Night chills, p.6
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       Night Chills, p.6

           Dean Koontz
 

  “I don’t know anyone well enough to risk a charge of treason,” the general said gruffly.

  Feigning exasperation—it was a bit too obvious to be real—Dawson said, “Old friend, we’ve made a great deal of money together. But all of it amounts to pocket change when compared to the money we can make if we cooperate with Ogden. There is literally unlimited wealth here—for all of us.” He watched the general for a moment, and when he could get no reaction he said, “Ernst, I have never misled you. Never. Not once.”

  Unconvinced, Klinger said, “All you ever did before was pay me for advice—”

  “For your influence.”

  “For my advice,” Klinger insisted. “And even if I did sell my influence—which I didn’t—that’s a long way from treason.”

  They stared at each other.

  Salsbury felt as if he were not in the room with them, as if he were watching them from the eyepiece of a mile-long telescope.

  With less of an edge to his voice than there had been a minute ago, Klinger finally said, “Leonard, I suppose you realize that I could be setting you up.”

  “Of course.”

  “I could agree to hear your man out, listen to everything he has to say—only to get evidence against you and him.”

  “String us along.”

  “Give you enough rope to hang yourselves,” Klinger said. “I only warn you because you’re a friend. I like you. I don’t want to see you in trouble.”

  Dawson settled back in his chair. “Well, I’ve an offer to make you, and I need your cooperation. So I’ll just have to take that risk, won’t I?”

  “That’s your choice.”

  Smiling, apparently pleased with the general, Dawson raised his brandy glass and silently proposed a toast.

  Grinning broadly, Klinger raised his own glass.

  What in the hell is going on here? Salsbury wondered.

  When he had sniffed and sipped his brandy, Dawson looked at Salsbury for the first time in several minutes and said, “You may proceed, Ogden.”

  Suddenly, Salsbury grasped the underlying purpose of the conversation to which he had just listened. In the unlikely event that Dawson actually was setting a trap for an old friend, on the off chance that the meeting was being taped, Klinger had deftly provided himself with at least some protection against successful prosecution. He was now on record as having warned Dawson about the consequences of his actions. In court or before a military review board, the general could argue that he had only been playing along with them in order to collect evidence against them; and even if no one believed him, he more than likely would manage to retain both his freedom and his rank.

  Ogden got up, leaving his brandy glass behind him, went to the window and stood with his back to the darkening lake. He was too nervous to sit still while he talked. Indeed, for a few seconds he was too nervous to speak at all.

  Like a pair of lizards perched half in warm sunlight and half in chilly shadows, waiting for the light balance to change enough to warrant movement, Dawson and Klinger watched him. They were sitting in identical high-backed black leather easy chairs with burnished silvery buttons and studs. A small round cocktail table with a dark oak top stood between them. The only light in the richly furnished room came from two floor lamps that flanked the fireplace, twenty feet away. The right side of each man’s face was softened and somewhat concealed by shadows, while the left side was starkly detailed by amber light; and their eyes blinked with saurian patience.

  Whether or not the scheme was a success, Salsbury thought, both Dawson and Klinger would come through it unscathed. They both wore effective armor: Dawson his wealth; Klinger his ruthlessness, cleverness, and experience.

  However, Salsbury didn’t possess any armor of his own. He hadn’t even realized—as Klinger had when he protected himself with that spiel about secrecy pledges and treason—that he might need it. He had assumed that his discovery would generate enough money and power to satisfy all three of them, but he had just begun to understand that greed could not be sated as easily as a hearty appetite or a demanding thirst. If he had any defensive weapon at all, it was his intelligence, his lightning-quick mind; but his intellect had been directed for so long into narrow channels of specialized scientific inquiry that it now served him far less well in the common matters of life than it did in the laboratory.

  Be cautious, suspicious, and watchful, he reminded himself for the second time that day. With men as aggressive as these, caution was a damned thin armor, but it was the only one he had.

  He said, “For ten years the Brockert Institute has been fully devoted to a Pentagon study of subliminal advertising. We haven’t been interested in the technical, theoretical, or sociological aspects of it; that work is being done elsewhere. We’ve been concerned solely with the biological mechanisms of subliminal perception. From the start we have been trying to develop a drug that will ‘prime’ the brain for subception, a drug that will make a man obey without question every subliminal directive that’s given to him.” Scientists at another CDA laboratory in northern California were trying to engineer a viral or bacterial agent for the same purpose. But they were on the wrong track. He knew that for a fact because he was on the right one. “Currently, it’s possible to use subliminals to influence people who have no unshakable opinions about a particular subject or product. But the Pentagon wants to be able to use subliminal messages to alter the fundamental attitudes of people who do have very strong, stubbornly held opinions.”

  “Mind control,” Klinger said matter-of-factly.

  Dawson took another sip from his brandy glass.

  “If such a drug can be synthesized,” Salsbury said, “it will change the course of history. That’s no exaggeration. For one thing, there will never again be war, not in the traditional sense. We will simply contaminate our enemies’ water supplies with the drug, then inundate them, through their own media—television, radio, motion pictures, newspapers, and magazines—with a continuing series of carefully structured subliminals that will convince them to see things our way. Gradually, subtly, we can transform our enemies into our allies—and let them think that the transformation was their own idea.”

  They were silent for perhaps a minute, thinking about it.

  Klinger lit a cheroot. Then he said, “There would also be a number of domestic uses for a drug like that.”

  “Of course,” Salsbury said.

  “At long last,” Dawson said almost wistfully, “we could achieve national unity, put an end to all the bickering and protest and disagreement that’s holding back this great country. ”

  Ogden turned away from them and stared through the window. Night had fully claimed the lake. He could hear the water lapping at the boat dock pilings a few feet below him, just beyond the glass. He listened and allowed the rhythmic sound to calm him. He was certain now that Klinger would cooperate, and he saw the incredible future that lay before him, and he was so excited by the vision that he did not trust himself to speak.

  To his back Klinger said, “You’re primarily the director of research at Brockert. But apparently you’re not just a desk man.”

  “There are certain lines of study I’ve reserved for myself,” Salsbury admitted.

  “And you’ve discovered a drug that works, a drug that primes the brain for subception.”

  “Three months ago,” Ogden said to the glass.

  “Who knows about it?”

  “The three of us.”

  “No one at Brockert?”

  “No one.”

  “Even if you have, as you say, reserved some lines of study for yourself, you must have a lab assistant.”

  “He’s not all that bright,” Salsbury said. “That’s why I chose him. Six years ago.”

  Klinger said, “You were thinking about taking the discovery for yourself all that long ago?”

  “Yes.”

  “You’ve doctored your daily work record? The forms that go to Washington at the end of every week?”
r />   “I only had to falsify them for a few days. As soon as I saw what I had come upon, I stopped working on it at once and changed the entire direction of my research.”

  “And your assistant didn’t figure the switch?”

  “He thought I’d given up on that avenue of research and was ready to try another. I told you, he’s not terribly clever. ”

  Dawson said, “Ogden hasn’t perfected this drug of his, Ernst. There’s still a great deal of work to be done.”

  “How much work?” the general asked.

  Turning from the window, Salsbury said, “I’m not absolutely certain. Perhaps as little as six months—or as much as a year and a half. ”

  “He can’t work on it at Brockert,” Dawson said. “He couldn’t possibly get away with falsifying his records for such a length of time. Therefore, I’m putting together a completely equipped laboratory for him in my house in Greenwich, forty minutes from the Brockert Institute.”

  Raising his eyebrows, Klinger said, “You’ve got a house so big you can turn it into a lab?”

  “Ogden doesn’t need a great deal of room, really. A thousand square feet. Eleven hundred at the outside. And most of that will be taken up with computers. Hideously expensive computers, I might add. I’m backing Ogden with nearly two million of my own money, Ernst. That’s an indication of the tremendous faith I have in him.”

  “You really think he can develop, test, and perfect this drug in a jerry-built lab?”

  “Two million is hardly jerry-built,” Dawson said. “And don’t forget that billions of dollars’ worth of preliminary research has already been paid for by the government. I’m financing just the final stage.”

  “How can you possibly maintain secrecy?”

  “There are thousands of uses for the computer system. We won’t be incriminating ourselves just by purchasing it. Furthermore, we’ll arrange for it through one of Futurex’s subsidiaries. There won’t be any record that it was sold to us. There won’t be any questions asked,” Dawson said.

  “You’ll need lab technicians, assistants, clerks—”

  “No,” Dawson said. “So long as Ogden has the computer—and a complete data file of his past research—he can handle everything himself. For ten years he’s had a full lab staff to do the drudgery; but most of that kind of work is behind him now.”

  “If he quits at Brockert,” Klinger said, “there will be an exhaustive security investigation. They’ll want to know why he quit—and they’ll find out.”

  They were talking about Salsbury as if he were somewhere else and unable to hear them, and he didn’t like that. He moved away from the window, took two steps toward the general and said, “I’m not leaving my position at Brockert. I’ll report for work as usual, five days a week, from nine to four. While I’m there I’ll labor diligently on a useless research project.”

  “When will you find time to work at this lab Leonard’s setting up for you?”

  “In the evenings,” Salsbury said. “And on weekends. Besides that, I’ve accumulated a lot of sick leave and vacation time. I’ll take most of it—but I’ll spread it out evenly over the next year or so.”

  Klinger stood up and went to the elegant copper and glass bar cart that a servant had left a few feet from the easy chairs. His thick and hairy arms made the crystal decanters look more delicate than they actually were. As he poured another double shot of brandy for himself, he said, “And what role do you see me playing in all of this?”

  Salsbury said, “Leonard can get the computer system I need. But he can’t provide me with a magnetic tape file of all the research I’ve done for CDA or a set of master program tapes designed for my research. I’ll need both of those before Leonard’s computers are worth a penny to me. Now, given three or four weeks, I could make duplicates of those tapes at Brockert without much risk of being caught. But once I’ve got eighty or ninety cumbersome mag tapes and five-hundred-yard print-outs, how do I get them out of Brockert? There’s just no way. Security procedures, entering and leaving, are tight, too tight for my purpose. Unless ...”

  “I see,” Klinger said. He returned to his chair and sipped at his brandy.

  Sliding forward to the edge of his seat, Dawson said, “Ernst, you’re the ultimate authority for security at Brockert. You know more about that system than anyone else. If there’s a weak spot in their security, you’re the man to find it—or make it.”

  Studying Salsbury as if he were assessing the danger and questioning the wisdom of being associated with someone of such obviously inferior character, Klinger said, “I’m supposed to let you smuggle out nearly one hundred magnetic tapes full of top-secret data and sophisticated computer programs?”

  Ogden nodded slowly.

  “Can you do it?” Dawson asked.

  “Probably.”

  “That’s all you can say?”

  “There’s a better than even chance it can be done.”

  “That’s not sufficient, Ernst.”

  “All right, ” Klinger said, slightly exasperated. “I can do it. I can find a way.”

  Smiling, Dawson said, “I knew you could.”

  “But if I did find a way and was caught either during or after the operation—I’d be dumped into Leavenworth and left to rot. Earlier, when I used the word ‘treason,’ I wasn’t tossing it around lightly.”

  “I didn’t suppose you were,” Dawson said. “But you wouldn’t be required ever to see these mag tapes, let alone touch them. That would be a risk that only Ogden would have to take. They could convict you of nothing more serious than negligence for permitting or overlooking the gap in security.”

  “Even so, I’d be forced into early retirement or drummed out of the service with only a partial pension.”

  Amazed, Dawson shook his head and said, “I’m offering him one-third of a partnership that will earn millions, and Ernst is worrying about a government pension.”

  Salsbury was perspiring heavily. The back of his shirt was soaked and felt like a cold compress against his skin. To Klinger he said, “You’ve told us that you can do it. But the big question is whether you will do it.”

  Klinger stared into his brandy glass for a while, then finally looked up at Salsbury and said, “Once you’ve perfected the drug—what’s our first step?”

  Getting to his feet, Dawson said, “We’ll establish a front corporation in Liechtenstein.”

  “Why there?”

  Liechtenstein did not require that a corporation list its true owners. Dawson could hire lawyers in Vaduz and appoint them as corporate officers—and they could not be forced by law to reveal the identities of their clients.

  “Furthermore,” Dawson said, “I will acquire for each of us a set of forged papers, complete with passports, so that we can travel and do business under assumed names. If the lawyers in Vaduz are forced by extralegal means to reveal the names of their clients, they still won’t endanger us because they won’t know our real names.”

  Dawson’s caution was not excessive. The corporation would quite rapidly become an incredibly successful venture, so successful that a great many powerful people in both business and government would eventually be prying at it quietly, trying to find out who lay behind the phony officers in Vaduz. With Salsbury’s drug and extensive programs of carefully structured subliminals, the three of them could establish a hundred different businesses and literally demand that customers, associates, and even rivals produce a substantial profit for them. Every dollar they earned would seem to be spotlessly clean, produced by a legitimate form of commerce. But, of course, a great many people would feel that it was not at all legitimate to manipulate the competition and the buying public by means of a powerful new drug. In the event that the corporation got caught using the drug—stolen, as it was, from a U.S. weapons research project—what had once appeared to be excessive caution might well prove no more than adequate.

  “And once we’ve got the corporation?” Klinger asked.

  Money and business arran
gements were Dawson’s vocation and his avocation. He began to declaim almost in the manner of a Baptist preacher, full of vigor and fierce intent, thoroughly enjoying himself. “The corporation will purchase a walled estate somewhere in Germany or France. At least one hundred acres. On the surface it will appear to be an executive retreat. But in reality it will be used for the indoctrination of mercenary soldiers.”

  “Mercenaries?” Klinger’s hard, broad face expressed the institutional soldier’s disdain for the free-lancer.

  The corporation, Dawson explained, would hire perhaps a dozen of the very best mercenaries available, men who had fought in Asia and Africa. They would be brought to the company estate, ostensibly to be briefed on their assignments and to meet their superiors. The water supply and all bottled beverages on the estate would be used as media for the drug. Twenty-four hours after the mercenaries had taken their first few drinks, when they were primed for total subliminal brainwashing, they would be shown four hours of films on each of three successive days—travelogues, industrial studies, and technical documentaries detailing the use of a variety of weapons and electronic devices—which would be presented as essential background material for their assignments. Unknowingly, of course, they would be watching twelve hours of sophisticated subliminals telling them to obey without question any order prefaced by a certain code phrase; and when those three days had passed, all twelve men would cease to be merely hired hands and would become something quite like programmed robots.

  Outwardly, they would not appear to have changed. They would look and behave as they always had done. Nevertheless, they would obey any order to lie, steal, or kill anyone, obey without hesitation, so long as that order was preceded by the proper code phrase.

  “As mercenary soldiers, they would be professional killers to begin with,” Klinger said.

  “That’s true,” Dawson said. “But the glory lies in their unconditional, unquestioning obedience. As hired mercenaries, they would be able to reject any order or assignment that they didn’t like. But as our programmed staff, they will do precisely what they are told to do.”

  “There are other advantages, too,” Salsbury said, not unaware that Dawson, now that he was in a proselytizing mood, resented being nudged from the pulpit. “For one thing, you can order a man to kill and then to erase all memory of the murder from both his conscious and subconscious mind. He would never be able to testify against the corporation or against us; and he would pass any polygraph examination. ”

  Klinger’s Neanderthal face brightened a bit. He appreciated the importance of what Salsbury had said. “Even if they used pentothal or hypnotic regression—he still couldn’t remember?”

  “Sodium pentothal is much overrated as a truth serum,” Salsbury said. “As for the other ... Well, they could put him in a trance and regress him to the time of the murder. But he would only draw a blank. Once he has been told to erase the event from his mind, it is beyond his recall just as surely as obsolete data is beyond the recall of a computer that has had its memory banks wiped clean.”

  Having finished his second brandy, Klinger returned to the bar cart. This time he filled a twelve-ounce tumbler with ice and Seven-Up.

  Salsbury thought, He’s right about that: any man who doesn’t keep a clear head here, tonight, is plainly suicidal.

  To Dawson, Klinger said, “Once we’ve got these twelve ‘robots’ what do we do with them?”

  Because he had spent the last three months thinking about that while he and Salsbury worked out the details of their approach to the general, Dawson had a quick answer. “We can do anything we want with them. Anything at all. But as a first step—I thought we might use them to introduce the drug into the water supplies of every major city in Kuwait. Then we could saturate that country with a multimedia subliminal campaign specially structured for the Arab psyche, and within a month we could quietly seize control without anyone, even the government of Kuwait, knowing what we’ve done.”

  “Take over an entire country as a first step?” Klinger asked incredulously.

  Preaching again, striding back and forth between Salsbury and the general, gesturing expansively, Dawson said, “The population of Kuwait is less than eight hundred thousand. The greatest part of that is concentrated in a few urban areas, chiefly in Hawalli and the capital city. Furthermore, all of the members of the government and virtually all of the wealthy reside in those metropolitan centers. The handful of super-rich families who own desert enclaves get their water by truck from the cities. In short, we could take control of everyone of influence within the country—giving us a behind-the-scenes managerial dictatorship over the Kuwait oil reserves, which compose twenty percent of the entire world supply. That done, Kuwait would become our base of operations, from which we could subvert Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, and every other oil-exporting nation in the Mideast.”

  “We could smash the OPEC cartel,” Klinger said thoughtfully.

  “Or strengthen it,” Dawson said. “Or alternately weaken and strengthen it in order to cause major fluctuations in the value of oil stocks. Indeed, we could affect the entire stock market. And because we’d know about each fluctuation well in advance, we could take rare advantage of it. Within a year of assuming control of a half-dozen Mideastern countries, we should be able to siphon one and a half billion dollars into the corporation in Liechtenstein. Thereafter, it will be a matter of no more than five or six years until everything, quite literally everything, is ours.”

  “It sounds—crazy, mad,” Klinger said.

  Dawson frowned. “Mad?” “Incredible, unbelievable, impossible,” the general said, clarifying his first statement when he saw that it disturbed Dawson.

  “There was a time when heavier-than-air flight seemed impossible,” Salsbury said. “The nuclear bomb seemed incredible to many people even after it was dropped on Japan. And in 1961, when Kennedy launched the Apollo Space Program, very few Americans believed that a man would ever walk on the moon.”

  They stared at one another.

  The silence in the room was so perfect that each tiny wave breaking against the boat dock, although it was little more than a gentle ripple and was muffled by the window, sounded like an ocean surf. At least it did to Salsbury; it
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