Two days later, on a comfortable wine-colored sofa, Furor buries a fist in his hair. The office of Dr. Deborah Sayers, PhD. in clinical psychology, is furnished in several rich shades of brown and warmed by a nuanced cherry tone. Absent from the walls are the typical degrees, certificates and awards meant to instill confidence in the patient that their therapist has been thoroughly trained and vetted. Instead, a series of long, nonobjective paintings, chosen to match the room’s overall color scheme, hang from the walls. A bamboo plant fills the far corner.
Across from him, a pair of well-defined calves leads to the steep contours of hips that feed into a v-shaped torso rising from the doctor’s waist toward a pair of rounded shoulders. Dark brown hair hangs in a long bob around a smooth face, showcasing a diamond chin and aquiline nose. Glasses, conservative black skirt suit, and scant make-up are all meant to enhance her intellectual appeal and encourage the revealing of confidences.
“It’s been a while,” she says.
“I’d have thought you’d have moved on by now, gone into private practice.”
“I enjoy the work I do here,” she says, repositioning her legs. “And you? What brings you back here?”
“Something’s come up,” he says, pushing off the couch.
The squeak of her chair follows his path to the window.
“The flashbacks?” she says.
“There’s been another murder,” he tells her, staring out the window. “Same staging as before.”
“We’ve talked about this, Max. About the misappropriation of guilt.”
Furor braces his forearm against the window frame, rests his forehead on the back of his palm. He stares down at the sidewalk below. There’s hardly a square foot of cement visible between the steady stream of people and slow-moving cars. Noise streams in from every direction; street construction, honking cars, endless amounts of cellphone chatter.
“Do you have any idea how close I came to catching this guy?”
“You’ve told me the story, I’ve read the report.”
“If I hadn’t been so absorbed in the moment, I’d have heard the movement behind me, I’d have turned around sooner.”
“And if he’d have had a gun, then what?”
“At least I’d have had a chance.”
“Or maybe not. Maybe he’d have shot you before you even turned around.”
“Why do you do that?” he asks, coming around to face her. “Why do insist on giving me a pass?”
“Because sometimes what happens to us is beyond our control.”
A deep crease divides the skin between his eyebrows. “Beyond our control?” he explodes. “Was it beyond my control not to bring my flashlight, not to wait for backup?”
There’s restraint in her smile, though her voice remains controlled. “All right,” she says, “let’s say you’re correct. Let’s say it was your fault. Now, what?”
“Now, what?” There’s an edge in his voice.
“Yes,” she says. “Now that you’ve apportioned all this guilt to yourself, what do you plan to do with it?”
Furor shakes his head. “What does that even mean?”
“I’m asking you to ask yourself, what purpose it serves to hold on to this guilt? You’re clearly punishing yourself, but to what end?”
Furor feels his face grow red. Unwilling, or, perhaps, unable to answer he returns to the window, giving his back to the room.
Dr. Sayers tilts her chair back until it touches the desk. “Why are you here, Max?”
“You think I want to be here?” he says.
“So, you know that your remaining on this case is contingent upon my evaluation and approval?”
Furor turns, throws up his hands. “What do you want me to say, that I understand it’s not my fault? That the reason this sick bastard got away that night had nothing to do with negligence on my part, but was the result of circumstances beyond my control? Is that it? Is that what you want?”
A disappointed smile bends the corners of Dr. Sayers’ mouth. “I’m not looking for a right answer, Max. I’m here to help you work past anything that might prevent you from doing your job, from seeing things clearly. Now, what do you say we start over?”
Awkward with anger, Furor hesitates before returning to the sofa. Leaning back, he lets himself sink into the cushions. Eyes withdrawn, he searches his mind for the right words.
“She had the darkest eyes I’d ever seen. Deep, oriental eyes, full of mystery and passion,” he laughs. “I remember there were times when I’d look at her and I swear I couldn’t distinguish where her pupil ended and her iris began, her eyes were that dark. I’ve even wondered sometimes if my attraction to her was mostly the result of my finding her so exotic, or, perhaps, it had something to do with the circumstances that brought us together. More than anything, though, I think it had to do with that shock of electricity that shot through my chest whenever I peered into those deep, dark eyes.”
“Maybe the guilt you carry is so that you won’t forget her.”
Furor shrugs. “Maybe, maybe not.”
Dr. Sayers shakes her head. “Remember, Max, guilt is a biological construct developed for the express purpose of motivating us to alleviate the cause of our guilt.”
“It’s not motivation I lack, it’s evidence, a proper eye-witness, something, anything to help us catch this guy.” Shaking his head. “If I had only turned around a half a second earlier, who knows, maybe I’d have seen the killer’s face, a glimpse anyway.”
“Did you turn around,” the doctor asks, “at all, or even slightly?”
The question takes Furor by surprise. “I don’t know,” he says. “It all happened so fast, one minute I was looking at her face, the next I felt this rush of movement behind me and then everything went blank.”
“You know,” Dr. Sayers says, “it’s possible you did catch a glimpse and you just don’t remember.”
“Trust me, I would have remembered.”
“That’s not necessarily true,” she says. “Many times, when a person is rendered unconscious, the mind erases the last thing that person saw. It’s a defense mechanism of the brain to prevent reliving whatever awful tragedy caused the blackout.”
“So, even if I had turned around and caught a full view of his face you’re telling me it wouldn’t matter, because I wouldn’t remember it anyway?”
“To the contrary,” she says. “I mentioned it, precisely because there’s a chance you may be able to recall having seen the killer’s face.”
“How? You just said, any memory of his face would have been erased by my mind.”
“Erased in the visual cortex, where normal long-term memories are stored, yes. But not erased entirely. When encountering severe levels of stress, the brain’s circuits often reroute memories to subcortal memory regions within the brain.”
Furor leans forward, arches a skepticism-laden eyebrow. “Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?”
“Let’s not make a dirty word out of it.”
“Does it even work?”
“Of course, it does.”
“Why wouldn’t it?”
Furor shrugs. “I guess I’ve always thought only weak minds were susceptible to hypnotism.”
“That’s a common misconception. But, I can assure you, it’s a perfectly legitimate science.”
“That’s what they used to say about shock treatment therapy and lobotomies.”
“Yes, except unlike those procedures hypnosis is noninvasive and doesn’t actually alter brain function. All it does is remove the blockages that prevent you from accessing certain subconscious parts of the brain.”
“Yeah, well, how do I know you’re not going to be pumping me for security codes and emptying my bank account while I’m under?”
“Hypnosis subjects are fully conscious of what they’re experiencing just with a corresponding decrease in their peripheral awareness. In other words, you wouldn’t do anything under hypnosis that you wouldn’t do under normal circumstances.”
“What about side effects?”
“Mood alterations, heightened paranoia, delusions, that sort of thing?”
“You’ll be fine, trust me.”
“There has to be a simpler method,” Furor says, “some sort of memory reactivation exercise. Something that can be done while fully awake.”
“You’re the one who just said the only thing you lack is evidence, a proper eye-witness, well, you may very well be that eye-witness.”
A blank stare deadens Furor’s face. Lost in thought, or perhaps, not thinking at all, he sits, not moving for several long seconds until, slowly he begins nodding his head.
“Are you sure?” the doctor asks.
His words barely register above a whisper. “Yes,” he says, “I’m sure.”
Dr. Sayers directs him to lay out on the sofa, suggesting he make himself as comfortable as possible. Furor obliges, kicking off one shoe and then another, before wrestling out of his jacket. Afterwards, he loosens his tie. Once he’s finished, he lays back, props his head on one of the armrests, while letting his feet hang off the other side.
“Are we going with the spiral wheel or the swaying watch technique?”
“Neither. I’m going to talk you into it. But for this to work, you’ll have to let it work. Are you ready?”
“I’m ready,” he says.
“Very well, then.”
Softening her voice, she begins walking him down the staircase. “All right, I’m going to ask you to go ahead and close your eyes. Now, starting at your feet, I want you to focus on the slow relaxation of your muscles. Go ahead and isolate the muscle in your mind as you breathe in, and as you breathe out, let the tension go out with it. One by one, you should be working your way up from your feet to your calves, from your calves to your thighs. Moving on from your thighs to your lower back and then your stomach.”
This continues all the way up his chest to his arms and down through his fingers, then to his neck and the muscles in his face.
“As you relax further, you’re still focused on untensing your muscles as you breathe in and out, in and out. Good, now, let yourself go. Let my words wash over you. Every word I utter is putting you faster and deeper into a calm, peaceful state of relaxation. Sinking down, and shutting down. Sinking down, and shutting down, you’re shutting down completely.”
Eyes closed, Furor feels himself falling, for miles and miles, through a deepening blackness. A door opens in his subconscious, an endless corridor of emptiness where time no longer exists, time nor existence. His muscles twitch and relax.
Like a voice through an echo chamber he hears Dr. Sayer’s voice, small and distant. “Can you hear me, Max?”
“Yes,” he says.
“Where are you now?”
“Somewhere dark, cold.”
“Can you see anything?”
“Okay, we’re going to go back now, back to the night of the murder. Are you ready?”
“Go ahead, find yourself in that moment. Activate your senses as you let yourself be transported back to that place and time. Take in the sounds and smells, the feelings.”
As she speaks, the darkness around him morphs into a familiar cityscape, a street corner in an industrial zone at night. Rain is coming down in undulating waves. Cars stream past, their lights slanting into the wet air. A shiver of cold electrifies his spine.
No longer distant, her voice booms with omniscient thunder. “Are you there?” she asks.
“I’m here,” he says.
“Tell me what you see.”
“I’m in an alley, long and dark.”
“Are you alone?”
Up ahead, he sees three homeless men crowded around a steel drum fire, warming their hands. From a doorway on his right, another emerges.
“No,” he says. “There are people here.”
“Okay,” the voice resounds, “what happens next?”
On legs, weak and wobbly, he continues past the men toward the closed end of a blind alley. “I’m looking for something,” he says.
“What are you looking for?”
“An address,” he says, recalling the number he’d taken down from dispatch, a number which leads to the entrance of an abandoned warehouse.
Like a cold, unseen stranger, the night wind creeps into the sleeves of his coat. His palms grow hot, sweaty. A tug of fear pulls at his shoulders as a dark hand grips the pit of his stomach. He removes the gun from his holster, unsnaps the safety switch. With his free hand, he lays a flat palm across the door, brushes it back. Taking a deep breath, he steps inside.
“I’m in,” he tells her.
“Walk me through what you see.”
Despite the rain, a low-lying moon casts it’s light across the floor, lighting the room with a faint white glow.
“I’m running a full sweep of the room, but it appears empty. To the right, a steep metal staircase shakes as I test my weight on the first step. The rattle of loose bolts clangs loudly. Taking hold of the railing, I’m able to stable my weight, lessen the noise. On the landing, several long corridors lead to a series of offices. Past these, the passageway opens to a large room filled with construction materials; interior scaffolding, plaster sacks, stacks of pipe, wooden sawhorses. Instincts are drawing me toward the staircase at the far end of the room. About halfway across the floor, a sound and subtle movement makes me to stop and crouch down. I’ve got my finger poised on the trigger, holding my breath as I scan the room.”
“Is it him? Is it the killer?”
“I’m not sure. The noise seems to have come from the far corner of the room where a painter’s drop cloth, just large enough to shield a man’s body, lies draped along the wall.”
“Where are you?”
“I’ve just slid in behind a large fifty-five-gallon paper barrel.”
The pulse of his heartbeat echoes through his ears making it difficult to hear anything. One knee on the ground, he peeks his head around the barrel. Hands trembling, he directs the gun and his gaze toward the corner. At that moment, a heavy draft of wind rushes along the corridor, lifting the heavy flap of cloth and exposing the empty space behind it. Slapping back and forth against the window, he relaxes his grip on the gun, lowers his head.
“It’s nothing, just the fabric in the wind.”
He feels his heartrate begin a slow protracted decline as he rises to his feet. Moving quickly, he reaches another steep vertical staircase at the other end of the room. Securely fixed, it neither moves nor clinks as he places one measured foot in front of the other.
“At the top of the second staircase, the landing opens to a large production room.”
It’s a struggle to see anything in the deepened darkness, but as his eyes adjust, they quickly sharpen around a scene of utter horror.
“Jesus Christ!” he yells.
“What is it?” the voice asks. “What do you see?”
“Bodies!” he cries. “Hundreds of them.”
“Where are they?”
Suspended from a hanging conveyor belt, dozens a lifeless bodies sag from the ceiling. On the ground, dozens more stand propped up in evenly spaced rows, impaled through the back by thin vertical poles.
“Are they human or animal?” the voice asks.
“They look human,” he says, stepping carefully toward one of the impaled figures.
Reaching his trembling hand through the thick darkness, he touches one of their cheeks only to retract from the plastic texture.
“Mannequins,” he says. “It’s some sort of factory, a manufacturing plant for mannequins.”
His breathing has just started to relax when a sound pulls his eyes to the far side of the room.
“I hear something. A footstep, I think. It’s moving.”
Chasing the sound with his eyes, he raises the muzzle of his gun, ready to tamp the trigger, when the squeak and scratch of tiny claws across the wooden floor stills his anxiety.
“It’s just a mous—”
The word is only halfway formed in his mouth when, raising his head, his eyes settle on the figure of a woman at the far corner of the room. Dangling from the ceiling, arms outstretched, he sees the stain of blood running from her throat and down her blouse. Charging across the floor, he takes hold of her wrist. Her body is still warm, but the pulse has stopped. She’s dead. A rush of tears clouds his vision.
“Jai Mei,” he whispers.
The voice returns. “Max, I want you to slow time down and tell me exactly what you see.”
“I’m holding her face in my hands,” he says, “tracing my thumb slowly across her mouth. But there’s something strange.”
“The skin behind her lip, it seems to be catching on something, something poking out of her teeth.”
“What do you mean, like a bump or something?”
“I don’t know, I’m going to part her lips with my fingers.”
“Walk me through it.”
“It’s difficult to see anything, but I think I can make out something wedged between two of her bottom teeth. With pinched fingernails, I clamp down around a small ball. Pulling at it, I notice it’s attached to a longer piece of string or what appears to be dental floss. As I thread it through her teeth, I feel it catch on something in her throat. There must be something tied to the other end. To keep from breaking the delicate strand, I give it a gentle tug. A wet, gargling sound just lurched up her throat, but whatever is at the end of this string of floss seems to have come free. Slowly, I work it the rest of the way out. Whatever it is, it’s small and thin. I can’t quite make it out. For a better view, I hold it up against the window. It’s a key!” he says.
“A key?” the voice says.
“One of those long, lever lock keys.”
“Are there any distinguishing features on the key?” the voice asks.
Covered in blood and stomach bile, he lifts his tie, begins to wipe it off. “There’s a symbol,” he says. “At the base.”
“Can you see what it is?”
“I can’t! It’s still too dark.”
“Is this the first time you’ve stared straight at it?”
“Yes. But,” he says straining, “there’s not enough light.”
“All right,” the voice says, ” I want you to freeze that image in your mind.”
“Okay,” he says.
“Now, without looking away, I want you to turn up the light in the room.”
“The light? There are no lights,” he says. “There’s no wiring anywhere in the building.”
“Sure, there is,” the voice says. “You just have to amplify it.”
“Amplify it how?” he says.
“With your mind,” the voice tells him.
“I don’t understand.”
“Would you like me to turn the light on for you?” the voice asks.
“Are you looking at the object?”
“All right, I’m going to amplify the light in the room. Here we go.”
A muted orange glow slowly fills the room.
“Did it work?” she asks.
“It’s still quite dark, but, yes, it worked.”
“And the key?”
Still dangling against the light of the window, he stares up at the shiny object.
“It’s a logo of some sort, an all-seeing eye set inside a triangle.”
“There’s an inscription at the base.”
“What does it say?”
“I’m holding it too far away from my face to make it out.”
“Okay, we’re going to zoom in. Are you ready?”
“Like a computer magnification tool, we’re going to draw a box around the image. Can you see it?”
Furor watches as a square appears around the base of the key. “I can.”
“All right, then, now we’re going to remove the box from the rest of the image and enlarge it.”
As the square grows larger, it soon fills the whole of his vision.
“Can you read it now?”
“I can, but it’s not English. Latin, maybe.”
“Read it to me.”
“In terra caeci sumus vigilantes.”
“Okay,” the voice says, “let’s continue through the rest of the memory, only now I want you to break up the images into singular still frames. Can you do that?”
“I think so,” he says.
At that moment, the boxed image of the symbol disappears and the room returns to dark. In what feels like the shutter of an automatic camera capturing one frame at a time, he watches as police lights flash, sirens sound.
“A pair of squad cars have just pulled up outside,” he says.
At that same moment, a rush of movement rises behind him.
“Something is moving behind me,” he says.
He turns on his heels as an object comes crashing against the side of his head.
“I was just struck with something.”
“All right,” the voice says, “I want you to replay those last three frames again in your mind, one by one.”
Rewinding the images to just after the first stripes of red and blue police lights go sliding across the walls, he nods his head. “I’m ready.”
“What do you see?” the voice asks.
“I’ve got my head raised, staring up at the window. The room is bathed in red and blue light.”
“Is anything visible in your peripheral, a shape, a shadow, anything?”
He examines the corner of his eye. “No, nothing.”
“Let’s move to the next frame to just after you’ve heard the rush of movement behind you.”
He flips forward a frame, just as he’s starting to turn around.
“I’ve made a quarter turn. I’m looking back over my shoulder.”
“Can you see anything now?”
“I can,” he says. “A hand.”
“Is there anything in the hand? An object? A weapon?”
“No, it’s empty.”
“What about on the hand? A ring? Or a tattoo?”
“Which shoulder are you looking over?” she asks.
“My right shoulder.”
“And the arm you see, is it also a right arm?”
“And you’re sure there’s nothing in the hand?”
“And if you move forward another frame?”
“I see nothing, only blackness.”
“Go back a frame. The arm, is it coming at an upward, downward, or straight angle?”
“All right,” Dr. Sayers says, “I’m going to bring you out now. Are you ready?”
“Just go ahead and follow my voice, let it guide you back to wakefulness. As you do, you’ll feel yourself become more aware of your surroundings again, you’ll feel refreshed and alert. That’s right, just follow my voice. It should become louder, less echoey. There’s no need to struggle. Allow your mind to pass through, gently. Now, when you’re ready, I want you to open your eyes. Just your eyes, let the rest of your body relax its way back into being.”
Max peels his eyes back, sleepily. The restive fog blanketing his mind scatters. A wave of warm energy courses through his chest, arms, and legs.
“Wow,” he says. “I feel incredible, like I’ve just slept ten hours.”
“Welcome back,” Dr. Sayers says, smiling. “That was quite productive wouldn’t you say?”
“I can’t believe I was able to remember everything so clearly.”
“The capacity of our minds to record events, both proximal and peripheral, is really quite impressive.”
Pushing himself up onto his elbows, Max shakes his head. “Those visual tricks, zooming, pausing, breaking it into frames, I didn’t know that was even possible.”
“So much for mental hijinks,” Dr. Sayers says.
Testing his arm in a circular motion, Max nods. “I take back every bad thing I’ve ever said about hypnosis.”
“Do you still have the image of the key in your mind?”
“I do. Now, it’s just a matter of figuring out where it came from.”