Sunday, March 10, 2013

Grand Romantic Delusions Chapter 14: The Doctor

     Katie left the book store and went straight back to her hotel suite. She always kept a stash of burner cells on hand in order to make untraceable calls when needed, and she didn't want any record of contact between her and the psychologist who had worked on the Strange Animal project.
     She still wasn't sure what to think of O'Keefe. He was paranoid, sure—but she happened to know there were people watching him. Goofy though he was, he seemed a nice enough guy. Deception was a core part of her job—of who she was, even, she'd been doing it so long—but she almost felt bad having to deceive him. What was it about this poor hapless janitor that made her sympathize with him? Well, clearly he was more than just a janitor—his service record was proof enough of that. She wondered if she could get him to talk about his time in the navy. Obviously that was a secret he didn't want shared, if not even Labelle knew about it. Or were they involved in keeping the secret, too?

     The more she thought about it, the less the whole situation added up right in her mind. If Labelle knew about his secret navy days, why would they hire a security expert to investigate him? The only thing that would make sense would be if they had discovered the secret on their own and wanted outside help in discovering what he was up to. But, then why hide the fact from her? If they didn't know about his time in the service, then the only reason for him to have hidden it was if he really were up to something clandestine. If that were the case, then was he working for Military Intelligence? Or had he sold his services to a private interest? O'Keefe surely didn't strike her as the kind of man who could be so guileful. But then, maybe he had her fooled—could he just be that good?
     She was so lost in thought that she almost didn't even notice O'Keefe tailing her. He was surprisingly tenacious, which just lent credence to the theory that he knew what he was doing. Katie found herself quite surprised by this. She did finally manage to lose him, though, before heading back downtown.

     Once she'd made herself comfortable, Katie opened one of her burners. The way consumer electronics were packaged these days, it appeared as though the manufacturers' biggest fear was the idea of a customer attempting to actually use anything they had bought. She had to apply a large pair of shears to the problem and simply cut into the packaging.
     After checking her ZZ1alpha box and retrieving the information on Celia Wright, she punched the number into the burner cell. 
     The phone rang four times before a man's voice answered. "Hello?"
     "Hello, this is Doctor Parker with Labelle Research, may I speak with Dr. Wright, please?"
     "Yeah … just a sec," responded the man. Katie could hear the phone being put down and him yelling "Cee? Phone for you!"
     After a few seconds a woman picked up. "Yes?"
     "Doctor Wright?" Katie asked. "Dr. Celia Wright?"
     "Yes," Celia responded. "This is she. To whom am I speaking?"
     "This is Dr. May Parker from Labelle Labs."
     "Labelle?" The woman sounded confused.
     "Yes—we funded one of your research projects?"
     "You did? I don't recall ever receiving any kind of grant from anyone called Labelle Labs."
     "You don't? Weren't you in charge of a study on developmental memory and cognition?"
     "In children, yes."
     "Only children? Wasn't your husband involved?"
     "William? No, I hadn't even met him—"
     "I'm sorry," Katie interrupted. "Your ex-husband I mean. Lewis?" 
     "Lewis? No, he had nothing to do with any of my research. He was a business major, before he worked in publishing."
     "But when you were in school—"
     Celia interrupted this time. "Look, I don't know where you got your information, but Lewis had nothing to do with my research and I've never done any work with any Labelle Laboratories."
     "Really?" Katie was getting frustrated. "Because, I have paperwork right in front of me that says your husband was involved in testing a project called "TIER" that involved memory and cognitive reasoning and that the research was conducted by you."
     "Project TIER?" Celia grew quiet. "What do you know about that?"
     "I told you, we funded it."
     "I heard rumors about TIER," Celia said, "but nothing more. I wasn't involved in it. And Lewis surely had nothing to do with it. My own research was in cognitive enhancement for children with learning disabilities. It had nothing to do with TIER."
     "But you were aware of TIER?"
     "Yes … but I would never have become involved with something so unethical!"
     "Of course not, Dr. Wright." Katie tried to sound reassuring. "And frankly, the previous administration is in a bit of a pickle over exactly that. Some of the former directors were involved in some … let us say 'questionable' research, and the new administration has tasked me with uncovering their wrongdoings so we can clear the decks."
     "That's good to hear, any way," Celia's relieved tone was evident. "There's not much I can tell you though. I only heard rumors."
     "Well, rumors are at least a start," Katie replied. "What did you hear?"
     "Supposedly the idea was the total removal of internal blocks in subjects—removal of self-doubt, that is. Total Identity and Ego Removal. At least that's what I heard."
     "Whatever for?"
     "It was done in the belief that many people have difficulty learning new skills due to self-doubt, or concern over how others perceive them ... that sort of thing. You know how when you're given a task at work—something you know you can do—but then you're told to do it while your boss sits over your shoulder, observing you?"
     "Yes," said Katie. "You never work as well or efficiently as normal—as when you're alone."
     "Exactly! So what if you could take all the fear of failure, all the self-doubt and concern for how others might judge you, and just remove it? And we're not talking about just the surface emotions, here. This is even all the subconscious awareness."
     "So, you would do a much better job at following direction, even with the person directing you standing right there."
     "But the results …"
     "That's where the problem comes in. Removing someone's concern for themselves or how others judge them, well …" Celia swallowed hard. "That's a recipe for creating automatons at best."
     "—and sociopaths at worst." Katie finished for her.
     "So, if you weren't involved in this, who was doing this research?"
     "I don't know. I wasn't even sure it was being done at all. It was one of those rumored projects that was supposedly closed down years ago—before I came to work here in Washington. I thought maybe it was an urban legend—probably left over from the Cold War era."
     "According to this paperwork it was still being funded as late as last year."
     "Well, that's as may be," replied Celia. "I don't know about that though. What I can tell you is that I had nothing to do with any of it."
     "And your ex-husband?"
     "This again? I told you—he has never been involved in any of my work." A certain sharpness found its way into Celia's tone. "What, exactly, does your paperwork say?"
     "It says here he was part of the program … a test subject."
     "In 1993 and 1994—it says he underwent some drug trials related to TIER."
     "I didn't even know him before 1993, but … come to think of it …" She trailed off.
     "What is it Dr. Wright?"
     "Well, Lewis took a couple of basic psych courses, you know—to round out his requirements."
     "Yes, and?"
     "Part of the requirements for any psychology classes—and a lot of universities do this, mind you—was that you had to make yourself available for some experiments being done by upperclassmen. It was nearly impossible to pass a course, otherwise."
     "I see … so you think perhaps he'd been exposed to TIER via one of these experiments?"
     "I suppose, it is possible."
     "Can you tell me how to reach your ex-husband?"
     "Um—not really, no," said Celia softly. "After his … his breakdown, we … we sort of lost contact."
     "Yeah … he had a nervous breakdown." Celia Wright went quiet.
     After a moment, Katie asked, "When did this happen?"
     "It would have been about six years ago. 2005."
     "Do you have any idea where he might be now?"
     "The last I heard he had shacked up with some girl out east somewhere. Ohio, I think."
     "Really?" Katie asked, surprised despite herself. "Where in Ohio?"
     "Columbus or Dayton, maybe? Somewhere like that, I think. "
     Katie couldn't believe her luck. She thanked Celia. After disconnecting the call, she SecTexted Gavrilo yet again: Need info on Dr's Ex: Lewis Wright. Believed 2B in OH.
     She was glad this job paid well. She was going to owe Gav a small fortune at this rate. She might even have to take him up on his offer of dinner.

     Seth watched Svetlana get into her car. He drove up the opposite side of the parking lot and waited to see which way she would go. She headed east, and he jumped into traffic several cars behind her. She took a long and meandering route: turning south, then east … south, east, south, north. He realized she must have spotted him, and was trying to lose him. His car was rather conspicuous, but he thought he knew what to do. He let her lose him, but under the assumption that she must be heading towards Rt. 315, he headed south to the next parallel road and hit the gas at the next left, going east as quickly as he could … he even ran one very pink yellow light and another that was positively red. He didn't see any cops around, though, fortunately.
     He drove back to the road Svetlana had originally been on and found a spot between several other cars in front of a fast food joint. From here he could see the road. Sure enough, he spotted the white Accord just a minute later. He saw she was in the turn lane to get on to the freeway. After a few seconds, he followed.
     Once on the highway, he hit the gas again until he saw Svetlana's car ahead. He found a nice big truck to draft behind, keeping it between them until she took an exit ramp downtown. Surprisingly he managed to keep on her all the way until she pulled into her hotel's garage. Sometimes he amazed himself with his ingenuity.
     He would wait until tomorrow night to see her again, but now he knew where he could find her.

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