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“I know you wouldn’t want to have to do it. But I think you could. And so could I.”

To his surprise, he found himself telling her about the optical illusion that had fascinated him as a kid: the drawing of the forest that by a simple shift of perspective suddenly revealed a bustling metropolis.

“This applies?” she asked.

“Yeah. Because tonight I was that drawing. I always thought I knew exactly who I was. Then a simple shift of perspective, and I see a different me. Which one is real and which is fiction?”

“They’re both the real you,” she said. “And that’s okay.”

Hearing her say that it was okay actually made it okay in his mind. Although she didn’t know it, and although he would never be able to quite put his feelings into words that she would understand, Martie was the only touchstone by which Dusty measured his value as a human being.

Later, when he was near sleep, she said, “There’s got to be a way out. Just. . . shift perspective.”

Maybe she was right. A way out. But he couldn’t find it either in the waking world or in dreams.


In the blue morning, flying out of Albuquerque with neither a toy fire truck nor a handgun, stiff and sore from the previous day’s exertions, Martie felt tired and old. While Dusty read Learn to Love Yourself to better understand their enemy, Martie pressed her forehead to the window and gazed down at the snow-dusted city as it rapidly disappeared below them. The whole world had grown so strange that she might as well have been flying out of Istanbul or another exotic capital.

Slightly less than seventy-two hours ago, she’d taken Valet for his morning walk, and her shadow had briefly frightened her. After the odd moment passed, she’d been amused. Her dearest friend had still been alive. She had not yet been to Santa Fe. Back then, she believed that life had a mysterious design, and she saw reassuring patterns in the events of her days. She still believed in the existence of design, though the patterns she saw now were different from those she’d seen before, different and troublingly more complex.

She had expected to suffer terrible nightmares—and not from two cans of beer and crummy cheese sandwiches. But her sleep hadn’t been disturbed.

Smilin’ Bob had not come to her in dreams, either, nor in those moments during the night when, awake, she had searched the shadows of the motel room for the distinctive shape of his helmet and the faintly luminescent stripes on his turnout coat.

Martie had badly wanted to see him in dreams or otherwise. She felt abandoned, as if she no longer deserved his guardianship.

With California coming and with all that waited there, she needed both the men in her life, Dusty and Smilin’ Bob, if she were to have hope.

The doctor rarely saw patients other than on the first four days of the week. Only Martie and Dusty Rhodes were on his schedule this Friday, and they were not going to be able to keep their appointment.

“You better be careful,” he told his reflection in the bathroom mirror. “Pretty soon, you’re not going to have any practice at all if you keep killing off your patients.”

Having sailed through the crises of the past two days with his tail unbobbed and both horns intact—a little metaphysical humor, there—he was in a splendid mood. Moreover, he had thought of a way to revive the game that had seemed hopelessly unplayable last night, and he had arrived at a lovely use for the fragrant contents of the blue bag.

He dressed in another fine Zegna suit: a black, sartorially cut number with the very latest lapel style and a two-button jacket. He cut such a dashing figure in the three-panel dressing mirror in his walk-in closet that he considered setting up the video camera to record how terrific he had looked on this historic day.

Unfortunately, time was of the essence, just as it had been the previous night. He had promised the Keanuphobe that he would be in the office all day, awaiting her decision as to whether or not she would join the rebellion against the malevolent computer. He must not disappoint the nouveau-riche nutcake.

For the second day in a row, he decided to carry a gun. The threat seemed to have been reduced, with so many potential enemies dead, but these were dangerous times.

Although the Taurus PT-111 Millennium was not registered— having been provided to him, as were all his weapons, by the good folks at the institute—he couldn’t use it again. Now that it could be linked to the murders of two men, it was a hot piece; it would have to be broken down and disposed of with maximum discretion.

From his gun safe, concealed behind bookshelves in the master-

suite sitting room, he selected a .380 Beretta model 85F, an elegant twenty-two-ounce pistol with an eight-round magazine. This, too, was an unregistered handgun with no traceable history.

He packed a compartmentalized, hand-tooled Mark Cross briefcase with the blue bag, the Green Acres bag, and the tape recorder that he used for dictation. While he waited for the Keanuphobe to call, he would do some game planning and compose a chapter of Fear Not for l Am with You.

In his study, he checked his E-mail and was surprised to find that he had still not received a confirmation of the double hit in New Mexico. Puzzled but not worried, he composed a short encrypted query and shot it off to the institute.

He drove his antique Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud.

The car inspired several haiku during the short trip to the office.

Blue day, Silver Cloud. Conveyance of kings, of queens. And blue bag of poop.

The doctor was in fine form, and his bubbly mood resulted in another playful verse only two blocks from his office:

Silver Cloud, blacktop. Blind man in crosswalk, cane taps. Compassion or fun?

He chose compassion and allowed the blind man to cross without incident. Besides, the Silver Cloud was pristine, and the doctor shuddered at the thought of the magnificent motorcar sustaining even minor body damage.

Coming fast down to California at a precipitous angle, Dusty suspected that he and Martie had a long descent ahead of them even after the wheels of the airliner were safely on the tarmac. Past this sunny day lay dark places yet unvisited.

Weaponless but armed with knowledge, he believed they had no choice but to confront Ahriman. He suffered under no illusions that the psychiatrist would confess or even explain himself. The best they could hope for was that Mark Ahriman would inadvertently reveal something that would give them a slight edge or at least deepen their understanding of him and of the institute in New Mexico.

“Besides, I don’t think Ahriman has ever faced much in the way of adversity. He’s had a smooth ride through life. Judging by what

I’ve read of his stupid book, he’s every bit the classic narcissist Dr. Closterman accused him of being.”

“And damn smug,” Martie added, because Dusty had read her some passages from Learn to Love Yourself

“He’s powerful, he’s connected, he’s smart, but at the core he might be soft. If we can rattle him, intimidate him, get in his face and shake him up, he probably won’t come apart significantly, but he might do something stupid, reveal something he shouldn’t. And right now, we need every tiny advantage we can get.”

After they ransomed the Saturn from the airport parking garage, they drove to Fashion Island in Newport Beach, to the high-rise where Ahriman had his office. The Tower of Cirith Ungol, Martie called it, which was a place of evil in The Lord of the Rings.

On the elevator ride to the fourteenth floor, Dusty experienced a sinking sensation in his chest and stomach, as though the cab were descending rather than ascending. He almost decided not to get off the elevator, to ride it back downstairs again. Then. . . an idea.

The doctor was seated at his desk, taking a cookie break, when his computer—which was always running—issued a soft bing, and the screen filled with a security-camera view of the reception lounge, which happened every time someone entered from the public corridor. If he had been working on the computer, the camera shot would have appeared as a picture-in-picture, and he wouldn’t have had such a clear view of Martie and Dusty Rhodes.

He checked his Rolex and saw that they were only six minutes late for their appointment.

Evidently, something had gone badly wrong in New Mexico.

Various security-system icons had appeared along the bottom of the screen. The doctor used his mouse to click on an image of a gun.

A highly refined metal detector indicated that both subjects were carrying small amounts of metal on their persons—coins, keys, and the like—but that neither of them was concealing a metal mass of sufficient size to be a firearm.

To another icon: a miniature skeleton. Click.

As the pair stood at the reception window, talking to Jennifer, they were aligned with roentgen tubes concealed between the louvers

in an air-return grille in the wall to their left. Fluoroscopic images were relayed to Ahriman’s screen.

They had good skeletons, these two. Solid bone structure, well-articulated joints, excellent posture. If they possessed the talent to match their physical gifts, they would be fine ballroom dancers.

As though floating in zero gravity, other objects were revealed by fluoroscopy, suspended around the well-poised bones. Coins, keys, buttons, metal zippers, but no knives in arm or leg sheaths, nothing lethal.

A jumble of small items in Martie’s purse couldn’t be easily identified. Among them might be a folded switchblade. Impossible to be sure.

The third icon was a drawing of a nose. As the doctor finished his cookie, he clicked the nose.

This activated a trace-scent analyzer that sampled air drawn from the reception lounge. The device, programmed to recognize the chemical profiles of thirty-two different explosive compounds, was sensitive enough to detect as few as three signature molecules per cubic centimeter of air. Negative. Neither of his visitors was carrying a bomb.

He had not really expected Dusty or Martie to have either the expertise with explosives or the sheer gumption to come calling with bombs strapped to their bodies. This extraordinary level of security had been installed because from time to time the doctor dealt with patients who were far less stable than these two.

Some might have looked at these elaborate precautions and called them indications of paranoia. To the doctor, however, this was simply paying attention to detail.

His dad had often counseled him on the importance of security. The great director's production offices were equipped with state-of-the-art (for that time) security to protect him from jilted starlets, volatile actors furious with the way he’d edited their performances, and any critic who might have discovered who had paid to have his mother’s legs broken.

Now, confident that neither Dusty nor Martie could harm him faster than he could access them, Ahriman buzzed Jennifer and told her that he was ready for his appointment. Without rising from his desk, he triggered the electronic lock on the door to the reception lounge, and it swung slowly inward on powered hinges.

The doctor clicked an icon that showed a pair of headphones.

Manic and Dusty entered, appearing angry but more subdued than he expected. When he directed them to the two smaller chairs that faced his desk, they sat as instructed.

The door closed behind them.

“Doctor,” Martie said, “we don’t know what the hell’s going on, but we know it’s rotten, it stinks, it's sick, and we want answers.”

Ahriman had been consulting his computer screen as she talked. Judging by the absence of the low-level electronic field associated with a voice-activated transmitter, she was not wired.

“A moment, please,” he said, clicking a microphone icon.

“Listen,” Dusty said angrily, “we’re not going to just sit here while you—”

“Ssshhh,” the doctor admonished, finger to his lips. “Only for a moment, please, absolute silence. Absolute.”

They glanced at each other while Ahriman studied the report on the screen.

The doctor said, “Martie, there are highly sensitive microphones in this room that detect the precise, characteristic sound pattern of the rhythmically turning hubs in a cassette tape recorder. I see that you have left your purse open and are holding it tipped slightly toward me. Do you have such a device in your purse?”

Clearly shaken, she extracted the recorder.

“Put it on the desk, please.”

She leaned forward from her chair and surrendered the recorder.

Ahriman switched it off and extracted the minicassette.

“You’ve got that tape,” Martie said angrily. “All right, okay. But we’ve got a better one, you sonofabitch. We’ve got one of Susan Jagger—”

“Raymond Shaw,” said the doctor.

“I’m listening,” Martie responded, stiffening slightly in her chair as she was activated.

Immediately, as Dusty turned to frown at his wife, Ahriman said, “Viola Narvilly.”

“I’m listening,” Dusty replied, his attitude identical to that of his wife’s.

Accessing the two simultaneously would be tricky but doable. If more than six seconds passed between exchanges in their enabling haiku, they would revert to full consciousness. Therefore, he would have to switch back and forth between them, like a juggler spinning plates on top of sticks.

To Martie, he said, “Blown from the west—” “You are the west and the western wind.”

To Dusty, he said, “Lightning gleams—”

“You are the lightning.”

Now to Martie: “—fallen leaves gather—”

“The leaves are your instructions.”

And back to Dusty: “—and a night heron’s shriek—”

“The shrieks are your instructions.”

Ahriman finished with Martie: “—in the east.”

“I am the east.”

Finally to Dusty: “—travels into darkness.”

“I am the darkness.”

Martie sat with her head tipped slightly forward, her eyes on her hands, which were clutching her purse.

Beautiful bowed head. If told to blow out her brains.. . obeys her master.

Admittedly, this was not first-rate haiku, but the doctor found the sentiment charming.

Still turned toward his wife, head half cocked in an attitude of puzzlement, Dusty appeared to be focused on her.

Of course, she was not actually interested in her purse, and her husband was not truly aware of her, because both of them were waiting for one thing: instructions.


Astonished and delighted, Ahriman leaned back in his chair and marveled at how abruptly his fortunes had improved. The game, which he’d been restructuring this morning, could now be played out with much of his original strategy. All his problems were solved.

Well, except for the Keanuphobe. But now with the universe seeming to be considerate of the doctor’s every need, he expected that the issue of the hemi-billionaire bubblehead basket case would be resolved to his advantage before the day was out.