“—fallen leaves gather—”
“The leaves are your instructions.”
“—in the east.”
“I am the east,” Martie said, and now all instructions that the doctor gave her would be gathered in like autumn leaves, to compost in the dark warm depths of her subconscious mind.
As Dusty hung Martie’s black leather jacket on the coat rack, he felt the paperback in the right-hand pocket. It was the novel she had carried here when escorting Susan, not for the entire past year, but at least for four or five months.
Although she had claimed that it was an entertaining read, the book appeared to be as pristine as when it had first been stocked on a bookstore shelf. The spine was smooth, uncreased. When he riffled the pages, they were so crisp and fresh that this might have been the first time they had been parted from one another since being married at the bindery.
He remembered how Martie had spoken of this story in the vague language of a high-schooler faking a report on a book she’d never taken the time to crack. He was suddenly sure that Martie had read none of the novel, but he couldn’t imagine why she would lie about anything this trivial.
Indeed, Dusty found it hard to get his mind around the thought that Martie would ever lie about any matter whatsoever, whether great or small. Uncommon respect for the truth was one of the touchstones by which she constantly tested her right to call herself Smilin’ Bob Woodhouse’s daughter.
After hanging up his own jacket, still holding the paperback, he looked at the magazines fanned on the table. They were of one ilk, dedicated either to shameless fawning over celebrities or to the supposedly witty skewering and hip analysis of the doings and sayings of celebrities, which in the end had essentially the same effect as shameless fawning.
Leaving the magazines untouched, he sat down with the book.
He was vaguely familiar with the title. In its time, this novel had been a best-seller. A famous film had been adapted from it. Dusty had neither read the book nor seen the movie.
The Manchurian Gandidate by Richard Condon.
According to the copyright page, the first edition was published in 1959. An age ago. Another millennium.
Yet still in print. A good sign.
Chapter 1. Although a thriller, the book opened not on a dark stormy night, but in San Francisco, in sunshine. Dusty began to read.
The doctor asked Martie to sit on the couch, where he could sit beside her. Obediently, she moved from the armchair.
Wrapped up all in black. Odd color to wrap a toy—one not yet broken.
That haiku also resonated with him, and he ran it through his mind a few times with increasing pleasure. It wasn’t as good as the Tiffany one, but far better than his recent efforts to capture Susan Jagger in verse.
Sitting on the couch close to Martie but not thigh to thigh, the doctor said, “Today, together, we enter a new phase.”
In the solemn and hushed confines of her mind chapel, where the only votive candles were lit to the god Ahriman, Martie attended his every word with the quiet acceptance and the shining visionary stare of Joan of Arc listening to her Voice.
“From this day forward, you will discover that destruction and self-destruction are ever more appealing. Terrifying, yes. But even terror has a sweet appeal. Tell me if you have ever ridden a roller coaster, one of those that takes you on barrel rolls, loops at high speed.”
“Tell me how you felt on that roller coaster.”
“But you felt something else.”
“There. Terror and pleasure are linked in us. We are a badly miswired species, Martie. Terror delights us, both the experience of terror and the dealing out of it to others. We are healthier if we admit to this miswiring and do not struggle to be better than our natures allow. You do understand what I’m saying.”
Her eyes jiggled. REM. She said, “Yes.”
“Regardless of what our Creator intended us to be, what we have become is what we are. Compassion, love, humility, honesty, loyalty, truthfulness—these are like those enormous plate-glass windows into which small birds crash repeatedly, stupidly. We bash ourselves to pieces against the glass of love, the glass of truth, foolishly struggling to go where we can never go, to be what we are not wired to be.”
“Power and its primary consequences—death and sex. That’s what drives us. Power over others is the thrill of thrills for us. We idolize politicians because they have so much power, and we worship celebrities because their lives appear to be more charged with power than our own. The strong among us seize power, and the weak have the thrill of sacrificing themselves to the power of the strong. Power. The power to kill, to maim, to hurt, to tell other people what to do, how to think, what to believe and what not to believe. The power to terrorize. Destruction is our talent, our destiny. And I am going to prepare you to wallow in destruction, Martie, and ultimately to destroy yourself—to know both the thrill of crushing and of being crushed.”
Blue jiggle. Blue stillness.
Her hands in her lap, both palms up as though to receive. Lips parted to intake. Head cocked slightly to one side in the posture of an attentive student.
The doctor put one hand to her face, caressed her cheek. “Kiss my hand, Martie.”
She pressed her lips to his fingers.
Lowering his hand, the doctor said, “I’m going to show you more photographs, Martie. Images that we will study together. They are similar to those we studied yesterday, when you were here with Susan. Like those photographs, these images are all repulsive, disgusting, horrifying. However, you will examine them calmly and with careful attention to detail. You will store them away in your memory where they will apparently be forgotten—but each time your anxiety swells into a full-scale panic attack, these images will flood back into your mind. And then you will not see them as photographs in a book, neatly boxed, with white borders and captions underneath. Instead, they will be wall-to-wall images in your mind, more vivid and real to you than things you have actually experienced. Please tell me whether or not you understand, Martie.”
“I am proud of you.”
Her blue eyes seeking. His wisdom gives her vision. Teacher and student.
Not bad technically, but false. He isn’t primarily her teacher, and she isn’t his student in any meaningful sense. Player and toy. Master and possession.
“Martie, when these images return to you during panic attacks, they will disgust and sicken you, fill you with nausea and even with despair. . . but they will also hold a strange fascination. You will find them repulsive but compelling. Although you might despair for the victims in these images, in a deep precinct of your mind, you will admire the killers who savaged them. A part of you will envy those killers their power, and you’ll recognize this murderous aspect of yourself. You will fear this violent other Martie. . . and yet yearn to surrender control to her. You will see these images as wishes, as frenzies of violence that you yourself would indulge in if only you could be true to that other Martie, that cold savage self who is, in fact, your true human nature. That other Martie is the real you. The gentle woman you appear to be. . . she is nothing but a deception, a shadow you cast in the light of civilization, so you can pass for one of the weak and not alarm them. Over the next few sessions, I will show you how to become the Martie you are meant to be, how to shed this shadow existence and become truly alive, how to fulfill your potential, seize the power and the glory that are your destiny.”
The doctor had brought two large and beautifully illustrated textbooks with him to the couch. These expensive volumes were used in criminology courses in many universities. Most police detectives and big-city medical examiners were familiar with them, but few in the general public knew of their existence.
The first was a definitive study of forensic pathology, which is the science of recognizing and interpreting diseases, injuries, and wounds in the human body. Forensic pathology was of interest to Dr. Ahriman, because he was a man of medicine and because he was determined never to leave evidence—in the organic ruins resulting from his games—that might result in his transferral from mansion to cell, padded or not.
GO TO JAIL, GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL was a card he intended never to accept. After all, unlike in Monopoly, this game included no GET OUT OF JAIL FREE cards.
The second textbook was a comprehensive study of the tactics, the procedures, and the forensic techniques of practical homicide investigation. The doctor had acquired it on the principle that good gamesmanship requires one to understand fully the strategies of opposing players.
Both volumes held galleries of Death's dark art. The forensic-pathology textbook featured more examples and a greater variety of soul-shriveling grisliness, but the volume on homicide investigation offered more shots of victims in situ, which had a charm not always to be found in photographs taken at the morgue, as any slaughterhouse is visually more arresting than any butcher-shop display. Guggenheims of blood, Louvres of violence, museums of human evil and misery bound with tables of contents and indexes for easy reference.
Docile, she waited. Lips parted. Eyes wide. A vessel ready to be filled.
“You’re quite lovely,” the doctor told her. “Martie, I must admit, blinded by Susan’s light, I had too little appreciation for your beauty. Until now.”
Seasoned by more suffering, she would be exquisitely erotic.
He began, then, with the homicide-investigation textbook. He opened to a page marked with a pink Post-it.
Holding the volume in front of Martie, Ahriman directed her attention to a photograph of a dead man lying supine on a hardwood floor. Naked, he was, and ravaged by thirty-six stab wounds. The doctor made sure that Martie noted, in particular, the imaginative use to which the killer had put the victim’s gen**als.
“And there, the railroad spike in the forehead,” Ahriman said. “Steel, ten inches in length, with a one-inch diameter nailhead, but you can’t see much of the length. It pins him to the oak flooring. A crucifixion reference, no doubt—the nail through the hand and the crown of thorns combined in one efficient symbol. Absorb it, Martie. Every glorious detail.”
She stared intensely, as instructed, gaze traveling wound to wound across the photograph.
“The victim was a priest,” the doctor informed her. “The killer most likely found the oak flooring regrettable, but no manufacturer of home-improvement products has had the panache to market dogwood tongue and groove.”
Blue jiggle. Blue stillness. A blink. The image captured now and stored away.
Ahriman turned the page.
As worried as he had been about Martie, Dusty had not expected to be able to concentrate on the novel. The peace of mind that had settled upon him when he entered Dr. Ahriman’s office did not fade, however, and he found himself more easily captured by the story than he expected to be.
The Manchurian Candidate offered an entertaining plot peopled with colorful characters, just as Martie had promised in her curious wooden tone and phrases. Considering the high quality of the novel, her failure to finish it—or even to read a significant portion of it— during the months she had carried it to Susan’s sessions was more inexplicable than ever.
In Chapter 2, Dusty came to a paragraph that began with the name Dr. Yen Lo.
Shock triggered a reflex action that nearly sent the book flying out of his hands. He held on to it, hut lost his place.
Flipping through the text in search of his page. he was sure that his eves had tricked him. Some phrase containing four syllables similar to those in that Asian name must have made the connection for him, causing him to misread.
Dusty located the second chapter, the page. the paragraph, and there indisputably was the name in clear black type, spelled just as Skeet had spelled it over and over again on the pages of the notepad:
Dr. Yen Lo. The type jittered up and down as his hands shook.
The name had caused the kid to drop instantly into that strange dissociate state, as though he were hypnotized, and now it gave Dusty a case of the whim—whams that left the nape of his neck more corrugated than corduroy. Even the singularly calming influence of the waiting-room decor could not raise any warmth along his spine, which was as cold as a thermometer in a meat locker.
Using one finger as a bookmark, he got to his feet and paced the small room, trying to work off sufficient nervous energy to be able to hold the book still enough to read.
Why was Skeet so tormented and so affected by a name that was nothing more than that of a character in a work of fiction?
Considering the kid’s taste in literature, the groaning shelves of fantasy novels in his apartment, he probably hadn’t even read this thriller. There was nary a dragon in it, neither elf nor wizard.
After several circuits of the room, beginning to understand the frustration of a zoo-kept panther, Dusty returned to his chair, even though he still felt as if all the fluid in his spine had collected, like chilled mercury, in the small of his back.
He continued reading. Dr. Yen Lo....
Sloppy work, this decapitation, obviously performed with the wrong cutting tool.
“The victim’s eyes are a point of interest here, Martie. How wide they appear. The upper lids crimped back so far by shock that they almost look as though they were cut off. Such mystery in his gaze, such an otherworldly quality, as though in the moment of death, he had been granted a glimpse of what awaited him beyond.”
She looked into the pitiable eyes in the photograph. Blinked. Blinked.
Paging to the next pink Post-it, the doctor said, “This one is of special importance, Martie. Study it well.”
She lowered her head slightly toward the page.
“You and Dusty will eventually be required to mutilate a woman in a similar manner to this, and you will arrange the various body parts in a tableau as clever as this one. The victim here is a girl, just fourteen years old, but the two of you will be dealing with a somewhat older person.”
The doctor’s interest was so gripped by the photograph that he didn’t see the first two tears until they had tracked most of the way down Martie’s face. Looking up, catching sight of those twin pearls, he was astonished.
“Martie, you are supposed to be in that deepest of deep places in your mind, far down in the chapel. Tell me whether or not that is where you are.”
“Yes. Here. The chapel.”
With her personality this deeply repressed, she should not have been able to respond emotionally either to anything that she witnessed or to anything that was done to her. As with Susan, the doctor should have had to bring her out from the chapel and up a flight or two of stairs, figuratively speaking, to a higher level of consciousness, before she would be capable of any reaction as savory as this.