It took me awhile to get through all my favorite restaurants, about twenty hours in total over two days. I had to pace myself, because I’d learned my limits by then. Still, my new prescription drug was a miracle worker, and actually enabled me to push myself even harder before the worst side-effects hit me.
By the time I was done, because there was no way to find every single waiter, and every single manager of every single restaurant, I’d still erased all trace of memory from any of the waiters who knew me well at places I frequented, and when my favorites weren’t around I’d ask when they’d get on shift, and come back for them later.
Then I took Ramesh up on his offer, and had dinner with him and his wife. It was a lovely meal, and during that meal I developed a new appreciation for Indian food done right. We had a wonderful time, and they were the warmest, most hospitable people I’d ever met, and their kids were well-behaved little angels, not spoiled little shitweasels like I was accustomed to.
Which is why I was really sad when I left, knowing that I was the only one who would ever remember it.
On the drive home, I decided to level with Terrence, and moved up to the front, and rolled down the divider. I could smell the Twizzlers.
“Heya, T,” I said.
“Mr. Thorn,” he said. “What can I do for you?” His broad, open smile, his general aura of likability, and his genuine appreciation for me as a person, it all stung, but felt good at the same time.
“T, you ever heard of the Mindbender?”
“Yes,” he said, puzzling a bit. “People think he might be some kind of super.”
“He is,” I said, simply. “He’s me.”
Terrence almost yanked the car off of the road turning around to look at me, face in shock like a punch to the nose. “What?” he said, then started laughing. “You’re having fun with me, Mr. Thorn.”
“Nope. I can read and control people’s minds.”
He fell silent into disbelief. There wasn’t even a part of him that considered I was taking it seriously.
“I’ll prove it. Remember how those policemen ended up posing in the cold all naked like that?”
He frowned. “Yeah, I remember.”
“Where’d you drop me off, two nights before that?”
He didn’t answer, but I felt the realization dawn in his mind about the strange sidetrack drop-off at the 31st street cop shop.
“Ramesh really did give me a hell of a deal, T. Never cost me a thing.”
That got him. He flinched in the seat, an open question in his own mind, but a conclusion drawn like a scarlet letter once I’d confessed to it. He knew Ramesh, and always knew that was out of character for him.
“The Grand Hotel,” he said, but it was more like a sigh formed into words. The answer to the question he’d asked me in the elevator. How had I changed Chase’s mind so fast, with a simple question? How had the Presidential Suite suddenly become available, to me?
“So now that you believe me Terrence, I have to ask: Would you tell anyone?”
I saw it dancing in his head, the knowledge, the realization, that he had been driving around a supervillain. All of those ways I’d had to convince people to do whatever I wanted, suddenly making sense. His answer came to the forefront of his mind, and I did not blame him for it.
“Of course not,” he lied. “Never.”
“Terrence,” I said. “I’m a mind-reader. But it’s okay…I understand. Some secrets are just too big for anyone to keep to themselves.”
Fear settled over him like icy knives, and his heart was a jackhammer on the “blend” setting. “What are you going to do, Mr. Thorn?”
“Nothing bad. You’ll just forget all about me, that you ever knew me.”
“Will it hurt?” he asked.
“You won’t even know it happened, so no.”
“So what we’re saying right now…I won’t remember any of this? Not even this conversation we’re having right now?”
“That’s right. I’m sorry, buddy.”
He thought about it for a long time. “I will keep it quiet, sir. I will.”
“No, you won’t. I know you better than you know yourself, Terrence. You’ll try, of course, and you might hate yourself a little when you finally spill the beans, but you’ll have to tell someone. You were already starting to work it out for yourself before I told you, and you’d have worked it out eventually, I think. But you’re a good person, Terrence. One of the best I’ve ever known, and you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself, knowing that someone like me, who can tell someone to commit suicide and get away with it, is walking around on the loose.”
He let out a long sigh. “I guess you’re right. If I’m really honest with myself.”
I didn’t know what to say for a bit. It seemed pointless, knowing he’d soon forget. But his thoughts were a conversation of their own, and before he could ask the question, I answered him.
“Yes, Terrence. I know about Kara, your daughter’s friend. You’re not a bad person. You have no idea how many people have thoughts like that.”
He started to cry, and I felt sad along with him. The vibe was a powerful one.
“Look, man,” I said. “It’s our biology’s fault. She’s young, and fertile. That’s what your body is telling you. Her features, her demeanor, they are an echo of what you think the perfect woman would be, and they are a call to when you were younger, and the sex was hot.”
“Please…” he said, “Don’t…”
“I was just answering your first question, Terrence. The answer to the second is also, ‘Yes’. I can make that go away too, if you want.”
“The last time she was at my house…”
“You touched her,” I answered him. “On the shoulder, and you rubbed it a bit. Innocent enough, but you feel your resolve crumbling, and you think maybe she could tell what you were thinking. Worst of all, you think maybe she liked it. You think about her all the time, because the more you’re not supposed to think about it…”
“The worse it is,” he answered, staring forward as if haunted.
“Yeah,” I said. “I know. You aren’t alone, buddy. I wish I could edit my own thoughts the way I do everyone else’s, sometimes. But your struggle, it’s everyone’s struggle.”
“Not everyone,” he said, and the self-loathing was hard for me to stomach. How much he hated himself for this, just for having thoughts.
“Not exactly this situation, no, but everyone has thoughts they hate, and blame themselves for. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, and this is something I’ll let you remember when this is all said and done: You aren’t in charge of your thoughts. Not in the way you think of it.”
“You’ve lost me.”
“What you think of as ‘You’ is your conscious mind. And I hate to say this, but your conscious mind is doing very little thinking, maybe five percent of it. Your unconscious brain does the rest.”
“It doesn’t feel like that.”
“Of course it doesn’t. You go to a website, and click around, you just see the surface. You don’t see all the code underneath. You probably think that when you click a button, that some kind of conscious process is going on. It’s not. It’s completely mechanistic, and procedural, and predictable. Your brain is the same way. It’s going to have thoughts, whether you like it or not. And most of them are involuntary.”
“You’re losing me, Mr. Thorn.”
“My point is that you don’t feel guilty about how you breathe. That’s beyond your control, too. Feeling guilty about having the ‘wrong thoughts’ is a waste of time.”
“I guess so,” he said. He was unconvinced, but I wasn’t really here to convince him of anything.
We drove in silence for a long time, and in a weird way he started talking to me in his head, as if he knew I was listening. Which I guess he did. I had to dampen the connection a lot, because when people are thinking at me they always do it too loudly.
But it was cool. He was sharing his thoughts with another person, being fully aware that I knew everything, and that I was not judging him. And I did something I’d never really done before, and let him know I was there in his head. I pulled back the curtain around me in his mind a bit, and kind of put my arm around him, like we were brothers or something.
We were just hanging out, enjoying the drive, smelling his Twizzlers, and it was like I was just a friend of the most intimate sort, sharing his body with him, the rumbling sensation of hunger in his gut, his urge to piss, and his intense focus on the now, this moment, the attentiveness of his conscious mind to what was going on.
His gratitude to me, and his knowing sense of sadness that he would never remember any of this overwhelmed us, and he started to cry, and I did, too.
It hurt a lot. Terrence was a friend to me, a better friend than any I’d had since childhood, and he had enjoyed his time with me. In many ways it was the highlight of his career as a limo driver.
But by the time I stepped out of the limo and braced myself into the cold, I was just some person walking along the street in his rearview mirror. I was gone from his life, and his mind, as if I’d never existed at all.
But at least I was able to do something for him, and leave him in a better place than where I found him. His tortured feelings for Kara were converted to nothing more than the innocent concern of an adult for a child, and respect for her as her daughter’s friend. He would not have to bear that particular cross anymore. It was what he wanted, and a friend can respect another friend’s wishes like that.
I called a cab to take me to work, and on the way I popped another one of my miracle pills, because there were at least two people at my former office who needed to forget all about me, too, and I was a total mess.
I ended up passing out near the dumpsters at my old workplace after all was said and done. But there wasn’t a single person left at Choicepoint Systems who remembered anything about me after the accident, including Maria.
But before I made her forget me, I drilled her one last time for old times’ sake, of course, bending her over the desk in her office.
I’m only human, after all.