall it come to pass the saying that is written," a voice said. "Death is swallowed up. In victory." Perhaps only Fred heard it. "Because," the voice said, ''as soon as the writing appears backward, then you know which is illusion and which is not. The confusion ends, and death, the last enemy, Substance Death, is swallowed not down into the body but up -- in victory. Behold, I tell you the sacred secret now: we shall not all sleep in death."
The mystery, he thought, the explanation, he means. Of a secret. A sacred secret. We shall not die.
The reflections shall leave
We shall all be changed, and by that he means reversed back, suddenly. In the
twinkling of an eye!
Because, he thought glumly as he watched the police psychologists writing their conclusions and signing them, we are fucking backward right now, I guess, every one of us; everyone and every damn thing, and distance, and even time. But how long, he thought, when a print is being made, a contact print, when the photographer discovers he's got the negative reversed, how long does it take to flip it? To reverse it again so it's like it's supposed to be?
A fraction of a second.
I understand, he thought, what that passage in the Bible means, Through a glass darkly. But my percept system is as fucked up as ever. Like they say. I understand but am helpless to help myself.
Maybe, he thought, since I see both ways at once, correctly and reversed, I'm the first person in human history to have it flipped and not-flipped simultaneously, and so get a glimpse of what it'll be when it's right. Although I've got the other as well, the regular. And which is which?
Which is reversed and which is not?
When do I see a photograph, when a reflection?
And how much allotment for sick pay or retirement or disability do I get while I dry out? he asked himself, feeling horror already, deep dread and coldness everywhere. Wie kalt ist es in diesem unterirdischen Gewolbe! Das ist naturlich, es ist ja tief. And I have to withdraw from the shit. I've seen people go through that. Jesus Christ, he thought, and shut his eyes.
"That may sound like metaphysics," one of them was saying, "but the math people say we may be on the verge of a new cosmology so much --"
The other said excitedly, "The infinity of time, which is expressed as eternity, as a loop! Like a loop of cassette tape!"
He had an hour to kill before he was supposed to be back in Hank's office, to listen to and inspect Jim Barris's evidence.
The building's cafeteria attracted him, so he walked that way, among those in uniform and those in scramble suits and those in slacks and ties.
Meanwhile, the psychologists' findings presumably were being taken up to Hank. They would be there when he arrived.
This will give me time to think, he reflected as he wandered into the cafeteria and lined up. Time. Suppose, he thought, time is round, like the Earth. You sail west to reach India. They laugh at you, but finally there's India in front, not behind. In time -- maybe the Crucifixion lies ahead of us as we all sail along, thinking it's back east.
Ahead of him a secretary. Tight blue sweater, no bra, almost no skirt. It felt nice, checking her out; he gazed on and on, and finally she noticed him and edged off with her tray.
The First and Second Coming of Christ the same event, he thought; time a cassette loop. No wonder they were sure it'd happen, He'd be back.
He watched the secretary's behind, but then he realized that she could not possibly be noticing him back as he noticed her because in his suit he had no face and no ass. But she senses my scheming on her, he decided. Any chick with legs like that would sense it a lot, from every man.
You know, he thought, in this scramble suit I could hit her over the head and bang her forever and who'd know who did it? How could she identify me?
The crimes one could commit in these suits, he pondered. Also lesser trips, short of actual crimes, which you never did; always wanted to but never did.
"Miss," he said to the girl in the tight blue sweater, "you certainly have nice legs. But I suppose you recognize that or you wouldn't be wearing a microskirt like that."
The girl gasped. "Eh," she said. "Oh, now I know who you are."
"You do?" he said, surprised.
"Pete Wickam," the girl said.
"What?" he said.
"Aren't you Pete Wickam? You always are sitting across from me -- aren't you, Pete?"
"Am I the guy," he said, "who's always sitting there and studying your legs and scheming a lot about you know what?"
"Do I have a chance?" he said.
"Well, it depends."
"Can I take you out to dinner some night?"
"I guess so."
"Can I have your phone number? So I can call you?"
The girl murmured, "You give me yours."
"I'll give it to you," he said, "if you'll sit with me right now, here, and have whatever you're having with me while I'm having my sandwich and coffee."
"No, I've got a girl friend over there -- she's waiting."
"I could sit with you anyhow, both of you."
"We're going to discuss something private."
"Okay," he said.
"Well, then I'll see you, Pete." She moved off down the line with her tray and flatware and napkin.
He obtained his coffee and sandwich and found an empty table and sat by himself, dropping little bits of sandwich into the coffee and staring down at it.
They're fucking going to pull me off Arctor, he decided. I'll be in Synanon or New-Path or some place like that withdrawing and they'll station someone else to watch him and evaluate him. Some asshole who doesn't know jack shit about Arctor -- they'll have to start all over from the beginning.
At least they can let me evaluate Barris's evidence, he thought. Not put me on temsuspens until after we go over that stuff, whatever it is.
If I did bang her and she got pregnant, he ruminated, the babies -- no faces. Just blurs. He shivered.
I know I've got to be taken off. But why necessarily right away? If I could do a few more things ... process Barris's info, participate in the decision. Or even just sit there and see what he's got. Find out for my own satisfaction finally what Arctor is up to. Is he anything? Is he not? They owe it to me to allow me to stay on long enough to find that out. If I could just listen and watch, not say anything.
He sat there on and on, and later he noticed the girl in the tight blue sweater and her girl friend, who had short black hair, get up from their table and start to leave. The girl friend, who wasn't too foxy, hesitated and then approached Fred where he sat hunched over his coffee and sandwich fragments.
"Pete?" the short-haired girl said.
He glanced up.
"Um, Pete," she said nervously. "I just have a sec. Um, Ellen wanted to tell you this, but she chickened out. Pete, she would have gone out with you a long time ago, like maybe a month ago, like back in March even. If --"
"If what?" he said.
"Well, she wanted me to tell you that for some time she's wanted to clue you into the fact that you'd do a whole lot better if you used like, say, Scope."
"I wish I had known," he said, without enthusiasm.
"Okay, Pete," the girl said, relieved now and departing. "Catch you later." She hurried off, grinning.
Poor fucking Pete, he thought to himself. Was that for real? Or just a mind-blowing put-down of Pete by a pair of malice-head types who cooked it up seeing him -- me -- sitting here alone. Just a nasty little dig to -- Aw, the hell with it, he thought.
Or it could be true, he decided as he wiped his mouth, crumpled up his napkin, and got heavily to his feet. I wonder if St. Paul had bad breath. He wandered from the cafeteria, his hands again shoved down in his pockets. Scramble suit pockets first and then inside that real suit pockets. Maybe that's why Paul was always in jail the latter part of his life. They threw him in for that.
Mindfucking trips like this always get laid on you at a time like this, he thought as he left the cafeteria. She dumped that on me on top of -- all the other bummers today -- the big one out of the composite wisdom of the ages of psychological-testing pontification. That and then this. Shit, he thought. He felt even worse now than he had before; he could hardly walk, hardly think; his mind buzzed with confusion. Confusion and despair. Anyhow, he thought, Scope isn't any good; Lavoris is better. Except when you spit it out it looks like you're spitting blood. Maybe Micrin, he thought. That might be best.
If there was a drugstore in this building, he thought, I could get a bottle and use it before I go upstairs to face Hank. That way -- maybe I'd feel more confident. Maybe I'd have a better chance.
I could use, he reflected, anything that'd help, anything at all. Any hint, like from that girl, any suggestion. He felt dismal and afraid. Shit, he thought, what am I going to do?
If I'm off everything, he thought, then I'll never see any of them again, any of my friends, the people I watched and knew. I'll be out of it; I'll be maybe retired the rest of my life -- anyhow, I've seen the last of Arctor and Luckman and Jerry Fabin and Charles Freck and most of all Donna Hawthorne. I'll never see any of my friends again, for the rest of eternity. It's over.
Donna. He remembered a song his great-uncle used to sing years ago, in German. "Ich seh', wie ein Engel im rosigen Duft/Sich trostend zur Seite mir stellet," which his great-uncle had explained to him meant "I see, dressed like an angel, standing by my side to give me comfort," the woman he loved, the woman who saved him (in the song). In the song, not in real life. His great-uncle was dead, and it was a long time ago he'd heard those words. His great-uncle, German-born, singing in the house, or reading aloud.
Gott! Welch Dunkel hier! O grauenvolle Stille!
God, how dark it is here, and totally silent.
Even if his brain's not burned out, he realized, by the time I'm back on duty somebody else will have been assigned to them. Or they'll be dead or in the bucket or in federal clinics or just scattered, scattered, scattered. Burned out and destroyed, like me, unable to figure out what the fuck is happening. It has reached an end in any case, anyhow, for me, I've without knowing it already said good-by.
All I could ever do sometime, he thought, is play the holo-tapes back, to remember.
"I ought to go to the safe apartment ..." He glanced around and became silent. I ought to go to the safe apartment and rip them off now, he thought. While I can. Later they might be erased, and later I would not have access. Fuck the department, he thought; they can bill me against the back salary. By every ethical consideration those tapes of that house and the people in it belong to me.
And now those tapes, they're all I've got left out of all this; that's all I can hope to carry away.
But also, he thought rapidly, to play the tapes back I need the entire holo transport cube-projection resolution system there in the safe apartment. I'll need to dissemble it and cart it out of there piece by piece. The scanners and recording assemblies I won't need; just transport, playback components, and especially all the cube-projection gear. I can do it bit by bit; I have a key to that apartment. They'll require me to turn in the key, but I can get a dupe made right here before I turn it in; it's a conventional Schlage lock key. Then I can do it! He felt better, realizing this; he felt grim and moral and a little angry. At everyone. Pleasure at how he would make matters okay.
On the other hand, he thought, if I ripped off the scanners and recording heads and like that, I could go on monitoring. On my own. Keep surveillance alive, as I've been doing. For a while at least. But I mean, everything in life is just for a while -- as witness this.
The surveillance, he thought, essentially should be maintained. And, if possible, by me. I should always be watching, watching and figuring out, even if I never do anything about what I see; even if I just sit there and observe silently, not seen: that is important, that I as a watcher of all that happens should be at my place.
Not for their sake. For mine.
Yeah, he amended, for theirs too. In case something happens, like when Luckman choked. If someone is watching -- if I am watching -- I can notice and get help. Phone for help. Bring assistance to them right away, the right kind.
Otherwise, he thought, they could die and no one would be the wiser. Know or even fucking care.
In wretched little lives like that, someone must intervene. Or at least mark their sad comings and goings. Mark and if possible permanently record, so they'll be remembered. For a better day, later on, when people will understand.
In Hank's office he sat with Hank and a uniformed officer and the sweating, grinning informant Jim Barris, while one of Barris's cassette tapes played on the table in front of them. Beside it, a second cassette recorded what it was playing, for a department duplicate.
"... Oh, hi. Look, I can't talk."
"Call you back."
"This can't wait."
"Well, what is it?"
"We intend to --"
Hank reached out, signaling to Barris to halt the tape. "Would you identify the voices for us, Mr. Barris?" Hanks said.
"Yes," Barris eagerly agreed. "The female's voice is Donna Hawthorne, the male's is Robert Arctor."
"All right," Hank said nodding, then glancing at Fred. He had Fred's medical report before him and was glancing at it. "Go ahead with your tape."
" ... half of Southern California tomorrow night," the male's voice, identified by the informant as Bob Arctor's, continued. "The Air Force Arsenal at Vandenberg AFB will be hit for automatic and semiautomatic weapons --"
Hank stopped reading the medical report and listened, cocking his scramble-suit-blurred head.
To himself and now to all in the room, Barris grinned; his fingers fiddled with paper clips taken from the table, fiddled and fiddled, as if knitting with metal webs of wire, knitting and fiddling and sweating and knitting.
The female, identified as Donna Hawthorne, said, "What about that disorientation drug the bikers ripped off for us? When do we carry that crud up to the watershed area to --"
"The organization needs the weapons first," the male's voice explained. "That's step B."
"Okay, but now I gotta go; I got a customer."
barris aloud, shifting in his chair, said, "I can identify the biker gang mentioned. It is mentioned on another --"
"You have more material of this sort?" Hank said. "To build up background? Or is this tape substantially it?"
"But it's this same sort of thing."
"It refers, yes, to the same conspiratorial organization and its plans, yes. This particular plot."
"Who are these people?" Hank said. "What organization?"
"They are a world-wide --"
"Their names. You're speculating."
"Robert Arctor, Donna Hawthorne, primarily. I have coded notes here, too ..." Barris fumbled with a grubby notebook, half dropping it as he tried to open it.
Hank said, "I'm impounding all this stuff here, Mr. Barris, tapes and what you've got. Temporarily they're our property. We'll go over them ourselves."
"My handwriting, and the enciphered material which I --"
"You'll be on hand to explain it to us when we get to that point or feel we want anything explained." Hank signaled the uniformed cop, not Barris, to shut off the cassette. Barris reached toward it. At once the cop stopped him and pushed him back. Barris, blinking, gazed around, still fixedly smiling. "Mr. Barris," Hank said, "you will not be released, pending our study of this material. You're being charged, as a formality to keep you available, with giving false information to the authorities knowingly. This is, of course, only a pretext for your own safety, and we all realize that, but the formal charge will be lodged anyhow. It will be passed on to the D.A. but marked for hold. Is that satisfactory?" He did not wait for an answer; instead, he signaled the uniformed cop to take Barris out, leaving the evidence and shit and what-not on the table.
The cop led grinning Barris out. Hank and Fred sat facing each other across the littered table. Hank said nothing; he was reading the psychologists' findings.
After an interval he picked up his phone and dialed an in-building number. "I've got some unevaluated material here -- I want you to go over it and determine how much of it is fake. Let me know about that, and then I'll tell you what to do with it next. It's about twelve pounds; you'll need one cardboard box, size three. Okay, thanks." He hung up. "The electronics and crypto lab," he informed Fred, and resumed reading.
Two heavily armed uniformed lab technicians appeared, bringing with them a lock-type steel container.
"We could only find this," one of them apologized as they carefully filled it with the items on the table.
"Who's down there?"
"Have Hurley go over this sometime today for sure, and report when he's got a spurious index-factor for me. It must be today; tell him that."
The lab technicians locked the metal box and lugged it out of the office.
Tossing the medical-findings report on the table, Hank leaned back and said, "What do you -- Okay, what's your response to Barris's evidence so far?"
Fred said, "That is my medical report you have there, isn't it?" He reached to pick it up, then changed his mind. "I think what he played, the little he played, it sounded genuine to me."
"It's a fake," Hank said. "Worthless."
"You may be right," Fred said, "but I don't agree."
"The arsenal they're talking about at Vandenberg is probably the OSI Arsenal." Hank reached for the phone. To himself, aloud, he said, "Let's see -- who's the guy at OSI I talked to that time ... he was in on Wednesday with some pictures ..." Hank shook his head and turned away from the phone to confront Fred. "I'll wait. It can wait for the prelim spurious report. Fred?"
"What does my medical --"
"They say you're completely cuckoo."
Fred (as best he could) shrugged. "Completely?"
Wie kalt ist es in diesem unterirdischen Gewolbe!
"Possibly two brain cells still light up. But that's about all. Mostly short circuits and sparks."
Das ist naturlich, es ist ja tief.
"Two, you say," Fred said. "Out of how many?"
"I don't know. Brains have a lot of cells, I understand trillions."
"More possible connections between them," Fred said, "than there are stars in the universe."
"If that's so, then you're not batting too good an average right now. About two cells out of -- maybe sixty-five trillion?"
"More like sixty-five trillion trillion," Fred said.
"That's worse than the old Philadelphia Athletics under Connie Mack. They used to end the season with a percentage --"
"What do I get," Fred said, "for saying it happened on duty?"
"You get to sit in a waiting room and read a lot of Saturday Evening Posts and Cosmopolitans free."
"Where would you like?"
Fred said, "Let me think it over."
"I'll tell you what I'd do," Hank said. "1 wouldn't go into a Federal clinic; I'd get about six bottles of good bourbon, I. W. Harper, and go up into the hills, up into the San Bernardino Mountains near one of the lakes, by myself, and just stay there all alone until it's over. Where no one can find me."
"But it may never be over," Fred said.
"Then never come back. Do you know anyone who has a cabin up there?"
"No," Fred said.
"Can you drive okay?"
"My --" He hesitated, and a dreamlike strength fell over him, relaxing him and mellowing him out. All the spatial relationships in the room shifted; the alteration affected even his awareness of time. "It's in the ..." He yawned.
"You don't remember."
"I remember it's not functioning."
"We can have somebody drive you up. That would be safer, anyhow."
Drive me up where? he wondered. Up to what? Up roads, trails, paths, hiking and striding through Jell-O, like a tomcat on a leash who only wants to get back indoors, or get free.
He thought, Ein Engel, der Gattin, so gleich, der fuhrt mich zur Freiheit ins himmlische Reich. "Sure," he said, and smiled. Relief. Pulling forward against the leash, trying and striving to get free, and then to lie down. "What do you think about me now," he said, "now that I've proved out like this -- burned out, temporarily, anyhow. Maybe permanently."
Hank said, "I think you're a very good person."
"Thank you," Fred said.
"Take your gun with you."
"What?" he said.
"When you go off to the San Bernardino Mountains with the fifths of I. W. Harper. Take your gun."
"You mean for if I don't come out of it?"
Hank said, "Either way. Coming down off the amount they say you're on ... Have it there with you."
"When you get back," Hank said, "call me. Let me know."
"Hell, I won't have my suit."
"Call me anyhow. With or without your suit."
Again he said, "Okay." Evidently it didn't matter. Evidently that was over.
"When you go pick up your next payment, there'll be a different amount. A considerable change this one time."
Fred said, "I get some sort of bonus for this, for what happened to me?"
"No. Read your penal code. An officer who willingly becomes an addict and does not promptly report it is subject to a misdemeanor charge -- a fine of three thousand dollars and/or six months. You'll probably just be fined."
"Willingly?" he said, marveling.
"Nobody held a gun to your head and shot you up. Nobody dropped something in your soup. You knowingly and willingly took an addictive drug, brain-destructive and disorienting."
"I had to!"
Hank said, "You could have pretended to. Most officers manage to cope with it. And from the quantity they say you were dropping, you have to have been --"
"You're treating me like a crook. I am not a crook."
Picking up a clipboard and pen, Hank began to figure. "How much are you at, paywise? I can calculate it now if --"
"Could I pay the fine later on? Maybe in a series of monthly installments over like two years?"
Hank said, "Come on, Fred."
"Okay," he said.
"How much per hour?"
He couldn't remember.
"Well, then, how many logged hours?"
Hank tossed his clipboard back down. "Want a cigarette?" He offered Fred his pack.
"I'm getting off that, too," Fred said. "Everything including peanuts and ..." He couldn't think. They both sat there, the two of them, in their scramble suits, both silent.
"Like I tell my kids," Hank began.
"I've got two kids," Fred said. "Two girls."
"I don't believe you do; you're not supposed to."
"Maybe not." He had begun to try to figure out when withdrawal would begin, and then he began to try to figure how many tabs of Substance D he had hidden here and there. And how much money he would have, when he got paid, for scoring.
"Maybe you want me to continue figuring what your payoff amount will consist of," Hank said.
"Okay," he said, and nodded vigorously. "Do that." He sat waiting, tensely, drumming on the table, like Barris.
"How much per hour?" Hank repeated, and then presently reached for his phone. "I'll call payroll."
Fred said nothing. Staring down, he waited. He thought, maybe Donna can help me. Donna, he thought, please help me now.
"I don't think you're going to make it to the mountains," Hank said. "Even if somebody drives you."
"Where do you want to go?"
"Let me sit and think."
He wondered what not supposed to meant.
"What about over to Donna Hawthorne's?" Hank said. "From all the information you've brought in and everyone else has, I know you're close."
"Yes." He nodded. "We are." And then he looked up and said, "How do you know that?"
Hank said, "By a process of elimination. I know who you aren't, and there aren't an infinite number of suspects in this group -- in fact, they're a very small group. We thought they'd lead us up higher, and maybe Barris will. You and I have spent a lot of time rapping together. I pieced it together a long time ago. That you're Arctor."
"I'm who?" he said, staring at Hank the scramble suit facing him. "I'm Bob Arctor?" He could not believe it. It made no sense to him. It did not fit anything he had done or thought, it was grotesque.
"Never mind," Hank said. "What's Donna's phone number?"
"She's probably at work." His voice trembled. "The perfume store. The number is --" He couldn't keep his voice steady, and he couldn't remember the number. The hell I am, he said to himself. I'm not Bob Arctor. But who am I? Maybe I'm --
"Get me Donna Hawthorne's number at work," Hank was saying rapidly into the phone. "Here," he said, holding the phone toward Fred. "I'll put you on the line. No, maybe I better not. I'll tell her to pick you up -- where? We'll drive you there and drop you off; can't meet her here. What's a good place? Where do you usually meet her?"
"Take me to her place," he said. "I know how to get in."
"I'll tell her you're there and that you're withdrawing. I'll just say I know you and you asked me to call."
"Far out," Fred said, "I can dig it. Thanks, man."
Hank nodded and began to redial, an outside number. It seemed to Fred that he dialed each digit more and more slowly and it went on forever, and he shut his eyes, breathing to himself and thinking, Wow, I'm really out of it.
You really are, he agreed. Spaced, wired, burned out and strung-out and fucked. Completely fucked. He felt like laughing.
"We'll get you over there to her --" Hank began, and then shifted his attention to the phone, saying, "Hey, Donna, this is a buddy of Bob's, you know? Hey, man, he's in a bad way, I'm not jiving you. Hey, he --"
I can dig it, two voices thought inside his mind in unison as he heard his buddy laying it on Donna. And don't forget to tell her to bring me something; I'm really hurting. Can she score for me or something? Maybe supercharge me, like she does? He reached out to touch Hank but could not; his hand fell short.
"I'll do the same for you sometime," he promised Hank as Hank hung up.
"Just sit there until the car's outside. I'll put through the call now." Again Hank phoned, this time saying, "Motor pool? I want an unmarked car and officer out of uniform. What do you have available?"
They, inside the scramble suit, the nebulous blur, shut their eyes to wait.
"It might be I should get you taken to the hospital," Hank said. "You're very bad off; maybe Jim Barris poisoned you. We really are interested in Barris, not you; the scanning of the house was primarily to keep on Barris. We hoped to draw him in here ... and we did." Hank was silent. "So that's why I knew pretty well that his tapes and the other items were faked. The lab will confirm. But Barris is into something heavy. Heavy and sick, and it has to do with guns."
"I'm a what, then?" he said suddenly, very loud.
"We had to get to Jim Barris and set him up."
"You fuckers," he said.
"The way we arranged it, Barris -- if that's who he is -- got progressively more and more suspicious that you were an undercover police agent, about to nail him or use him to get higher. So he --"
The phone rang.
"All right," Hank said later. "Just sit, Bob. Bob, Fred, whatever. Take comfort -- we did get the bugger and he's a -- well, what you just now called us. You know it's worth it. Isn't it? To entrap him? A thing like that, whatever it is he's doing?"
"Sure, worth it." He could hardly speak; he grated mechanically.
Together they sat.
On the drive to New-Path, Donna pulled off the road where they could see the lights below, on all sides. But the pain had started for him now; she could see that, and there wasn't much time left. She had wanted to be with him one more time. Well, she had waited too long. Tears ran down his cheeks, and he had started to heave and vomit.
"We'll sit for a few minutes," she told him, guiding him through the bushes and weeds, across the sandy soil, among the discarded beer cans and debris. "I --"
"Do you have your hash pipe?" he managed to say.
"Yes," she said. They had to be far enough from the road not to be noticed by the police. Or at least far enough so they could ditch the hash pipe if an officer came along. She would see the police car park, its lights off, covertly, a way off, and the officer approach on foot. There would be time.
She thought, Time enough for that. Time enough to be safe from the law. But no time any more for Bob Arctor . His time -- at least if measured in human standards -- had run out. It was another kind of time which he had entered now. Like, she thought, the time a rat has: to run back and forth, to be futile. To move without planning, back and forth, back and forth. But at least he can still see the lights below us. Although maybe for him it doesn't matter.
They found a sheltered place, and she got out the foil-wrapped fragment of hash and lit the hash pipe. Bob Arctor, beside her, did not seem to notice. He had dirtied himself but she knew he could not help it. In fact, he probably didn't even know it. They all got this way during withdrawal.
"Here." She bent toward him, to supercharge him. But he did not notice her either. He just sat doubled up, enduring the stomach cramps, vomiting and soiling himself, shivering, and crazily moaning to himself, a kind of song.
She thought then of a guy she had known once, who had seen God. He had acted much like this, moaning and crying, although he had not soiled himself. He had seen God in a flashback after an acid trip; he had been experimenting with water-soluble vitamins, huge doses of them. The orthomolecular formula that was supposed to improve neural firing in the brain, speed it up and synchronize it. With that guy, though, instead of merely becoming smarter, he had seen God. It had been a complete surprise to him.
"I guess," she said, "we never know what's in store for us."
Beside her, Bob Arctor moaned and did not answer.
"Did you know a dude named Tony Amsterdam?"
There was no response.
Donna inhaled from the hash pipe and contemplated the lights spread out below them; she smelled the air and listened. "After he saw God he felt really good, for around a year. And then he felt really bad. Worse than he ever had before in his life. Because one day it came over him, he began to realize, that he was never going to see God again; he was going to live out his whole remaining life, decades, maybe fifty years, and see nothing but what he had always seen. What we see. He was worse off than if he hadn't seen God. He told me one day he got really mad; he just freaked out and started cursing and smashing things in his apartment.
He even smashed his stereo. He realized he was going to have to live on and on like he was, seeing nothing. Without any purpose. Just a lump of flesh grinding along, eating, drinking, sleeping, working, crapping."
"Like the rest of us." It was the first thing Bob Arctor had managed to say; each word came with retching difficulty.
Donna said, "That's what I told him. I pointed that out. We were all in the same boat and it didn't freak the rest of us. And he said, 'You don't know what I saw. You don't know.'"
A spasm passed through Bob Arctor, convulsing him, and then he choked out, "Did ... he say what it was like?"
"Sparks. Showers of colored sparks, like when something goes wrong with your TV set. Sparks going up the wall, sparks in the air. And the whole world was a living creature, wherever he looked. And there were no accidents: everything fitted together and happened on purpose, to achieve something -- some goal in the future. And then he saw a doorway. For about a week he saw it wherever he looked- -- inside his apartment, outdoors when he was walking to the store or driving. And it was always the same proportions, very narrow. He said it was very -- pleasing. That's the word he used. He never tried to go through it; he just looked at it, because it was so pleasing. Outlined in vivid red and gold light, he said. As if the sparks had collected into lines, like in geometry. And then after that he never saw it again his whole life, and that's what finally made him so fucked up."
After a time Bob Arctor said, "What was on the other side?"
Donna said, "He said there was another world on the other side. He could see it."
"He ... never went through it?"
"That's why he kicked the shit out of everything in his apartment; he never thought of going through it, he just admired the doorway and then later he couldn't see it at all and it was too late. It opened for him a few days and then it was closed and gone forever. Again and again he took a whole lot of LSD and those water-soluble vitamins, but he never saw it again; he never found the combination."
Bob Arctor said, "What was on the other side?"
"He said it was always nighttime."
"There was moonlight and water, always the same. Nothing moved or changed. Black water, like ink, and a shore, a beach of an island. He was sure it was Greece, ancient Greece. He figured out the doorway was a weak place in time, and he was seeing back into the past. And then later on, when he couldn't see it any more, he'd be on the freeway driving along, with all the trucks, and he'd get madder than hell. He said he couldn't stand all the motion and noise, everything going this way and that, all the clanking and banging. Anyhow, he never could figure out why they showed him what they showed him. He really believed it was God, and it was the doorway to the next world, but in the final analysis all it did was mess up his head. He couldn't hold on to it so he couldn't cope with it. Every time he met anybody, after a while he'd tell them he'd lost everything."
Bob Arctor said, "That's how I am."
"There was a woman on the island. Not exactly -- more a statue. He said it was of the Cyrenaican Aphrodite. Standing there in moonlight, pale and cold and made out of marble."
"He should have gone through the doorway when he had the chance."
Donna said, "He didn't have the chance. It was a promise. Something to come. Something better a long time in the future. Maybe after he --" She paused. "When he died."
"He missed out," Bob Arctor said. "You get one chance and that's it." He shut his eyes against the pain and the sweat streaking his face. "Anyhow what's a burned-out acid head know? What do any of us know? I can't talk. Forget it." He turned away from her, into the darkness, convulsing and shuddering.
"They show us trailers now," Donna said. She put her arms around him and held on to him as tightly as she could, rocking him back and forth. "So we'll hold out."
"That's what you're trying to do. With me now."
"You're a good man. You've been dealt a bad deal. But life isn't over for you. I care for you a lot. I wish ..." She continued to hold him, silently, in the darkness that was swallowing him up from inside. Taking over even as she held on to him. "You are a good and kind person," she said. "And this is unfair but it has to be this way. Try to wait for the end. Sometime, a long time from now, you'll see the way you saw before. It'll come back to you." Restored, she thought. On the day when everything taken away unjustly from people will be restored to them. It may take a thousand years, or longer than that, but that day will come, and all the balances will be set right. Maybe, like Tony Amsterdam, you have seen a vision of God that is gone only temporarily; withdrawn, she thought, rather than ended. Maybe inside the terribly bummed and bumming circuits of your head that char more and more, even as I hold you, a spark of color and light in some disguised form manifested itself, unrecognized, to lead you, by its memory, through the years to come, the dreadful years ahead. A word not fully understood, some small thing seen but not understood, some fragment of a star mixed with the trash of this world, to guide you by reflex until the day ... but it was so remote. She could not herself truly imagine it. Mingled with the commonplace, something from another world perhaps had appeared to Bob Arctor before it was over. All she could do now was hold him and hope.
But when he found it once again, if they were lucky, pattern-recognition would take place. Correct comparison in the right hemisphere. Even at the subcortical level available to him. And the journey, so awful for him, so costly, so evidently without point, would be finished.
A light shone in her eyes. Standing in front of her, a cop with nightstick and flashlight. "Would you please stand up?" the officer said. "And show me your identification? You first, miss."
She let go of Bob Arctor, who slid sideways until he lay against the ground; he was unaware of the cop, who had approached them up the hill, stealthily, from a service road below. Getting her wallet out of her purse, Donna motioned the officer away, where Bob Arctor could not hear. For several minutes the officer studied her identification by the muted light of his flashlight, and then said,
"You're undercover for the federal people."
"Keep your voice down," Donna said.
"I'm sorry." The officer handed the wallet back to her.
"Just fucking take off," Donna said.
The officer shone his light in her face briefly, and then turned away; he departed as he had approached, noiselessly.
When she returned to Bob Arctor, it was obvious that he had never been aware of the cop. He was aware of almost nothing, now. Scarcely of her, let alone anyone or anything else.
Far off, echoing, Donna could hear the police car moving down the rutted, invisible service road. A few bugs, perhaps a lizard, made their way through the dry weeds around them. In the distance the 91 Freeway glowed in a pattern of lights, but no sound reached them; it was too remote.
"Bob," she said softly. "Can you hear me?"
All the circuits are welded shut, she thought. Melted and fused. And no one is going to get them open, no matter how hard they try. And they are going to try.
"Come on," she said, tugging at him, attempting to get him to his feet. "We've got to get started."
Bob Arctor said, "I can't make love. My thing's disappeared."
"They're expecting us," Donna said firmly. "I have to sign you in."
"But what'll I do if my thing's disappeared? Will they still take me in?"
Donna said, "They'll take you."
It requires the greatest kind of wisdom, she thought, to know when to apply injustice. How can justice fall victim, ever, to what is right? How can this happen? She thought, because there is a curse on this world, and all this proves it; this is the proof right here. Somewhere, at the deepest level possible, the mechanism, the construction of things, fell apart, and up from what remained swam the need to do all the various sort of unclear wrongs the wisest choice has made us act out. It must have started thousands of years ago. By now it's infiltrated into the nature of everything. And, she thought, into every one of us. We can't turn around or open our mouth and speak, decide at all, without doing it. I don't even care how it got started, when or why. She thought, I just hope it'll end some time. Like with Tony Amsterdam; I just hope one day the shower of brightly colored sparks will return, and this time we'll all see it. The narrow doorway where there's peace on the far side. A statue, the sea, and what looks like moonlight. And nothing stirring, nothing to break the calm.
A long, long time ago, she thought. Before the curse, and everything and everyone became this way. The Golden Age, she thought, when wisdom and justice were the same. Before it all shattered into cutting fragments. Into broken bits that don't fit, that can't be put back together, hard as we try.
Below her, in the darkness and distribution of urban lights a police siren sounded. A police car in hot pursuit. It sounded like a deranged animal, greedy to kill. And knowing that it soon would. She shivered; the night air had become cold. It was time to go.
It isn't the Golden Age now, she thought, with noises like that in the darkness. Do I emit that kind of greedy noise? she asked herself. Am I that thing? Closing in, or having closed in?
Beside her, the man stirred and moaned as she helped him up. Helped him to his feet and back to her car, step by step, helped him, helped him continue on. Below them, the noise of the police car had abruptly ceased; it had stopped its quarry. Its job was done. Holding Bob Arctor against her, she thought, Mine is done, too.
The two New-Path staff members stood surveying the thing on their floor that lay puking and shivering and fouling itself, its arms hugging itself, embracing its own body as if to stop itself, against the cold that made it tremble so violently.
"What is it?" one staff member said.
Donna said, "A person."
"It ate his head. Another loser."
She said to the two of them, "It's easy to win. Anybody can win." Bending down over Robert Arctor she said, silently,
They were putting an old army blanket over him as she left. She did not look back.
Getting into her car, she drove at once onto the closest freeway, into the thickest traffic possible. From the box of tapes on the floor of the car she took the Carole King Tapestry tape, her favorite of all she had, and pushed it into the tape deck; at the same time, she tugged loose the Ruger pistol magnetically mounted out of sight beneath the dashboard. In top gear she tailgated a truck carrying wooden cases of quart bottles of Coca-Cola, and as Carole King sang in stereo she emptied the clip of the Ruger at the Coke bottles a few feet ahead of her car.
While Carole King sang soothingly about people sitting down and turning into toads, Donna managed to get four bottles before the gun's clip was empty. Bits of glass and smears of Coke splattered the windshield of her car. She felt better.
Justice and honesty and loyalty are not properties of this world, she thought; and then, by God, she rammed her old enemy, her ancient foe, the Coca-Cola truck, which went right on going without noticing. The impact spun her small car around; her headlights dimmed out, horrible noises of fender against tire shrieked, and then she was off the freeway onto the emergency strip, facing the other direction, water pouring from her radiator, with motorists slowing down to gape.
Come back, you motherfucker, she said to herself, but the Coca-Cola truck was long gone, probably undented. Maybe a scratch. Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, her war, her taking on a symbol and a reality that outweighed her. Now my insurance rates will go up, she realized as she climbed from her car. In this world you pay for tilting with evil in cold, hard cash.
A late-model Mustang slowed and the driver, a man, called to her, "You want a ride, miss?"
She did not answer. She just kept on going. A small figure on foot facing an infinity of oncoming lights.