Night chills, p.9
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       Night Chills, p.9
 

           Dean Koontz

  research as you are in bed. You’re never going to get anywhere, but I am. I’m getting out. What a bitch she had been. Just thinking about her, he began to tremble and perspire.

  Alice was still smiling at him.

  “Stop smiling,” he said softly. “I don’t like it.”

  She did as she was told.

  “What am I, Alice?”

  “You’re the key.”

  “And what are you?”

  “The lock.”

  “Now that I’ve opened you, you’ll do whatever I tell you to do. Isn’t that true?”

  “Yeah.”

  He took three one-dollar bills from his wallet and put them on top of the lunch check. “I’m going to test you, Alice. I’m going to see just how obedient you are.”

  She waited docilely.

  “When you leave this table,” he said, “you’ll take the check and money to the cash register. You’ll ring up the sale and take your tip from whatever’s left of the three dollars. Is that clear?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Then you will go to the kitchen. Is there anyone back there?”

  “No. Randy went to the bank.”

  “Randy Ultman?”

  “Yeah.”

  “That’s good,” Salsbury said. “Now, when you go to the kitchen, you’ll pick up a meat fork, a cook’s fork. One of those big, two-pronged forks. Is there one of those in the kitchen?”

  “Yeah. Several.”

  “You’ll pick one of them up and stab yourself with it, run it all the way through your left hand.”

  She didn’t even blink.

  “Is that understood, Alice?”

  “Yeah. I understand.”

  “When you turn away from this table, you’ll forget everything we’ve said to each other. Understood?”

  “Yeah.”

  “When you run the fork through your hand, you’ll think it was an accident. A freak accident. Won’t you, Alice?”

  “Sure. An accident.”

  “Go away, then.”

  She turned and walked to the half-door at the end of the lunch counter, her smooth hips rolling provocatively.

  When she reached the cash register and began to ring up the sale, Salsbury slid out of the booth and started toward the door.

  She dropped her tip into a pocket of her uniform, closed the cash register drawer, and went into the kitchen.

  At the entrance Salsbury stopped and put a quarter in the newspaper vending machine.

  Bob Thorp laughed loudly at some joke, and the waitress named Bess giggled like a young girl.

  Salsbury took a copy of the Black River Bulletin from the wire rack, folded it, put it under his arm, and opened the door to the foyer. He stepped across the sill and began to pull the door shut behind him, thinking all the while: Come on, you bitch, come on! His heart was pounding, and he felt slightly dizzy.

  Alice began to scream.

  Grinning, Salsbury closed the front door, pushed through the outer door, went down the steps, and walked east on Main Street, as if he were unaware of the uproar in the cafe.

  The day was bright and warm. The sky was cloudless.

  He had never been happier.

  Paul shouldered past Bob Thorp and stepped into the kitchen.

  The young waitress was standing at the counter that lay between two upright food freezers. Her left hand was palm down on a wooden cutting board. With her right hand she gripped an eighteen-inch-long meat fork. The two wickedly sharp prongs appeared to have been driven all the way through her left hand and into the wood beneath. Blood spotted her light blue uniform, glistened on the cutting board, and dripped from the edge of the Formica-topped counter. She was screaming and gasping for breath between the screams and shaking and trying to wrench the fork loose.

  Turning back to Bob Thorp, who stood transfixed in the doorway, Paul said, “Get Doc Troutman.”

  Thorp didn’t have to be told again. He hurried away.

  Taking hold of the woman’s right hand, Paul said, “Let go of the fork. I want you to let go of the fork. You’re doing more harm than good.”

  She raised her head and seemed to look straight through him. Her face was chalky beneath her dark complexion; she was obviously in shock. She couldn’t stop screaming—an ululating wail more animal than human—and she probably didn’t even know that he had spoken to her.

  He had to pry her fingers from the handle of the fork.

  At his side Jenny said, “Oh, my God!”

  “Hold her for me,” he said. “Don’t let her grab the fork.”

  Jenny gripped the woman’s right wrist. She said, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

  Paul wouldn’t have blamed her if she had been just that. In the tiny restaurant kitchen, with the ceiling only a few inches above their heads, the screams were deafening. The sight of that slender hand with the fork embedded in it was horrifying, the stuff of nightmares. The air was thick with the stale odors of baked ham, roast beef, fried onions, grease—and the fresh, metallic tang of blood. It was enough to nauseate anyone. But he said, “You won’t be sick. You’re a tough lady.”

  She bit her lower lip and nodded.

  Quickly, as if he had been prepared and waiting for exactly this emergency, Paul took a dishcloth from the towel rack and tore it into two strips. He threw one of these aside. With the other length of cloth and a long wooden tasting spoon, he fashioned a tourniquet for the waitress’s left arm. He twisted the wooden spoon with his right hand and covered the handle of the meat fork with his left. To Jenny he said, “Come around here and take the tourniquet.”

  As soon as her right hand was free, the waitress tried to get to the handle of the fork. She clawed at Paul’s fist.

  Jenny took hold of the spoon.

  Pressing down on the waitress’s wounded hand, Paul jerked up on the fork, which was sunk into the wood perhaps half an inch past her flesh, and pulled the tines from her in one sudden, clean movement. He dropped the fork and slipped an arm around her waist to keep her from falling. Her knees had begun to buckle; he had thought they might.

  As he stretched the woman out on the floor, Jenny said, “She must be in awful pain.”

  Those words seemed to shatter the waitress’s terror. She stopped screaming and began to cry.

  “I don’t see how she did it,” Paul said as he tended to her. “She put that fork through her hand with incredible force. She was pinned to the board.”

  Weeping, trembling, the waitress said, “Accident.” She gasped and groaned and shook her head. “Terrible ... accident. ”

  6

  Fourteen Months Earlier: Thursday, June 10, 1976

  Naked, the dead man lay on his back in the center of the slightly tilted autopsy table, framed by blood gutters on all sides.

  “Who was he?” Klinger asked.

  Salsbury said, “He worked for Leonard.”

  The room in which the three men stood was illuminated only in the center by two hooded lamps above the autopsy table. Three walls were lined with computer housings, consoles, and monitor boards; and the tiny systems bulbs and glowing scopes made ghostly patches of green, blue, yellow, and pale red light in the surrounding shadows. Nine TV display screens—cathode-ray tubes—were set high on three walls, and four other screens were suspended from the ceiling; and all of them emitted a thin bluish-green light.

  In that eerie glow the corpse looked less like a real body than like a prop in a horror film.

  Somber, almost reverent, Dawson said, “His name was Brian Kingman. He was on my personal staff.”

  “For very long?” Klinger asked.

  “Five years.”

  The dead man had been in his late twenties and in good condition. Now, circulation having ceased seven hours ago, lividity had set in; the blood had settled into his calves, the backs of his thighs, his buttocks, and his lower back, and in these places the flesh was purple and a bit distended. His face was white and deeply lined. His hands were at his sides, his palms up, the fin
gers curled.

  “Was he married?” Klinger asked.

  Dawson shook his head: no.

  “Family?”

  “Grandparents dead. No brother or sisters. His mother died when he was born, and his father was killed in an auto accident last year.”

  “Aunts and uncles?”

  “None close.”

  “Girlfriends?”

  “None that he was serious about or that were serious about him,” Dawson said. “That’s why we chose him. If he disappears, there’s no one to waste a lot of time and energy looking for him.”

  Klinger considered that for a few seconds. Then he said, “You expected the experiment to kill him?”

  “We thought there was a chance of it,” Ogden said.

  Smiling grimly, Klinger said, “You were right.”

  Something about the general’s tone angered Salsbury. “You knew the stakes when you came in with Leonard and me.”

  “Of course I did,” Klinger said.

  “Then don’t act as if Kingman’s death is entirely my fault. The blame belongs to all of us.”

  Frowning, the general said, “Ogden, you misunderstand me. I don’t believe that you and Leonard and I are to blame for anything. This man was a machine that broke down. Nothing more. We can always get another machine. You’re too sensitive, Ogden.”

  “Poor boy,” Dawson said, regarding the corpse sadly. “He would have done anything for me.”

  “He did,” the general said. He stared thoughtfully at the dead man. “Leonard, you’ve got seven servants in this house. Did any of them know Kingman was here?”

  “That’s highly unlikely. We brought him in secretly.” For thirteen months, this wing of the Greenwich house had been sealed off from the other twenty rooms. It had been provided with a new private entrance, and all of the locks had been changed. The servants were told that experiments, none of them dangerous, were being conducted for a subsidiary of Futurex, and that the security precautions were needed to protect the operation’s files and discoveries from industrial espionage.

  “Is the household staff still curious about what goes on here?” Klinger asked.

  “No,” Dawson said. “So far as they can see, nothing’s happened in the past year. The sealed wing has lost its mystery. ”

  “Then I think we can bury Kingman on the estate without too much risk.” He faced Salsbury. “What happened? How did he die?”

  Salsbury sat on a high, white stool at the head of the autopsy table, hooked his heels around one of its rungs, and spoke to them across the corpse. “We brought Kingman here for the first time in early February. He thought he was helping us with some sociological research that had important business applications for Futurex. During forty hours of interviews with him, I learned everything I wanted to know about the man’s likes, dislikes, prejudices, personality quirks, desires, and basic thought processes. Later, at the end of February, I went through the transcripts of those interviews and selected five test points, five of Kingman’s attitudes and/or opinions that I would try to reverse with a series of subliminals.”

  He had chosen three simple test points and two complex ones. Kingman craved chocolate candy, chocolate cake, chocolate in every form; and Salsbury wanted to make him ill at the first taste of chocolate. He couldn’t and wouldn’t eat broccoli; but Salsbury wanted to make him like it. Kingman had an ingrained fear of dogs; an attempt to transform that fear into affection would constitute the third of the simple test points. The remaining two indices presented Salsbury with a far greater chance of failure, for to deal with them he would have to design subliminal commands that bored especially deeply into Kingman’s psyche. First of all, Kingman was an atheist, a fact he had hidden successfully from Dawson for five years. Secondly, he was extremely prejudiced against blacks. Making him over into a God-loving, prayer-saying champion of the Negro would be far more difficult than twisting his taste for chocolate into a loathing of it.

  By the second week of April, Salsbury completed the subliminal program.

  Kingman was brought back to the Greenwich house on the fifteenth of that month—ostensibly to participate in additional sociological research for Futurex. Although he wasn’t aware of it, he was fed the subliminal primer, the drug, on April 15. Salsbury put him under close medical observation and ran tests on him for three days, but he could find no indications of a temporary toxic state, permanent tissue damage, a change in blood chemistry, noticeable psychological damage, or any other deleterious side-effects attributable to the drug.

  At the end of those three days, on April 19, still in excellent health, Kingman took part in what he thought was an experiment in visual perception. He was shown two feature-length motion pictures in one afternoon, and at the conclusion of each film he was required to answer a hundred questions that dealt with what he had just seen. His answers were unimportant, and they were filed only because Salsbury habitually filed every scrap of paper in his laboratory. The experiment actually had only one purpose: while Kingman was watching the films, he was also unwittingly absorbing three hours of subliminal programming that was meant to change five of his attitudes.

  The events of the following day, April 20, proved the effectiveness of Salsbury’s drug and subliminal programs. At breakfast, Kingman tried to eat a chocolate doughnut, dropped it after one bite, quickly excused himself from the table, went to the nearest bathroom, and threw up. At lunch he ate four portions of broccoli in butter sauce with his pork chops. That afternoon, when Dawson took him on a tour of the estate, Kingman spent fifteen minutes playing with several of the guard dogs in the kennel. After dinner, when Ogden and Dawson began to discuss the continuing efforts to integrate the public schools in the North, Kingman came on like a life-long liberal, an ardent advocate of equal rights. And finally, unaware of the two videotape cameras that monitored his bedroom in the sealed wing, he had said his prayers before going to sleep.

  Standing now beside the corpse, smiling beatifically, Dawson said to Klinger, “You should have seen it, Ernst! It was terribly inspiring. Ogden took an atheist, a soul condemned to burn in Hell, and converted him into a faithful disciple of Jesus. And all on one day!”

  Salsbury was uneasy. He shifted on the stool. Ignoring Dawson, staring at the middle of the general’s forehead, he said, “Kingman left the estate on April twenty-first. I set to work immediately to design the ultimate series of subliminals, the one we three have discussed a hundred times, the program that would give me total and permanent control of the subject’s mind through the use of a code phrase. I finished it on the fifth of June. We brought Kingman back here on the eighth, two days ago.”

  “He wasn’t suspicious?” Klinger asked. “Or upset about all of this travel he was asked to do?”

  “To the contrary,” Dawson said. “He was pleased that I ]was using him for such a special project, even if he didn’t fully understand what it was. He saw it as a sign of my faith in him. And he thought that, if he made himself available for Ogden’s work, he would be promoted much sooner than he might have been otherwise. His behavior wasn’t peculiar. I’ve seen it in every ambitious young executive and management trainee I’ve ever known.”

  Tired of standing, the general went to the nearest computer console, swiveled the command chair away from the keyboard, and sat down. He was almost entirely in the shadows. Green light from a display screen washed across his right shoulder and that side of his brutal face. He looked like a troll. “Okay. You finished the program on the fifth. Kingman came up here again on the eighth. You fed him the primer—”

  “No,” Salsbury said. “Once the drug has been administered to a subject, there’s no need to give him a booster dose, not even years later. When Kingman arrived, I began at once with the subliminal program. I ran two films for him during the evening. That night, the night before last, he had a very bad dream. He woke up, sweating, chilled, shaking, dazed, and nauseated. He had trouble getting his breath. He vomited beside the bed.”

  “Fever?
Klinger asked.

  “No.”

  “Do you think he had a delayed reaction to the drug—a month and a half delayed?”

  “Maybe,” Salsbury said. But he obviously didn’t think that was the case. He got off the stool, went to his desk in a dark corner of the room, and came back with a computer print-out. “This is a record of Kingman’s sleep patterns between one o’clock and three o’clock this morning. That’s the crucial period.” He handed it to Dawson. “Yesterday, I showed Kingman two more films. That completed the program. Last night—he died in bed.”

  The general joined Dawson and Salsbury in the oval of light at the autopsy table and began to read the two-yard-long sheet of computer paper.

  Klinger said, “You had Kingman hooked up to a lot of machines while he slept?”

  “Nearly every night he was here, right from the beginning,” Salsbury said. “The first few times there really wasn’t any reason for it. But by the time it was necessary for me to keep a close watch on him, he was accustomed to the machines and had learned to sleep tangled up with all those wires.”

  Indicating the print-out, the general said, “I’m not quite sure what I’m reading here.”

  “Likewise,” Dawson said.

  Salsbury suppressed a smile. Months ago he had decided that his best defense against these two sharks was his highly specialized education. He never missed an opportunity to display it for them—and to impress them with the fact that, if they should dispose of him, neither of them could carry on his research and development or deal with an unexpected scientific crisis after the research and development was finished.

  Pointing to the first several lines of the print-out, he said, “The fourth stage of sleep is the deepest. It tends to occur early in the night. Kingman went to bed at midnight and fell asleep at twenty minutes of one. As you can see here, he achieved the fourth level twenty-two minutes later.”

  “What’s the importance of that?” Dawson asked.

  “The fourth level is more like a coma than any other stage of sleep,” Salsbury said. “The electroencephalogram shows irregular large waves of just a few cycles per second. There is no bodily movement on the part of the sleeper. It’s in stage four, with the outer mind virtually comatose and with all sensory input shut down tight, that the inner mind becomes the only truly operative part of the mind. Remember, unlike the conscious mind, it never sleeps. But because there isn’t any sensory input, the subconscious can’t do anything during stage four sleep except play with itself. Now, Kingman’s subconscious had something unique to play with.”

  The general said, “The key-lock program you implanted in him yesterday and the day before.”

  “That’s right,” Salsbury said. “And look here, farther down the print-out.”

  “All night long,” Salsbury said, “we rise and fall and rise and fall through the stages of sleep. Almost without exception, we descend into sleep in steps and ascend from it in steps as well, spending some time at each level along the way. In this case, however, Kingman soared straight up from deep sleep to light sleep—as if a noise in the bedroom had startled him.”

  “Was there a noise?” Dawson asked.

  “No.”

  “What’s this REM?” Klinger asked.

  Salsbury said, “That means rapid eye movement is taking place under the eyelids—which is a highly reliable indication that Kingman was dreaming in stage one.”

  “Dreaming?” Dawson asked. “About what?”

  “There’s no way of telling.”

 
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