Born Out of Due Time, a Fantasy by Ched Rayson, Chapter Five (Complete)

At first, my heart thought you could break this jinx for me.

That love would turn the trick to end despair.

But now I just can't fool this head that thinks for me.

I've mortgaged all my castles in the air.

"Everything Happens to Me” 

Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael

 

A chilling draft surged out of the office as Katie Oriundi opened her door.  Plunging in, before she had time to send him on his way, Smith asked if she had a few minutes.  She opened the door wider and stepped aside without sitting or inviting him to sit down. 

“I’d really like to earn my honorarium, but I need to know a little more about what I have got myself into.  I don’t know how much anyone has explained to you about what I am doing here…”

“I don’t really need to know anything, Mr. Smith.  I try to do my job.  We’ll be working together.  That is fine with me.  You seem to know what you are doing.  If you are a convicted murderer or a recovering heroin addict, it’s none of my business.  The less I know about other people, the better.”

Smith tried the soft approach—self-deprecating irony with a literary touch:

“Wrong on both counts.  Think of me as a ‘broken-hearted troubadour’—an old-fashioned Bohemian wandering in a silicon desert of massive data and low information, scant knowledge and less wisdom.  You could help me, though, if you are willing.”

“Of course I’ll help with your research…”

“Let me be frank..”

“That is one of the usual preludes to a cruel insult or a bare-faced lie. The other one goes, “to be perfectly honest..”

It was as if a teacher had told him to “wipe that grin off your face.”  He did as he was told.

“Very well, let us skip the preliminaries.  I was brought in only in part to help with historical background for the games.  And I am going to do the best job I can on that.  But, apart from historical research, there is another reason I have been taken on.  I am occasionally asked to help people think their way through dilemmas.  I have no degrees or licenses, only a wide range of experience and a set of antiquated attitudes that can be useful sometimes… I serve as the moral equivalent of an experimental control or perhaps even a ‘null hypothesis,’ if I understand the term correctly.” 

“So who’s in trouble?  Shawn?  If Veritas had a personnel counselor I might report him for his innuendoes and the way he looks at the girls in the office.”

“Shawn brought me into it, initially, but it is really Macmillan Ross I need to help, at least insofar as I can figure out what’s going on.”

“I don’t really think I should talk about Veritas business with a stranger.”

“I understand.  Dr. Ross will be happy to tell you I am acting on his authority.  Even before you check with him, there is one thing you may be willing to discuss.  Would you like to tell me about your dream?”  

Katie Oriundi’s face turned red, and Smith was afraid she was going to faint.  

“Mac Ross told you about my dreams?”

“Not the substance, only that you and several others have been troubled by recurrent dreams.  I’ve talked to two people already, and, if you don’t object, I’d like to hear yours.”

“Why?  Dreams are pretty personal.”

“Usually.  What Ross and I suspect is that these dreams are really not personal at all, but only side-effects of the VSET program.  If we’re correct, then many people here will have good reason to be relieved.”

Miss Oriundi invited him to sit down and took the chair behind her desk.  Looking away from his face at a 45 degree angle, she began describing her dream, and, as she told her tale, it was as if she was in a deep hole of a trance into which Anterus could not help stepping.

****

Lucrezia hated almost everything about her life.  Yes, she was rich and beautiful with a Pope for a father and with Cesare—the most powerful man in Italy—for a brother.  Trapped in a loveless marriage and used as a bargaining chip by the men in her family, she felt no better than one of her father’s courtesans in the Lateran palace.  Everyone hated her, she knew, and blamed the death of every prominent man in Italy on her skill in the use of poisons.  Truthfully, she was blameless.  She had not even known in advance the plots to murder her brother’s rivals, much less taken part in the killings, if they really were killings.  There were so many ways to die in Italy—fevers or bad food, for example, and everyone had rivals and enemies—or worse, envious friends.   But women, who did all the real work in the world, never received credit for what they did, and they were almost always blamed and not just for the crimes their men committed, but for anything that went wrong.  And, if a woman was unlucky enough to be born beautiful, it was even worse.  Even in ancient times, they blamed the Trojan War on Helen, and the murder of Agamemnon—killed in revenge by his cousin—on his wife Clytemnestra.    

The Church was no better—all the troubles of the human race began with Eve, and ever since the blame for original sin had been used to keep women in their place.  What a church, with a man like her father as the Pope!  Lucrezia respected Rodrigo Borgia:  He was a great man of his time—powerful, lustful, and vengeful, but what kind of Church would put him at the head?  And, what kind of a man would treat his own daughter like a sex slave to be bought and sold?  He was like all men, perhaps worse, and her brother was worse than the Pope.  Why?  Because Cesare was Italian.  What more of an explanation did anyone need? 

Now in  her third loveless marriage, she was only a brood sow.  The only joy in her life had come from her lover Pietro, a true poet and a man capable of love.  He was honorable, but with his cynicism  he would go far in the Church.

*           *          *

“Pietro Bembo, Ciceronian, poet, and Cardinal.  Had you read him or studied the career of Lucrezia Borgia?”

“Not really, not in any detail.  I certainly never brooded on her imagined wrongs.  When the dreams started, I read a few books.  I still am not sure what to think about her.”

“What effect has this had on you?”

“I try not to think about it, but, yes, I have turned a bit feminist, and if men seem to take an interest in me at all, I think of them as rapists, Hollywood producers.  I’ve begin to imagine that they are all  hitting on me, though the only one who has even looked at me the wrong way is Shawn, and he’s about as harmless as a man could be.  Sometimes—and this is ridiculous—I begin to think that Dr. Ross no longer sees me as the daughter he never had, but…”

“As an attractive woman? Is that why you don’t wear makeup and dress dowdy?  To make yourself less attractive to predators?  Please don’t be offended if I tell you that you will never succeed.  Some of these Don Juans like the frigid virginal type. They look on it as a challenge.  For them, corruption of the innocent is their greatest pleasure.”  

With a few drops of acid dripped into the ice, she observed:  “You seem to know a lot about degenerates…”

“Everyone these days has met the type.  I have been around and keep my eyes open… Please don’t take this the wrong way: but you wouldn’t want to ruin your life, not because of something that has actually happened, but because of a dream that may have been inserted into your consciousness.  How much of Lucrezia is really you?”

“Not much, really.”

“Please answer one question.  It may help.  How in the world did you come here from—where was it?  Virginia?”

“The only reason I am working at Veritas is Macmillan Ross.  I graduated from Northwood when he was college president.”

“But why leave Virginia—a pleasant enough place at its worst—to come up here to Northwood?”

“My parents sent me, hoping I could escape the culture of the DC suburbs.  They checked out and rejected all the colleges in the Valley—especially W & L, which had become part of the problem.  Some day they’ll have to change to name to get rid of Robert E.Lee, but, for their up-to-date vision of polite society, Washington is hardly any less offensive.”

“I understand, but why Northwood?”

“My parents hoped in sending me up here that I might get something like the education they had had at the University of Pisa in the 1950’s.  My mother studied classics, and my father, though he is a a physicist, had already received a solid classical preparation in his liceo.  Growing up, I sort of took my parents for granted.  I only fully appreciated after I moved away and came here. Of course, it’s not just Nadir.”

“But you never went through that teenage girl phase of resenting your parents?”

“No, we have always been close.  I don’t see how this has anything to do with my dream….  Who else is having them?”

A hazy light was beginning to shine through the fog. 

“I can’t talk about other people’s dreams without their permission, but I wonder if there isn’t a pattern emerging.  All the dreamers, you included, appear to be dreaming against the grain of their normal selves.  You, for example, have good relations with both your father and Dr. Ross, and you are not estranged from the Church.”

“But what’s the point?  Nobody here, not even Dr. Ross, is really important in any way that could help someone to money or power.  Why pick on us? Or is this just one of Sean Borowski’s sick fantasies?”

“Exactly, why pick on you?  It can’t be Shawn—he doesn’t know enough.  Besides, he came to me for help with his own dream.  The only possible answer is that there are people who want something from Veritas and you happen to be available as laboratory rats.  And, what’s more, you people here are more expendable than most.  There is always a danger to human experimentation.  Some of you may be driven over the edge permanently, which could only be regarded as collateral benefit.”

“In what way?”

“You may already know too much about the project.  What if at some point you started talking?”

“I don’t see what we could do.  If Mac Ross is ousted and I’m fired, I don’t know that I know anything that could cause trouble for whoever is doing this.  It’s not like I’ve been molested or even felt uncomfortable.  Supposing you are right, though, and I’m not convinced you are, what’s the likelihood of a full recovery?”

“Excellent, I should think.  There are people who have watched five hours of television a day and spent the rest of the time on the internet.  Some of them can eventually wake up, especially if they are stuck some place with no electricity, where they can begin to sense what they have done to themselves.”

“Don’t you mean ‘what has been done to them’?  After all, American zombies are the products of a mass culture they didn’t exactly create.”  

“No, but they acquiesced.  Since you brought up fictional monsters, the stories of vampires and devils make it plain that the victim has to acquiesce.  The devil cannot cross the threshold without an invitation, and Dracula, while he can kill his victims by draining them dry, has to win them over if he wants to turn them into vampires.” 

“So you think that you can cure the vampires without driving a white ash stake into their hearts?”

“Let’s drop the analogy.  The danger in many addiction cases is the refusal to acknowledge the cause.  Even the Alanon cult leaders know that much.  It is worse, in a way, when someone does not know what has been done to him.  There was a researcher to whom the government administered LSD without his knowledge.  Thinking he was going insane, he killed himself.”

“This is pretty avant-garde psychology.  I thought you were strictly old school.”

“The more I observe life in this Millennium, the more bewildered I am.  I keep searching for historical analogies, and I cannot find them.  At my wits’ end, I spent some time in the library and on the internet, looking up the research that had been done on media addiction.  It’s mostly nonsense, but there are some doctors aware of this pathological condition.  One of them turned out to be a child psychologist who committed suicide when he was accused of molesting his patients.  The point of all this is:  Now that you know what is being done to you, you will resent and, we hope, resist the pressure.”

“Well, I guess I should thank you. If what you say is true…”

“Now, wouldn’t you like to call Dr. Ross to get his permission to speak about Veritas?

“If he told you about my dreams, I suppose it’s all right.  Besides, as I explained, I don’t know any secrets.”

“…. I was going to ask you, Katie—or is it Caterina?—what you think is going on here.”

“Everyone calls me Katie, but in fact I prefer the name my parents gave me.  From some people here, though, I would take it as condescension.  What’s going on?  You mean the rumors of a take-over and some of the funny business going on in the office?”

“—So you are aware?”

“—And above all Justin Wright and his little schemes?  Yes, but isn’t all this pretty routine for any smaller organization with something to loot?  My very Catholic mother would say it is the inevitable product of original sin.  She worked for the diocese back in Virginia, and she sometimes says that the snake in the garden was the first bureaucrat.  He couldn’t create anything, but he could make promises and corrupt weak people by preying on their good intentions.  Or what they convinced themselves were good intentions.  The snake, she likes to say, probably thought he was helping Even and Adam to reach their full potential.” 

“But what has Veritas got worth stealing?”

"I think we may have accidentally stumbled on something of value or at leas something that might be of value, whether it means money for a company, power for a political party, or an offensive weapon for some government agency, I simply don’t know.  Really, most of what I think comes from Mac Ross.”

“So they want to get rid of Ross because”

“He stands in the way.”

“In the way of the mysterious “they” or rather them, and they are…”  

“I think the board primarily, the chairman Ward Sleeman Geltner—they call him ‘Sly’—and the vice chairman Brent Moriarity, who has lately been more actively involved than Geltner.  There’s also Fidelity Blunt—she’s one of those take-charge women who would assume control of a traffic jam, if she could, just to show how powerful a woman can be if she wants to be.”

“So what is the chairman like?”

“The chairman treats Ross as a saint but, from what I hear, he is a very domineering type, loves to fire people and seems to get a kick out of humiliating subordinates.  He’s been a CEO of several major corporations and served as assistant secretary at State under Reagan—I think he was in charge of some agency supposed to improve labor relations in Latin America.  Yes, the usual reward for a party hack—a make-work job in a pointless agency.  These days, Geltner’s no longer even a little big shot in the party, but he still has connections.  I think he’d sell out his own mother, if it meant another shot at real power.”

“So a power-seeking tycoon.  What about Moriarty?”

“A spoiled rich kid who has never done anything in his entire life but thinks his connections—he’s related to the Morgans—make him some kind of royalty.  In America, three generations of money make you a gentleman, and three generations of big money make you royalty….Moriarty has an answer for everything, usually before he has any idea of what the question is.  Speaks in nothing but clichés he picks up from newspapers and TV.  He was on the board at Northwood, where he introduced Dr. Ross to some rich potential donors.  Now, he is ready to betray his mentor.”

“Why?  After all he joined the board of an organization devoted to promoting higher learning and moral understanding.”

“It’s partly boredom with things he doesn’t appreciate and partly the need to be something rather than nothing.  He and the chairman naturally like to think of themselves as lovers of the ‘permanent things.’  They may have read T.S. Eliot once upon a time, but way down deep—if there is anything deep in any of them—they are just conservatives.”

“Meaning?  I’m not up on mass movements.”

“Meaning they think that the people who make the most money constitute an elite class that deserves to be entrusted with power, that high taxes, regulation, and government spending are the cause of all our problems--'The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to.'    Literature and philosophy are fine in their place, and most of these people contribute to private schools and symphony orchestras, but, ‘when it comes to brass tacks,’ their only facts are calculated in dollars.  What they like to call ‘culture’ is like high fashion or etiquette.  It makes the ugly reality of their world a prettier place.”

“A little like the man in the poem who complained about the people who didn’t want him around,  “Said I couldn’t have no cherries.”

“Now I’m lost..”

“Oh, it’s a sort of poem by a Bohemian writer.  

'…..Or watch them pick cherries

Or even stand near the table

Where one of those Kultur-Kookie-Klucks

With the big fat-legged smile

Was fixing to pop a nice red cherry

In on top of his gold spoon..'”

“Yes, they’re like art patrons who think that by buying art they are artists…  So, are you some kind of beatnik?  Sean told me you listened to weird jazz.”

“Beatnik’s a silly word, and there’s nothing weird about Thelonius Monk.  Besides, the answer is no.  What about Justin Wright?”

[Note:  In case you missed it, Smith was listening to a Monk solo album when Sean arrived at his house.]

“Another conservative, though not on their level either socially or intellectually.  More or less the board’s flunkey.  He doesn’t seem to have enough drive or imagination to pose much of a threat on his own.  But, that is where Dr. Ross makes a mistake:  He thinks Justin is too feeble to make trouble, but he is not so complete fool as he seems, and he is just ambitious enough—or maybe I should say, resentful and envious enough—to make mischief, if it can ingratiate him with the powers-that-be.  He’s like a blander, dumber version of Wagner’s Loge, only an inferior demi-god but always looking to cause trouble.  Or maybe more like Alberich, in The Ring?”

“Yes, of course.  He renounced love for gold, though in Wright’s case, it sounds more like love renounced him.  Then, where do you think the danger lies?”

“Hard to tell.  There are so many interests and sensitive egos.  Maybe the least threatening are the local gangsters who run Nadir.  Any chance to put themselves or their town on the map, they’ll take it.  There are two locals on the board, and while they are certainly the dumbest members, they could give their votes to anyone plotting mischief.  The conservatives just want some sort of ‘in’ with the GOP and are looking of some way to make themselves useful.  They need something to sell, and they’d kill their grandmothers for five minutes on talk radio.”

“I only listen to music on the radio, and even then, I cannot stand to hear the announcers.”

“But what do you think?  I know this is your first day, but you must have formed some impression.”

“The board has to be in on whatever is going on, but I am most afraid of some government intelligence group.  They are very deep into every approach to mind control.  For years they have investigating PSI.  I hear some of them are investigating stories of alien abduction—“

X Files stuff?”

“I suppose so,” he said vaguely, “even the possibilities of time travel, as preposterous as that sounds!  The trouble is, I don’t think anyone on this board has the high level contacts that would even get one of them a telephone interview with the FBI.  I’ve looked at the bios in your annual report.  Except for Geltner the chairman, they’re pretty lightweight by Washington standards, and even Geltner appears to be more or less a has-been.”  

“Then what are the other possibilities?”

“You would know better than I.  There may be board members who figure they could sell VSET off to some company and use the money to fund programs that would give them a higher political profile or just money for their own projects.”  

“Maybe thirty million pieces of silver?  There’s been inflation since the days of Judas.”

***

Smith did not yet have an office, but he checked the mailbox in the Common Room for mail or messages.  He found, enclosed in a handsome envelope, a heavy sheet of Veritas letterhead naming Anterus Smith as an official researcher and asking that all cooperation be tendered to him.

So long as he was going to be snooping into the past lives of other people, he might as well try to find out more about his own.  There was a reason he had landed in Nadir, and it had something to do with his earlier life.  He slipped the leather into his breast pocket and walked over to the County Court House.   He found the records office on the second floor.  An handsome woman of about 40 stood behind the desk, and Smith could say a man on the phone—probably her boss—in a small office behind her.  She smiled.

“How may we help you, Mr. ?”

“Smith, Anterus Smith.”

“And you are?

“Mrs. Riordan.”

“Well, Mrs. Riordan, I have been hired to do some historical research over at the Veritas Center, and I thought I’d sharpen up some of my skills by looking for some records that may relate to me.”  

He handed her the letter, which she looked over quickly.

“We’re here to help.  What information are you looking for?”

“I’d like to see if you have any information about someone with my name.  Smith is quite common, obviously, but ny first name is unusual and may be a family name.  I am told I had relatives here.  Indeed, I may have beeb born here.”

“you don’t know where you were born?”

“My parents died when I was a baby, and my adoptive parents never talked much about where I cam from except to say that I had had family here in Nadir.  I’ve never been terribly curious—my parents, as I always think of them, were very kind, but since I find myself here in town, doing some research, I thought this might be a way to start.”

“Yes, of course.  Let me just show your letter and explain your request to our director. I see he’s just off the telephone.”

As he waited for her to return, he hummed to himself, 

I’m telling a terrible story

But it doesn’t diminish my glory,

But they would have taken my daughters

Over the billowy waters..

Not that he would ever have any daughters.  She came back smiling and handed over his letter.

“Now where shall we start.”

“If you would be kind enough to look up anything on anyone named Anterus Smith, born between 1975 and 1980.”

Mrs. Riordan went to a work station and began typing in the request as if the rest of the world outside the screen and keyboard had disappeared.  Nothing.  He asked her to try ‘Farley Anderson’ in the same period.  Same result, then ‘Andrea Ferrero.’

“With that red hair and fair complexion, you don’t look very Italian, Mr. Smith.”

“I could be Piemontese, though I’m not.  I may have a cousin by marriage by that name.”

“I’ll add ten years on each end, just to be sure.

There was still no result.  It was getting late, and Smith asked Mrs. Riordan for the time.  He had just enough time to make his four o’clock meeting with Justin Wright, who wanted to welcome him to the company.  It was not a meeting he looked forward to, but it was time he began to get a “fix” on the vice president.

The first meeting with the vice president did nothing to dispel the impression he had already formed from his interviews with the staff.  Wright was dressed in a carefully tailored if inelegant navy blue suit, a starched white button-down collar shirt, and a blue and red Grenadier Guards tie.  It was the drab uniform of lawyers and lobbyists.

After some awkward introductory pleasantries, Wright asked if he played golf.  It emerged that the vice president did not actually play the game, though he watched it religiously on the Golf Channel and was planning to take lessons in the belief that it would be useful in fundraising. 

Smith noticed that the satellite radio was playing Bing Crosby.  Smith was used to anachronisms; he was an anachronism.  But Bing Crosby was a strange preference for someone who had gone to high school in the 1990’s.  Without being asked, Wright explained that his parents had loved Crosby and always played his records in the house—that and Lerner and Lowe musicals. 

“I often watch the movie versions of Brigadoon and Camelot, though I particularly like The Sound of Music.  Back then Hollywood represented the real Christian America.  I love White Christmas,

[Anterus remembered a friend joking that it was the favorite picture of the Ku Klux Klan]

Miracle on 34th Street the Peanuts Christmas.  You can even get Andy Williams’ Christmas specials on Cable television. They are a beautiful representation of American family values.”

The thought flitted through Smith’s mind that perhaps he ought to look up Peanuts and Andy Williams, but it flew away without leaving any impression.  There was nothing he could say about The Sound of Music that would seem like an act of unprovoked aggression.  Better to move on.

What are your other favorite movies?

“I love all the “road” pictures with Hope and Crosby, and I watch a lot of British TV.  I especially like Downton Abbey.  I’ll watch anything about rich upperclass people living on a magnificent estate—Have you seen Brideshead Revisited?”  Wright grinned, mischievously, as if were joking, but he clearly was not.  Is this what Caterina meant by “conservative’?  If it was some kind of test, Smith was flunking. 

Smith had begun to grow uncomfortable.  The man appeared to be a fool, but no one of reasonable intelligence could be quite this great a fool without being something of a knave as well.  He thought of Marilyn Monroe.  She was ignorant and foolish but far from stupid.  Married to Arthur Miller, she took to carrying around a copy of Proust to make people think she was highbrow.  While most people she met considered her a dumb blond, the half-educated litterati of Hollywood concluded she was actually an intellectual, when, despite her shrewdness, she was really dumb as a rock.

Wright was probably as foolish as he seemed to be, but he was also playing games.  Behind his thick owlish glasses, he was scrutinizing his new colleague with a noncommittal smile, concluding, so it seemed, that he was dealing with a hopeless loser who presented no threat to his interests.  Maybe it was the gray shirt he was wearing.  Anterus tended to agree with the judgment: At this point in his life—whatever else he might have been once—he really was a hopeless case.  Wright dropped his frozen grin for a moment and said he understood that Smith traveled a lot.

“Travel’s getting more difficult these days, isn’t it.  I mean with heightened security, passport requirements, facial recognition stuff.  It’s a little bit like some of what we’re doing here.”   

What was he driving at?  Why was he so interested in his passport?  If he had something on his mind, he was a fool to show it.  Like a neon sign with a long delay, Wright flashed his grin back on:

“I’m curious, Smith.  I talked a little with Sean and Corey and Eric Dyson, and I understand you’re a highly educated man with many talents.  Without any degrees, you’ve managed to learn several languages and even to run a private school.  Do you plan to make a career with Veritas or is this just a one-shot consultancy?”  

Two can be noncommittal, and Smith gave him a textbook answer.  

“Let’s see what develops.”

“Shawn also says despite all your, uh,  erudition, you’re not the academic type.  That makes a good fit with us.  We need to be more down to earth here.  Ross has made a great start, but as I am sure you must realize, he’s a dreamer, one of those men who can start an institution but never can take it to the next level.  Of course, even when he retires, he’ll be the grand old man around here, with a nice office and a dignified title and the salary to go with it.  Loyalty to friends and mentors is very important to me.  But I think Ross understands that what is started now has to be put in the hands of the next generation.  You’ve met him.  What impression did you get?”

“I think he understands very well.”  

A true enough statement.  No point in lying

“Excellent.  You know, apart from Katie Oriundi and the monsignor, there is no one here who has Ross’s kind of learning in the liberal arts—you know, foreign languages, history, philosophy.  We need to maintain that commitment.  It’s part of our identity—what we in business call branding.  That is where you could come in, our resident conservative intellectual.  We could build you up.  You write, don’t you?  Fine, we could get you published in the Wall Street Journal, maybe even Readers Digest. You could be a real asset to us and build a real career here.  You must be tired of knocking about.”

“You make it sound very tempting.”  

That was the word, all right, for what Wright had in mind.   Which temptation was it?  Perhaps not all the kingdoms of this world, but at least a small corner of them.  Propagandist in residence to the Lord of this World.  

“Well, Smith.  I hope you’ll think this over carefully.  Good luck on the Florence project.  I look forward to hearing about it.  I’m sure it’s going to be another big success.”

* * *

It was getting late, when Smith left Justin Wright.  He locked up his office—a pointless precaution designed to reassure whoever might think of snooping—and hunted up Sean Borowski.  “I want a brief word with you, but I’m in an awful hurry.  Walk outside with me for a minute.

Once they had got out past the parking lot and into the street, Smith stopped and turned to the kid.

“You’re bugged.”

“What?”

“Yes, your office is bugged.”

“You’re crazy.  You don’t know anything about the technology.”  

“Then tell me what you know about my academic career.”

“Oh, I don’t know.  I guess you’ve got an undergraduate degree, maybe a masters or two.  I’m not sure you’d stay for a Ph.D..  Why?”

“Because Justin Wright knows that I never hung around long enough anywhere to get a degree.  I told that to Dr. Ross, but Wright would only know if he had Ross’s office wired.”

“That’s pretty scary stuff.”

“Exactly. What I want you to do is to check each office and public space—including bathrooms—for bugs. If you find one, don’t touch it.  You can do Ross’s office, yours, and mine during the day, but you’ll need to come back tonight, after everyone is gone, to check on the other offices, especially Wright, Freeman, and Dyson—and Corey.”

“You don’t trust Corey?”

“I don’t trust anyone, including you, but if a word of this gets out, I go straight to Ross….  Tomorrow, depending on what we find, we might bug their offices.”

“I don’t think I could do that.  It’s against the law.”  Anterus sighed.  The situation was beginning to look hopeless.  His best hope for an ally was not only a geek but a law-abiding coward.

Smith walked the two miles back to the house.  He could afford a taxi but not the effort of making conversation with the cabbie.  From time to time he looked around aimlessly, now and then pretending to take an interest in a piles of leaves or a piece of trash—as he often did—but actually checking to see if he was being followed.  He had no particular reason for being cautious, but it was a routine he had fallen into.  When he got to his door, he checked on the first line of his “security system”:  a tiny piece of paper stuck in the crack.  It was gone.  Nothing to worry about really, since a mailman or mendicant sometimes rattled the door, and there was no sign of a break-in.  Still, one could not be too careful, and he went from room to room, looking for any sign of disturbance.

Nothing, nothing.  When he got to the study, he opened the desk where he kept some of his current documents.  They were gone.  It could be a coincidence—there were several reasons why some people might wish to check up on Anterus Smith—but it was also possible that he had been visited by the same person or persons who had broken into the Macmillan house the night before.  Whoever it was had apparently entered with a key.  

It was not a serious blow.  There were documents and documents, and most of them could be replaced.  He kept some of his more puzzling documents hidden away in a box in what used to be the coal shed attached to the furnace room, though he could not have said why.  He was not even sure what they were, though he dimly knew they were could be useful.  After checking the rest of the house, he went into the basement and into the shed, which held a collection of old furniture, busted lampshades, and old magazines.  He made sure they had not been touched.  They were safe—whatever that meant.

His memory was fuzzy, but his mind was clear.  He realized that he was now facing a two-sided problem.  There were people—and people might include Justin Wright—who wanted to find out more about Anterus Smith, and if they looked hard enough they might find out something more than Anterus Smith knew about himself.  On the other hand, there was a good chance that the people pursuing him were the very ones he was looking for, Shawn’s imagined “conspirators.”  Who was the hunter and who the hunted?  An idea popped into his head: Perhaps they were really looking for Farley Anderson, though he could not think of a reason why, much less recall anything about Anderson.

It had been a long day, and he had spent more time talking to people than he normally would in several weeks.  He poured out three fingers of bourbon, took out a hunk of Wisconsin cheddar, and heated up a frozen baguette.  If he kept on eating cheese at this rate, he would turn into a certifiable cheese-head.  Next he’d be arranging for his burial in a Green Bay Packers helmet.  For nutritional variety, he decided to add a small red onion to his diet.  It was not as if he was going to breathe on anyone, much less find a woman to kiss.  His existence in Nadir was like being marooned on a desert island, except, unlike poor old Ben Gunn, he had all the cheese he wanted.

Anterus usually looked forward to going to sleep.  He enjoyed his conversations with the Florentines, though he was never quite sure what to make of them.  He did not dare explore this thought even in his own mind in his own house.  You never know about “the dream police.”  However, he did not like to think of going back, even in a nightmare, to the dormitory-laboratory, though he wanted to get to the bottom of those dreams.  He was afraid that the mere fact of worrying about it would precipitate a return to the laboratory.  There was something or someone in that dream that rang a bell.

***

He was watching, while they were working with Farley Anderson.  The young interrogator, with his back turned to Anterus, kept pressing Anderson.  It had been all very friendly until they realized they were unable to leave.  Jane was increasingly upset, and in desperation she turned more and more toward Anderson as her only protector.

“You’ve scored unbelievably high on the psi tests, and you seem to have an extraordinary knowledge of past times you cannot account for.  We thought you were making up some of this stuff about the Greeks, but these snatches of poetry you have been quoting are too good for you to have made up, and yet they don’t exist.  At least they’ve never been published.  This long piece by—who is it?  Stesichorus?  A classicist at the university says it is either the finest forgery ever committed or else you have found something on the black market.  Again, tell us about this poem.”

“I don’t know.  I have these dreams or visions in which I am living in the Fifth Century Athens after the Persian Wars.  For the first few months I have enormous difficulties with the language.  I’ve studied Greek for ten years, but reading and writing compositions are one thing, conversation completely another.”

“Have you ever had visions of other places?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Such as..”

“Rome in the time of Cicero and Caesar, America around 1900.”

“Do you ever have visions of the future?”  Anderson hesitated, perhaps for a few seconds too long.

“The future hasn’t happened yet.”

“That doesn’t mean it won’t or that you couldn’t have visions or even visit the future.”

“Time travel is ridiculous.”

“Why is it ridiculous?

“Because it is a self-contradictory absurdity.  We are organic beings.  What is time for us is not the same as what time is for a clock or, for that matter, for the universe described by physicists.  Ever read Henri Bergson?  Proust’s cousin, the philosopher?   You should.  He talks about durée, duration, which is time that is experienced by living beings.  It is an essential quality of organic life.  We can’t escape our own duration.”

“You seem to have thought about this a great deal.”

“I have.  These dreams I have or visions, they set me thinking about it.”

"Why do you think you have these dreams or apparitions?  It is some kind of  gift?"

"I don't know, that's why I am here:  To find out something.... I did have sever headaches growing up, something like epilepsy, and afterwards I would fall into a brief trance-like state.  I am told that some of my ancestors were gifted with the second sight."

"But your name is Anderson--that's not Scottish.  It's Scandinavian.

"What did you study in college that you don't know Robert Burns' poem, 'John Anderson, my Jo'? 

“I tell you one thing, I did not waste time on reading poetry!  You know it would be very helpful to your country, if you could actually visit the future or even just have some intuitive foreknowledge.”

“It’s impossible.”

“But not to visit the past?”

“I have never said I visited the past.  I have these hallucinations, and I’d like to understand what happens to me on those occasions.  That’s why I volunteered for this study of ESP.  You know, Doctor, I’m beginning to get a little tired of this interrogation.  It’s not helping me one damn bit, and I am finding you more than a little impertinent.  You are just a young intern on this project, but you are beginning to treat me and the others like laboratory animals.”

“I’m sorry, but you signed a waiver and your contract specifies you may not leave for another week.”

“Lincoln freed the slaves, I’m told, or at least the 13th Amendment did.”

“I fail to see the relevance.  You signed an agreement.”

“Under American law, I cannot agree to a contract that is fundamentally illegal because it breaches the amendment against involuntary servitude.”

“You’re being ridiculous, Farley.”

“You mean Mr. Anderson.”

“All right, Mr. Anderson.  If you insist on leaving us, of course there’s nothing we can do to prevent it.  We cannot sign you out in the evening--that would be irresponsible.  We’ll go to the program director in the morning.  I feel sure he can persuade you to see reason.  Just one more question, if you don’t object.  The cleaning crew found this in your bed.”  

The white-coated intern held up a new looking coin with an image of an owl.

“Where did you get a brand-new Athenian drachma?”

“I had a jeweler make it, and you didn’t find it in the bed.  It was kept in a zipper section of my shaving kit.  You’ve been going through our things.”

“Really, Farley.  You’re getting paranoid.  I’m not sure that it is at all safe to let you go in this condition.  I’m only an intern, but we have qualified psychiatrists in this institution.  You’d better get a good night’s sleep, and we’ll talk it out in the morning.”

The intern got up to go and turned toward Anterus without appearing to see him.  A nurse came in and handed Anderson his sleeping pills.  When Anderson refused to take them, an orderly came in, and they administered an injection.  

The scene faded out, and Anterus fell into a deeper sleep.

3 Responses

  1. Ben says:

    Dear Smith – I have reoccurring dreams I’m in a house and outside the ocean is raging, waves crashing huge, assaulting the house. What does it mean – where are you??

  2. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    The author decided to suspend the serial publication, whether permanently or temporarily, for two reasons. First, as he read the posted sections, he became convinced that it needed some careful revisions. He has now revised the text thoroughly through chapter thirteen and has made considerable progress beyond that point. Second, he has been wondering if the readers of this site, estimable as they are, take much interest in fiction, since there has been little comment.

  3. Ben says:

    Thank you for the response, Doctor. And now, an “interview” with Ched, or whatever that was. I’m learning a lot and loving it. Thanks again. Please keep chugging along for as long as possible. Believe it or not, I need The Fleming foundation in my life, or…in Ched’s life…right…

    Ben