Churchill’s eyes locked on the tight-focus television monitor even though he could see Ethan easily through the one-way mirror wall. The attendant strapped him to the bed one limb at a time. To one of the control room technicians Churchill said, “Can you run back the last ten seconds from this camera in slow motion?” He had noticed something, a tiny anomaly. This time, with the video slowed to half speed, he saw it clearly. Ethan’s struggles momentarily ceased and his body went limp. An instant later, he animated again and struggled to sit up. Churchill dialed up the sound from the monitor that showed the live feed from the test room.
“Gunderson, get your lab animal off me. I’ll give you something,” Ethan said.
Doctor Gunderson patted the technician’s biceps. “Thank you, Ted. That will be all for now.” Without a backward glance, the big man left. “So, what’s in the photograph, Mr. West?”
“I have no idea. This is better.” Ethan taunted.
“Let me be the judge.”
“Okay. You had some tests done recently.”
Gunderson cocked his head and said softly, “What?”
Ethan saw the fear. “A biopsy. Your testicles. You’ll get the test results this afternoon. A phone call from your oncologist at three thirty-seven. Doctor named Ercig. Vanessa Ercig.”
Gunderson gripped the metal rails of Ethan’s bed and leaned forward. “How do you know her name? What do you see?”
“Snip, snip, Doctor.” A cruel smile turned Ethan’s mouth to a gash. “Divine justice, eh? Payback for keeping me here, although I can’t see how you’d notice any difference. You’re already a eunuch.”
“I’m afraid you’re mistaken, West.”
“The first half of that statement is true. You are afraid. The second half is wishful thinking. I’m not mistaken.” Ethan closed his eyes and settled into the pillow, exhausted. Am I bluffing? Or is it true? I’ll know at three thirty-seven.
Gunderson tried to maintain his composure, but the thin bead of sweat across his upper lip betrayed him.
Churchill slapped his left hand against the monitor screen and turned to Dolci. “Ted scared him and he went wherever he needed to go and came back in the blink of an eye.”
Dolci stroked his chin, his stubble feeling like a wire brush. “Very interesting. We’ll have to wait two hours to see if he was making it up.”
“Making it up? How would he make up something as outlandish as testicular cancer? And how would he know Gunderson’s doctor’s name?”
“Maybe he heard someone talking about it.”
“In a locked room? Have you heard anyone talking about Gunderson?”
“Fact is, it’s true. Gunderson did have a biopsy. He hasn’t breathed a word of this to anyone, not even his wife. He’s scared to death. He confided in me only yesterday.”
Dolci’s dark eyebrows rose.
Churchill said, “West’s been sandbagging, Cliff. He’s remarkable. He can pick up information over a distance.” Churchill frowned as his brain connected several rapidly moving thoughts. “Oh, my God, I missed the obvious.”
“This isn’t Distance Vision. He doesn’t just see across space, he sees across time. If Gunderson gets that phone call, do you realize what this means?”
Cliff Dolci slapped his hand against the arm of his chair. “Yes, it means that to know it wasn’t a lucky fluke, it has to be repeatable. We’ll have to induce fear again. He’ll get jaded, so we’ll have to up the ante, be more threatening. Andrew, are you prepared for where this is leading?”
Churchill’s lips curled into a sneer. “It’s leading us out of a very deep hole.”
“Or into one,” Dolci’s eyes glared.
Churchill leaned forward and threw the switch that activated the thin stalk of microphone in front of him. “Mr. West, how did you get that information on Doctor Gunderson?”
Ethan looked up, his eyelids half closed. “Who are you?”
Churchill found it disconcerting to have West look directly at him through the one-way mirror. “I’m Doctor Gunderson’s superior. How did you do that?”
“I don’t know. Why?”
“We’re trying to understand how you get this information.”
“Just a knack.”
“Somewhat more than that, wouldn’t you say?”
“No, I just have hunches.”
“Well, your hunches are very good. Can you tell us how they form? How you know that the hunch is a good hunch and not just a fantasy?”
Ethan stared at the ceiling where speakers relayed Churchill’s voice. “I never really thought about it.”
In the control room, with the microphone off, Churchill squinted at Dolci. “Are you buying this bullshit?”
Dolci held his chin in his right hand. “I’m not sure. It’s possible he has only a vague conscious sense of his gift. Not easy to tell.”
“Vague conscious sense? C’mon, Cliff. You think that was coincidence? West’s in a crisis environment and he finds exactly the tool he needs to clobber Gunderson.” Though he was talking low, he realized the technicians at the other end of the room had become unusually quite. Churchill turned toward them and said, “That will be all for now, people. Go take a break. I need to talk to Doctor Dolci in private.” After the control room cleared, Churchill leaned forward and, louder now, said, “You need to turn up the heat, Cliff. Gunderson is a weenie. Put Ted back in there.”
“Ted? Ted’s not a trained researcher.”
“Maybe that’s why he’s effective.”
“We’re on thin ice here. We go much further, we could wind up in jail.”
“We don’t go further and we wind up in the poor house. Makes jail look good, no? You get Ted in there and scare West’s balls off. We’re running out of time.”
“What the hell is your hurry? What aren’t you telling me?” Dolci’s dark eyes stared like gun barrels behind his glasses.
Very calmly, Andrew Churchill flattened his manicured hands against the table and said in a low voice, “Cliff, we’ve been at this a long time. The seed money we got from the Avalon Group has run out. I’ve kissed and fawned until I’m blue in the face to scratch a few more bucks out of those tight-fisted bastards. They want to see our DOD contract renewed soon or they pull the plug. Then we go bankrupt and they pick our bones clean. The only thing that’s keeping this company going right now is my high-risk commodity trading.”
Churchill’s right index finger lifted off the table and pointed at the TV screen that held a frozen image of Ethan West. “I made that money because of him. And right now he’s the only resource we have to make revenue to keep this place going. Now, check your bleeding heart at the door and get in there and figure out what he can do and how he does it.”
“Goddammit, you’re asking me to commit a crime! That’s not a lab animal in there.”
Churchill lowered his gaze to his hands which he folded and unfolded. “You can walk out that door anytime you want. Just know you walk out penniless.”
A long minute passed. Finally, Churchill said, “You’re still here.”
“For the moment.”
“Well as long as you’re still here, send Ted up for a come-to-Jesus meeting. I’ll explain the new rules to him. Satisfied?”
Dolci gave a grudging nod.
“And Cliff, no more staff in here during tests. All videos are to be kept under lock and key. Tell your people the government just raised our security classification and anybody who opens their mouths will get fired.”
“You’re not serious.”
Churchill rose and crossed to the door. As he opened it, he stared at Clifford Dolci and in a lifeless voice said, “You’re right, Cliff. I must be joking.”