The only thing Peter saw in the weak light was gold gleaming at him. Then the teeth moved. "Don't worry, this is some concoction that Moz has used before. Tried and tested," he heard Terence's voice say.
"It's amazing what the Cahuaran Indians of the Amazon can do with moss. Not that I've ever abducted any one for their own good before," he heard Mozzie's nasal voice correct him. Peter's eyes were gradually getting used to the darkness. Under one weak overhead light he could make out the two men he knew within a rumbling area that must be a large delivery van.
"Don't try to move just yet," his therapist said, pushing him back onto the truck bed, where he was laid out on a sleeping bag. "You didn't even put up a fight, so I know we did the right thing forcing you to take some R&R."
"What—what's happening? Why do you have me here?" Peter asked, and then the terrible things that Prentiss Lloyd Scott had said to him came rushing back and he doubled over with an attack of nausea. It was getting worse every minute, so it must not be from the knockout treatment.
"This is the best way to have a little privacy, for someone such as yourself who isn't allowed to have a nervous breakdown," Terence explained.
Peter opened his mouth and Mozzie held up his hand to silence the other two men. "And besides, we had to make sure that we found this before you said anything else." He held up a tiny silvery speck. "Don't worry, I submerged it in acid. It's not transmitting anymore."
"That's how they found me," Terence said. "Took me a few hours to notice because I wrote it off as paranoia." Mozzie sniffed. "And I'm so far off the grid, there is literally no reason for people to be following some random mental patient unless they've got a good sense of humor. Which these guys didn't seem to."
"Who found you? I'm sorry to break it to you guys. but I'm actually clinically insane. Everything that I've ever told you about Scott, just forget about it, and turn this thing around to Bellevue."
"Jacques, the big fellow you met earlier, has been instructed to drive around the city as long as it takes for you to get your head on straight," Mozzie said calmly. "It shouldn't take long, because you're not insane. This was a tracking device, a very sophisticated bug and GPS system stuck to your phone." He brandished Peter's iPhone. "Where do you think you picked that up?"
Peter's thoughts felt thick, like some kind of soup between his ears. He waded through it to respond tiredly, "I don't know; it's a hazard of the job. I interact with dozens of criminals a week. A lot of people hate me."
"This is so state of the art, I'd never even heard of these," Mozzie protested. "I mean this is beyond micro, but it transmits to any of the number of wireless spots around the city, anything that it's heard or anywhere that you've been. The only one who can afford something like this as if it were disposable-it costs about $40 or $50,000, come to find out, is your frenemy, Mr. Scott."
Peter wrapped the sleeping bag around him, suddenly cold. But still his mind wouldn't stop replaying the vision Scott had given him of himself. "I suppose that somebody could have stuck it on my phone when I was at the Metropolitan Museum dinner. I had to go through a metal detector."
"He would have had to know you were going to be there," the criminal mused.
"I was sort of counting on it. That's why I started a rumor that I was him."
His two companions gaped at each other. "You did what now?" Terence asked.
It seemed like his perfect evening was years ago. "I moved it through channels that Prentiss Lloyd Scott might show up, and then I was Neal's top-secret plus one. The catering staff totally bought it."
"You don't seriously think that one of the most powerful man in the United States would take kindly to you impersonating him—whether or not he happens to be a psychopath?" Mozzie demanded.
"Oooo-wee," Terence slapped his knee. "You drew a line in the sand in front of a billionaire and said 'Are you going to cross this line, bitch?'"
Mozzie shot him a look. "What were you thinking, Suit? This is totally not like you – you build a case like you're making a cathedral out of toothpicks."
Peter made a helpless gesture. It made no less sense than anything else these days. "I wanted to bring this out in the open. Lance the boil, so to speak."
"Lance the boil along with your jugular," Mozzie said with a dramatic gesture.
Now was Terence's turn to give Mozzie a look. "Peter here's been going through a really hard time. I'm saying a REALLY hard time."
"You mean there's more than engaging in a pissing match with a man worth more than Arkansas?"
Peter suddenly felt like he was falling within the darkness, and he grabbed hold of a handle on the side of the wall. "Oh god, Terence, you didn't tell him."
His therapist looked offended. "I may not be a professional, but that doesn't mean that I don't have professional ethics."
Peter sagged against the wall of the van. He liked it better when he was feeling sort of drowsy from whenever substance they gave him. Now was like a light had been turned on in his head, and everything that he had ever done or thought looked hideous, the way they engineered interrogation rooms to look to make prisoners crack.
Prisoners. Neal was on the run. He was going to be in so much trouble, and there's nothing Peter could do to help him. Neal wouldn't accept his help if he could. Neal was going to go back to jail; he was going to live in that disgusting fluorescent light for the rest of his life.
"Neal ran. You don't know, do you?" He saw Mozzie's expression change. Then Peter heard an awful grinding noise that at first he thought was coming from the truck, and then felt a sudden burning sensation on his cheek.
"I had to do it, man," Terence said to him about the slap. "That's hysteria, in case you didn't know." He turned to Mozzie, who looked very concerned. "My friend, I need some time alone with my client."
"I'll ride up front with Jacques," Mozzie shrugged, pounding on the van in some type of code. When they stopped and the little man got out, Peter glimpsed something that looked like the Bronx. He didn't care—he was never going to get out of that van, he decided at some point.
"Couldn't you have kidnapped me before I went to Scott's? I never wanted to know those things about myself. I'll never be able to stop thinking of myself that way."
"I'm sorry man, last I saw you I stuck our own tracking device in your wallet, because Mozzie was worried about you."
Peter had nothing to say about this equivocal show of concern from the criminal.
"We guessed that you were going to see Scott from your direction tonight, and we've had Jacques on standby for two days just in case, but then we hit some traffic on Fifth, and by the time we got over there you had gone inside." He gestured with his hand to encompass the interior. "No bugs, so tell me what's got you all shook up."
Peter began babbling his way through the conversation with the billionaire. He rushed through some parts breathlessly and then got caught up on certain phrases that were seared into his brain forever.
"I pushed Neal away with my sick feelings, and he wanted to get away from how I feel about him so badly that he sacrificed everything. They may catch him, but there's no way that I can make this right for him."
"Hold up now; we don't know that yet. But what we do know that if you're not at your best, you're not going be able to help your friend." Peter nodded and accepted a kleenex. "And we also don't know exactly why Neal left, so it's real important that you listen to me."
The FBI agent nodded obediently. "The brain, see, it worked like cement. A thought can be malleable for a little while, but once it sets it takes a jackhammer to get it out."
He registered the blank look before him. "Let me tell you a story."
Peter shivered under the sleeping bag and nodded. Anything to put off facing what he'd done. The truck jounced along and his therapist began his story.
"About five years ago, I was having one of my periodic tuneups in some hospital, and was two days away from discharge. When you take as many medications as I do, I'm kind of like a walking science experiment. Every once in awhile, for no apparent reason, the whole shebang goes to shit and I wake up choking on my tongue or with some rash that can kill you. They usually only keep me a couple of weeks.
"You get to know people when you're on the ward with them all day long. There was this one kid young kid, about 19, but with the mental age I would've said of about five. I'm not sure he ever knew how to talk but if he did he must have forgot. He walked around whispering to himself and laughing, never making eye contact with anyone, and as far as anyone could tell, he was going to make a career out of it.
"Being locked up, the food's not bad but it's the same rotation. This one day at lunch they happened to have these little cups of pineapple, which is something they don't usually serve. And this kid, his name was Albert, was the sort that only ate 2 bites out of anything, and made a little fort out of the rest.
"It wasn't nice to take advantage, but I thought, what the hell, he's not going to eat that pineapple, and I took it off his tray. I was just getting it open, when I feel somebody looking at me and the hair stands up on my neck. This guy woke up from la-la land and was looking straight into my eyes, and saying in perfect English, "Have you no soul?"
Terence chuckled. "Now, that doesn't sound like a recipe for shock therapy and suicide for a year, and but that's the way it worked."
"Because of one sentence?" Peter asked, forgetting his own sorrows for a moment.
"That's how going crazy happens sometimes – it just takes a little push." Terence was nodding to himself.
"Now, if it had been anybody else who normally talked, and who I didn't think was functioning at the level of a preschooler, I'm sure I would have just laughed that off. But to me at that moment it seemed like God himself was speaking through this empty vessel and telling me that I didn't have a soul.
"You think you're cold right now, because something's been shaken loose inside if you?" Peter nodded. "Well, I had to be wrapped in a blanket at all times and I practically shivered my bones apart. I felt this cold wind whistling through me all the time. It's like Albert had opened this door to show me a truth, and I couldn't look away."
The two men shivered together. Terence smiled. "You got a little taste of what I'm talking about. And I hope that's all you get.
"But me, I had to go the way of the cross. I couldn't wait for the ECT sessions, I was lined up waiting for 'em, because they do mess with your memory and I wanted to forget that emptiness so bad. Usually I'm cautious about letting them experiment on me, but I took any meds they gave me. I was in Hell. I'm sure of it.
"I tried to kill myself in so many ways I won't even tell you because it'll give you ideas. And this went on for an entire year."
"So how did you get out?" Peter asked, beginning to wonder if this man was much worse off than he realized.
Terence laughed. "I got out because I got better. And as luck would have it, it was because of another thing a random patient said.
"By this time I'd been on the long-term care ward for many months. They'd moved Albert off there so that he could stop freaking me out, and then moved him back on once he started repeating the words for what turned out to be another movie he heard.
"Yup. They watched Terminator on television one night and the next day he was walking around telling people to go ahead and make his day. Come to find out he picked up a sentence and repeated it sometimes, it was like an autistic thing or something. But even then I refused to believe that it had not been God talking to me through him.
"Then we get this army type, maybe he was a Marine, I don't know. He was the kind that had PTSD so bad they gave him shots so he could sleep. And still the sounds he made when he woke up were enough to get the whole ward riled up.
"Of course, I was barely aware of him because I was so wrapped up in being in Hell. But I knew from group therapy his name was Buck, and that as far as he knew he was in Afghanistan. Reenacting battles in the hallways. The works.
"So imagine my surprise when he comes up to be one day while I was shivering in front of some soap opera and says, 'Atten-shun, soldier! Maybe you don't have a soul and maybe you do, so what?'
"Everybody knew all of each other's business in group therapy if they were able to listen, so it's not like he read my mind. But something in the way he said it, in such a matter of fact tone about my worst nightmare, he broke through to me for a minute.
"'Well, I don't know,'" I whimpered.
"'Whether you do, or do not, possess a soul, corporal, is not the reason why you're here on this godforsaken hill in Afghanistan! You're here to fight Al Qaeda, and you may die trying. That's not important. What is important is that if you keep on bellyaching, you're gonna let the whole rest of the squadron down. And you'll go down like a pussy instead of a man.'
"Buck had these real pale light blue eyes, and for a second, it was like I saw the sky, this wide blue panorama where I'd been expecting to live in a closet for the rest of my days.
"'Are you going to get off your ass, soldier, and fight the good fight?'
Terence noted Peter's rapt attention. "And believe it or not, I got off the sofa, gave a salute for the first and last time in my life, and got busy getting better.
"Within two weeks I was well enough to be discharged."
The FBI agent had no idea what type of lesson he was supposed to draw from that tale except that people go sane and insane as if by magic, and there's nothing you can do about it.
"Wait, stick with me, stick with me," Terence thumped Peter's knee. "What I did those two weeks was put my head together again. Anything can be true, was what I finally came to terms with. I might not have a soul. Or I might have one. But there's no reason to give more weight to the most negative possible interpretation of things."
He looked over at Peter intently. "You're going to have to make a choice about who you are. And I want you to make it, before you get out of this truck. Take as long as you need, but decide whether you're going to listen to Prentiss Scott's warped image of you, or to what the other 99% of the people that know you think. They all describe you as good, according to Mozzie. And he's a tough cookie in his own way."
"But Scott said only an emotionally stunted man doesn't realize he's attracted to men until he's in his forties. You're not gay, are you, Terence, so how would you know? Plus, I'm sure that there are psychological journals that would say that about someone like me."
"Maybe they do. But again, are you going to listen to some psychologist, who believe me, have their own problems, or to the one person who thinks you're a monster, and ignore what everyone else says about Peter the good egg? Hell, why ignore what I say? You seem like a pretty good guy to me."
Peter gave a week little laugh, knowing what he knew now about his therapist's psychological ailments.
Terence grinned, guessing his thoughts, and then continued seriously, "We don't know why Neal is gone. From everything you've described to me, and you've told me some pretty personal shit, you actually love the guy. That may not be convenient, it may not be what you planned, but I don't think that makes you a monster. Peter, you're so terrified of acting on it, either because of fear of rejection, or hurting your wife, but those are concerns that a person with a conscience has. If you were some type of sexual predator, you would've misused the considerable hold you have over Neal, long before now."
"I kind of engineered our pseudo-date."
"Which took place in full view of FBI agents who had audio surveillance on you," Terence scoffed. "That doesn't meet my definition of a date. Have even gotten so far as actually having sex with Neal in your head?"
"No!" Peter sat up too fast and felt his head spin.
"Well then, even in the eyes of the law, you haven't done anything wrong. So you sit there and have a think, and let me know when you've decided."
Peter saw a light come on, and realize that his cell phone had ended up in Terence's hands. He was giggling at one of his phone's games.
Peter closed his eyes and he thought. He let the rolling motion of the truck lull him into a kind of stupor. He tried to imagine Neal, wherever he was. And he felt bad. Peter felt bad because for selfish reasons he was broken up about having to live without his CI, which was the most likely scenario.
He wished something he didn't believe he could have wished several years ago. He wished that Neal never got caught, that he was able to live a happy life as someone else, somewhere else. He even went so far as to populate his vision with a wife and children. The very least he could imagine for Neal was a home.
He tried to imagine his wife finding out about all of this turmoil, and even as hurt as she would be, Elizabeth would never agree with what Scott had said about him. That would be giving up, and she never gave up.
Peter might be confused. Maybe it was pathetic, to not know this about himself up until now. But he was just someone who wasn't loved by the person he had been condemned to love. That was all-it was a simple, quotidian kind of failing.
But people got past that. All the time. He still had his job. And he could pour himself into his work, even without anyone in his life who loved him. And that was going to have to be good enough. It might be more than Neal had.
He opened his eyes.
"Well?" Terence looked up from his phone. "Are you gonna rejoin the ranks of the living, soldier?"
"Yes, sir," Peter said softly. Then he added, "It's going to be a helluva fight."
"For the next little while, yes, probably it will be," the other man agreed. "We may not be high class, but you've got me, you've got Mozzie, and you still have your wife, who may be more understanding than you think."
"I could never tell her this!" Peters said aghast.
"I'm just saying, everything may not be this nightmare scenario Scott painted for you. I mean, you weren't delusional about this Scott guy being a freak, which is actually pretty good news. Not to scare you, but when of those kind of screws gets loose, sometimes they never find it."
"Small blessings I guess," Peter laughed darkly. "What am I going to do about Neal, Terence?"
"My guess would be that Scott was right about one thing. Learning how you felt about him hit a nerve. But he's only been gone a few hours- people get mugged, get hit on the head, then end up in Delaware not knowing their own name and it takes longer than that. So all is not lost yet."
Perhaps his therapy was working, or maybe he simply had no standards anymore, because Peter wanted to kiss Terence for that optimistic view.
"One thing I do know is that the only way you're going be able to help your friend is by getting your house in order."
"What you mean? You think he's coming to my home?" Peter's heart leaped.
"No, I mean you've got to figure out who you are, what you want, and get right with yourself. Starting with whether you really would want to give it a try with him."
"After everything that I heard today, it doesn't sound like any good could come of that scenario," Peter whispered.
Terence made a noise in his throat. "See, this is what I mean. All that nonsense you heard from Prentiss Scott is still soft in your head, but you let it set in there, and you'll have so many hang-ups about men, you won't want to stand next to one on the subway. That's why, for our next appointment-"
"You're letting me out?" Peter cried and rubbed his face, not wanting to imagine what he looked like. "How do you know I won't jump straight into the East River?"
"I don't, but I think it's very unlikely. You want know what's going on in Neal's head, you want to save him too much. People who still have an interest in how their own story—or someone else's—turns out, they never off themselves, in my experience.
"As I was saying, for your next appointment, I want you to take the part of yourself that is in love with a man, take him and walk him down the street."
"You're telling me to split off my personality ore something? That sounds unhealthy."
"If you want to think of it that way, but this is what you've been doing with your fantasies," his therapist said.
Peter still looked skeptical.
"This is Freud and Jung, man, this isn't some schizoaffective guy in the back of a truck telling you. You've got to dream the dream forward. When I see you again I want you to have assimilated the idea that being gay does not make you a monster, and that you loving this man is not the end of the world. Construct a good fantasy if takes everything you've got."
Before Peter could say anything, Terence rapped on the side of the truck. The vehicle came to a halt about 30 seconds later, and Peter was momentarily blinded by the street lights.
He was somewhere in the west seventies, he saw. Mozzie came out of the cab and looked him over. "He's going to live to fight another day," he said to Terence.
"Yeah, I think so," his therapist agreed.
"Listen, guys." Peter could just feel that his eyes were swollen from crying and he still felt the urge to vomit. But at least he didn't feel like he was literally coming apart at the seams anymore. "Not that you will ever tell anyone this, not that you will ever remind me of this, but thank you for abducting me. And for planting a tracking device on me."
The two men beamed at each other. Then they got serious. "You need to sweep your office and your house for bugs," Mozzie ordered. "If you want me to come over, I'll do your home. But there's no telling what other devices have made their way into your life since you stupidly poked a giant in the eye."
Peter nodded slowly. "This gives me something concrete to focus on. Elizabeth has to be OK. I'll call you if I need you, Moz."
They left him standing in front of a corner store, and, remembering his assignment for the next week, Peter walked in as if it weren't an incredible assault on his manhood to have been obviously crying.
He bought tissues, a bottle of water, and some liquid soap. And he stood there on a street corner washing his face. This is New York. How could he have lived here for so long, and still carried around such a sense of shame? Passersby scarcely gave them a second glance.
Feeling shaky as a newborn calf, he wandered around for a long time after texting Elizabeth that he had one of those days and would be home soon to tell her about it.
By the time he got on the subway, because he was not in any state to drive, he had decided exactly how much she was going to tell her. Which wasn't a lot. The most important thing was that she knew he had provoked some kind of madman, if his instincts were finally to be believed.
He came home and folded Elizabeth in his arms for some time until he realized he was making her hold his weight. "It's been one of those days were I'm so glad to have you, to have this." He gestured around their home.
"Honey, you look awful, and you're shivering," she observed. Peter was put to bed for a malady that he knew was psychological rather than physical, but it still felt so good to have someone take care of him, to think he deserved an electric blanket and herbal tea. If he wasn't sure he still deserved this, he didn't think he'd gotten so far away from it yet that he'd become what Prentiss Scott told him he was.
He fell asleep and Elizabeth called his excuse into work the next day. Peter slept and slept.
He had a lot to dream about.