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“Susan,” he said, “do you know who I am?”

“Do I?” she asked, her voice fragile and distant.

In this state, she was incapable of answering any question, because she was waiting to be told what he wanted of her, what act she must commit, and even how she must feel about it.

“Am I your psychiatrist, Susan?”

In the gloom, he could almost see the puzzlement on her face. “Are you?”

Until she was released from this state, she would respond only to commands.

He said, “Tell me your name.”

Receiving this direct instruction, she was free to provide whatever knowledge she possessed. “Susan Jagger.”

“Tell me who I am.”

“Dr. Ahriman.”

“Am I your psychiatrist?”

“Are you?”

“Tell me my profession.”

“You’re a psychiatrist.”

This more-than-trance-not-quite-fugue state had not been easily engineered. Much hard work and professional dedication had been required to remake her into this pliant plaything.

Eighteen months ago, before he had been her psychiatrist, on three separate carefully orchestrated occasions, without Susan’s knowledge, Ahriman had administered to her a potent brew of drugs:

Rohypnol, phencyclidine, Valium, and one marvelous cerebrotropic substance not listed in any published pharmacopoeia. The recipe was his own, and he personally compounded each dose from the stock in his private and quite illegal pharmacy, because the ingredients must be precisely balanced if the desired effect were to be achieved.

The drugs themselves had not reduced Susan to her current obedient condition, but each dose had rendered her semiconscious, unaware of her situation, and supremely malleable. While she had been in this twilight sleep, Ahriman had been able to bypass her conscious mind, where volitional thinking occurred, and speak to her deep subconscious, where conditioned reflexes were established and where he met no resistance.

What he had done to her during those three long sessions would tempt tabloid newspapers and writers of spy novels to use the word brainwashing, but it was nothing as twentieth-century as that. He had not torn down the structure of her mind, with the intention of rebuilding it in a new architecture. That approach—once favored by the Soviet, the Chinese, and the North Korean governments, among others—was too ambitious, demanding months of around-the-clock access to the subject in a dreary prison environment, with lots of tedious psychological torture, not to mention a tolerance for the wretch’s annoying screams and cowardly pleading. Dr. Ahriman’s IQ was high, but his boredom threshold was low. Besides, the rate of success using traditional brainwashing techniques was uninspiring and the degree of control seldom total.

Rather, the doctor had gone down into Susan’s subconscious, into the cellar, and he had added a new chamber—call it a secret chapel—of which her conscious mind remained unaware. There, he conditioned her to worship one god to the exclusion of all others, and that god was Mark Ahriman himself. He was a stern deity, preChristian in his denial of free will, intolerant of the slightest disobedience, merciless with transgressors.

Thereafter, he had never again drugged her. There was no need to do so anymore. In those three sessions, he had established the control devices—the Marco name, the haiku—that instantly repressed her personality and took her to the same deep realms of her psyche to which the chemicals had taken her.

In the final drug session, he also implanted her agoraphobia. He thought it was an interesting malady, ensuring satisfying drama and many colorful effects as she gradually cracked apart and finally came to ruin. The whole point, after all, was entertainment.

Now, with his hand still upon Susan’s throat, he said, “I don’t think I’ll be myself this time. Something kinky tonight. Do you know who I am, Susan?”

“Who are you?”

“I’m your father,” Ahriman said. She did not reply.

He said, “Tell me who I am.” “You’re my father.”

“Call me Daddy,” he instructed.

Her voice remained distant, devoid of emotion, because he had not yet told her how she was required to feel about this scenario. “Yes, Daddy.”

Her carotid pulse, under his right thumb, remained slow.

“Tell me the color of my hair, Susan.”

Although the kitchen was too dark for her to determine his hair color, she said, “Blond.”

Ahriman’s hair was salt-and-pepper, but Susan’s father was indeed a blond.

“Tell me the color of my eyes.”

“Green like mine.”

Ahriman’s eyes were hazel.

With his right hand still pressed to Susan’s throat, the doctor leaned down and kissed her almost chastely.

Her mouth was slack. She was not an active participant in the kiss; in fact, she was so passive that she might as well have been catatonic if not comatose.

Biting gently at her lips, then forcing his tongue between them, he kissed her as no father should ever kiss a daughter, and although her mouth remained slack and her carotid pulse did not accelerate, he sensed her breath catch in her throat.

“How do you feel about this, Susan?”

“How do you want me to feel?”

Smoothing her hair with one hand, he said, “Deeply ashamed, humiliated. Full of terrible sorrow. . . and a little resentful at being used like this by your own father. Dirty, debased. And yet obedient, ready to do what you’re told. . . because you’re also aroused against your will. You have a sick, hungry need that you want to deny but cant.

Again he kissed her, and this time she tried to close her mouth to him; she relented, however, and her mouth softened, opened. She put her hands against his chest, to fend him off, but her resistance was weak, childlike.

Under his thumb, the pulse in her right carotid artery raced like that of a hare in the shadow of a hound.

“Daddy, no.”

The reflection of green light in Susan’s green eyes glistered with a new watery depth.

Those shimmering fathoms produced a subtle fragrance, faintly bitter, briny, and this familiar scent caused the doctor to swell with fierce desire.

He lowered his right hand from her throat to her waist, holding her close.

“Please,” she whispered, managing to make that one word both a protest and a nervous invitation.

Ahriman breathed deeply, then lowered his mouth to her face. The reliability of a predator’s sense of smell was confirmed: Her cheeks were wet and salty.


With a series of quick little kisses, he moistened his lips on her damp skin, and then explored his flavored lips with the tip of his tongue.

Both hands around her waist now, he lifted her and carried her backward, until he was pressing her between his body and the refrigerator.

“Please” again, and then once more “please,” the dear girl so conflicted that eagerness and dread spiced her voice in equal measure.

Susan’s weeping was accompanied by neither whimper nor sob, and the doctor savored these silent streams, seeking to slake the thirst that he could never satisfy. He licked a salty pearl from the corner of her mouth, licked another from the flared rim of a nostril, and then suckled on the droplets beaded across her eyelashes, relishing the flavor as though this would be his sole sustenance for the day,

Letting go of her waist, stepping back from her, he said, “Go to your bedroom, Susan.”

Sinuous shadow, she moved like hot tears, clear and bitter.

The doctor followed, admiring her graceful walk, to her bed in Hell.


Valet dozed, twitching and snuffling in the company of phantom rabbits, but Martie lay in stone-still silence, as though she were a death sculpture upon a catafalque.

Her sleep seemed deeper than possible in the turbulent wake of the day’s events, and it was reminiscent of Skeet’s plumbless slumber in his room at New Life.

Sitting up in bed, barefoot, in jeans and a T-shirt, Dusty once more sorted through the fourteen pages that had come from the notepad in Skeet’s kitchen, brooding on the name Dr Yen Lo in all thirty-nine renditions.

That name, when spoken, had seemed to traumatize Skeet, causing him to lapse into a twilight consciousness in which he answered every question with a question of his own. Open eyes jiggling as in REM sleep, he responded directly—if often cryptically—only to questions that were framed as statements or commands. When Dusty’s frustration had led him to say Ah, give me a break and go to sleep, Skeet dropped into an abyss as abruptly as a narcoleptic responding instantaneously to the flipping of an electrochemical switch in the brain.

Of the many curious aspects of Skeet’s behavior, one currently interested Dusty more than any other: the kid’s failure to remember anything that had happened between the moment when he had heard the name Dr Yen Lo and, minutes later, when he had obeyed Dusty’s unthinking demand that he go to sleep. Selective amnesia might be blamed. But it was more as though Skeet had conducted the conversation with Dusty while in a blackout.

Martie had spoken of her suspicion that she was “missing time,” from her day, though she could not identify precisely when any gap or gaps had occurred. Fearful that she had opened the gas valve in the fireplace without lighting the ceramic logs, she had repeatedly returned to the living room with an urgent conviction that a furious explosion was imminent. Although the valve had always been tightly closed, she continued to be troubled by a perception that her memory had been nibbled like a holey woolen scarf beset by moths.

Dusty had witnessed his brother’s blackout. And he sensed truth in Martie’s fear of having fallen into a fugue.

Perhaps a link.

This had been an extraordinary day. The two people dearest to Dusty’s heart had suffered quite different but equally dramatic episodes of aberrant behavior. The odds of such serious—even if temporary—psychological collapse striking twice, this close, were surely a great deal smaller than the one-in-eighteen-million chance of winning the state lottery.

He supposed that the average citizen of our brave new millennium would think this was a grim coincidence. At most they would consider it an example of the curious patterns that the grinding machinery of the universe sometimes randomly produces as a useless by-product of its mindless laboring.

To Dusty, however, who perceived mysterious design in everything from the color of daffodils to Valet’s pure joy in pursuit of a ball, there was no such thing as coincidence. The link was tantalizing—though difficult to fathom. And frightening.

He put the pages of Skeet’s notepad on his nightstand and picked up a notepad of his own. On the top page, he had printed the lines of the haiku that his brother had referred to as the rules.

Clear cascades into the waves scatter blue pine needles.

Skeet was the waves. According to him, the blue pine needles were missions. The clear cascades were Dusty or Yen Lo, or perhaps anyone who invoked the haiku in Skeet’s presence.

At first everything that Skeet said seemed to be gibberish, but the longer Dusty puzzled over it, the more he sensed structure and purpose waiting to be discerned. For some reason, he began to perceive the haiku as a sort of mechanism, a simple device with a powerful effect, the verbal equivalent of a compressor-driven paint sprayer or a nail gun.

Give a nail gun to a carpenter from the preindustrial age, and although he might intuit that it was a tool, he would be unlikely to understand its purpose—until he accidentally fired a nail through his foot. The possibility of unintentionally causing psychological harm to his brother motivated Dusty to contemplate the haiku at length, until he understood the use of this tool, before deciding whether to explore further its effect on Skeet.


To grasp the purpose of the haiku, he had to understand, at the very least, what Skeet had meant by missions.

Dusty was certain he precisely remembered the haiku and the kid’s odd interpretation, because he was blessed with a photographic and audio-retentive memory of such high reliability that he cruised through high school and one year of college with a perfect 4.0 grade average, before deciding that he could experience life more fully as a housepainter than as an academic.


Dusty considered synonyms. Task. Work. Chore. Job. Calling. Vocation. Career Church.

None of them furthered his understanding.

From the big sheepskin pillow in the corner, Valet whimpered anxiously, as though the rabbits in his dreams had grown fangs and were now doing the dog’s work while he played rabbit in the chase.

Martie was too zonked to be roused by the dog’s thin squeals.

Sometimes, however, Valet’s nightmares escalated until he woke with a terrified bark.

“Easy boy. Easy boy,” Dusty whispered.

Even in dreams, the retriever seemed to hear his master’s voice, and his whimpering subsided.

“Easy. Good boy. Good Valet.”

Although the dog didn’t wake, his feathery plumed tail swished across the sheepskin a few times before curling close around him once more.

Martie and the dog slept on peacefully, but suddenly Dusty sat up from the pillows piled against the headboard, the very thought of sleep banished by a rattling insight. Mulling over the haiku, he’d been fully awake, but by comparison to this wide-eyed state, he might as well have been drowsing. He was now hyperalert, as cold as if he had ice water for spinal fluid.

He had been reminded of another moment with the dog, earlier in the day.

Valet stands in the kitchen, at the connecting door to the garage, ready to ride shotgun on the trip to Skeet's apartment, patiently fanning the air with his plumed tail while Dusty pulls on a hooded nylon jacket.

The phone rings. Someone peddling subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times.

When Dusty racks the wall phone after only a few seconds, be turns toward the door to the garage and discovers that Valet is no longer standing, but lying on his side at the threshold, as though ten minutes have passed, as if he has been napping.

“You had a shot of chicken protein, golden one. Let’s see some vigor”

With a long-suffering sigh, Valet gets to his feet.

Dusty was able to move through the scene in his mind’s eye as though it were three-dimensional, studying the golden retriever with acute attention to detail. Indeed, he could see the moment more clearly now than he’d seen it then: In retrospect the dog obviously, inarguably had been napping.

Even with his eidetic and audile memory, he could not recall whether the Times salesperson had been a man or woman. He had no memory of what he had said on the phone or of what had been said to him, just a vague impression that he had been the target of a phone-sales campaign.

At the time, he had attributed his uncharacteristic memory lapse to stress. Taking a header off a roof, watching your brother suffer a breakdown before your eyes: This stuff was bound to mess with your mind.