"Hello?" The voice on the other end of the line was hoarse and slurred. Who would be calling at 5 o'clock in the morning?
"Yes, this is Doctor Jacobs. Who is this?"
"This is Lewis Wright. You might remember me from a few years ago—"
"Yes of course, Lewis. How may I help you? Is everything all right?"
"I'm not sure."
"Can you come into my office later today? It's very early, you know. I believe I can squeeze you in later this—"
"Um, no, I'm afraid not."
"Now, Lewis, I know you weren't always fond of our work together, but we really did make a lot of progress."
"No, Doc, you don't understand. I'm out of town. I can't get to your office. I'm in Ohio."
"All right. Well, perhaps you should begin by telling me what issues you're facing, and we'll talk through the problem."
"Please, Doc, just listen!"
"I need to get in contact with Celia—my wife. My ex-wife, I mean."
"And you're calling me?"
"Yes," Lewis replied." I'm sorry, Doc, but I'm running out of options."
"Lewis, if she's broken off contact with you, I'm sure—"
"Listen to me, Doctor Jacobs. Please! I think she and Izzy might be in some kind of trouble and I really need to speak with her, OK? Do you think I wouldn't have tried another method—any other method—before calling you, if this wasn't vitally important?"
"I need to speak with Celia."
"This is Lewis—her ex-husband."
"Do you have any idea what time it is?"
"Listen … William, is it?"
"Yes. It's William. I'm her current husband."
"William, I'm fully aware of the time, but this is important, OK?"
"Look, Lewis. I understand you may be having a problem, but Celia's asleep right now. Why don't you try calling back later—"
"Put her on the goddam phone! NOW!"
Lewis could hear the receiver being muffled, followed by a sharp mumbling drone of voices.
"Celia?" His voice was shaking now.
"Yes, Lewis," she responded. "It's me, it's Celia. What's going on?"
"Are you OK?"
"What? Of course I'm OK. What's wrong with you?"
"What about Izzy? Is she all right? Where is she right now?"
"Izzy's in bed, Lewis. It's 5 o'clock in the morning!"
"Are you sure?"
"Are you sure she's in bed? When did you see her last?"
"She went to bed a half an hour before I did last night."
"Not good enough. Go check on her right now."
"Dammit, Lewis! What is this about?"
"Go check on her!"
"OK … just … just hold on." The panic in Lewis's voice told Celia that he was going to brook no argument.
After a few seconds that seemed to Lewis to stretch out into an eternity, Celia's voice came back on the line: "She's fine, Lewis. She's sound asleep in her bed, breathing just fine … looks like she's in REM. Now … are you going to tell me what the hell this is all about?"
"Yeah," he said, letting out a breath he hadn't even realized he had been holding. "Yeah, I'm—I'm sorry, Cee."
"Well?" Her voice grew sharp.
"It's just … I had this idea that someone might be after you."
"And where in the world would you get an idea like that?"
All in a rush Lewis began telling her about Nita's visit to the book store, carefully leaving out as much detail about Nita herself as possible—referring to her only as his friend.
"A Russian woman," Celia asked. "And she used my name, you say?"
"Yes! And she even mentioned Seattle, apparently."
"This friend of yours … how trustworthy is she?"
"Very. She's not prone to flights of fancy … she's—she's not like me," he answered her unspoken question.
"I can't imagine what that would be all about. I don't know very many Russians, and most of the ones I do know are here."
Lewis went quiet.
"Besides," continued Celia, "what if some Russian woman is looking for me?"
"It's not just that she's looking for you, it's why," Lewis said. "They were talking about surveillance and exchange students hacking phones and there was something about secret government research labs—"
"Wait!" Celia interrupted him. "What about research labs?"
"The guy this Russian lady was talking to … said something about working at a lab. Labelle, I think?"
"Did you say Labelle?"
"Yeah. It's this big government research facility here in town." Lewis paused to swallow before asking, "Why? Have you worked with them?"
"No, not exactly, but …" She trailed off, thinking.
"What is it, Cee?"
"Lewis, I don't think they're after me at all. I think they're trying to get it touch with you."
"What—me? What the hell would they want with me?"
"I had a call from a Doctor Parker—two calls, in fact—about some project they seemed to think you were involved in—back in college."
"College? What kind of project?"
"That sounds more like your area of expertise, Cee—"
"They said you were part of an experiment. Didn't you take part in some trials or something for one of your psych classes?"
"Yeah—everybody did. We had to in order to pass the class. It was just a bunch of heart monitors and an IV drip while they had us solve math problems and sometimes play video games."
"Well this doctor from Labelle said they had funded some of these studies, and they were looking for you."
"It wasn't just you. They're looking for all the test subjects. I guess they're worried about long-term effects … she …"
"She said she couldn't be sure, but she was worried their experiment might have had something to do with …"
"It might have had something to do with your nervous breakdown—with your … your condition."
"Really? Wait—how did she even know about that?"
"I talked with her about it, though …" she trailed off again. "Come to think of it, I don't think she knew about your episode until I mentioned it to her. She was definitely interested in you, though."
"What else did she say?"
"Not much," Celia lied. She was afraid to tell Lewis everything she knew, or to bring up project TIER. She didn't know how he'd react, and she didn't want to cause him to have another breakdown. "She, uh … she just said that there had been a change in management and that the new supervisors had asked her to check on test subjects from the previous regime. You know … just to make sure there weren't any long-term problems."
"I see … and she thinks my problems were caused by them?"
"She didn't exactly say that, but … it sounds like a possibility."
"Huh." Lewis thought a moment. "I swear, Celia … if they caused this—I'll sue them for everything they've got!"
"I don't know, Lewis. I expect you had to sign a lot of waivers—"
"I don't care! They ruined my life! They ruined our lives—our marriage."
"We don't know that," said Celia. "You would need a lot of proof to be sure—especially to prove it in court."
"They must think there's evidence!"
"What makes you think so?"
"Because," said Lewis, "why else would they be discussing hacking into my phone?"
"Lewis," Celia slipped into her Calming Friend therapist voice. "Is that really what they said? That they're hacking into your phone? Or are you building up a case from unrelated bits and pieces in your mind?"
"No, but they—" He stopped short.
"Now, think, Lewis. Before you get upset, before you act on anything, think about what you actually know."
"OK. You're right, Cee. I'm getting paranoid." He took a deep breath. "But, why would they be talking about—"
"It was probably just shop talk." Celia interrupted him before he could get going down the path to panic. "It sounds to me like they were just talking about their projects at the lab when one of them just happened to receive a call mentioning me because they were looking to track you down. It's probably all above-board and just an unlikely coincidence that your friend happened to be there to hear it."
"You really think so?"
In that moment she was reminded of that day six years ago when he'd appeared so weak and worried—like a traumatized child who simply hadn't the wherewithal to understand the bad things that had happened, or the why or the how of his troubles—just that they were there and they left him hurt and afraid. She longed to reach out to him through the phone and give him that reassuring hug that he so clearly needed.
All she could offer now, though, was her words: "I'm sure of it."