“You’ve seen this face before, haven’t you?” Logan asked, studying her face. “When was that?”
“You won’t believe me,” Ashley said.
Logan smiled. “Try me.”
Ashley described the dream she’d had the morning after the burglary of Northrop’s office. Just one of the many times in which it had come to her over the years. Told him about the white room, the chair, de Ruyter behind the glass.
“Except, none of this ever actually happened,” Ashley said right afterward. “And I’d never even heard of de Ruyter ’til today, so even if the dream’s just mixing things up . . .” She didn’t finish the thought, didn’t even know how. “It’s just a coincidence.”
“Maybe,” Logan said, an edge apparent in his voice, as he minimized that window and started another Googolplex Images search in a new one for pictures of “Open MRIs.” “But maybe something like this did happen, even if you’re not remembering everything exactly. That chair you told me about—did it look like any of these?”
Ashley had to admit that several of the pictures on the screen resembled that chair, that maybe what she had been sitting in was one of those open MRIs.
“Did you even know about those kinds of MRI machines before seeing Blake’s blog?” Logan asked. “I don’t think everybody does; they’re more used to the older, closed kind.”
“I’m sure I saw them somewhere before, though.”
“All right,” Logan said. “Ever been in a hospital overnight?”
Like she’d been hospitalized, and put through an MRI in the midst of a bunch of other tests. “No.”
“What about a psychiatrist?” Logan asked. “Or a psychologist? Ever been to one of those?”
“No,” Ashley said. “Never been on the couch. But . . .”
“Back in college I participated in a few studies the psych department did,” Ashley said. “Just for the money.”
Suddenly Logan looked like she’d just confirmed his guess. A college student participating in psych department studies getting into a machine just like the one they saw. Just like Melanie Roberts, and all those others, with de Ruyter looking on.
“But nothing like that ever happened—”
“Maybe it did, and those dreams are what you’ve got left of them,” Logan said.
“Because I suppressed the experience? Is that what you’re saying?”
Ashley had heard about people doing that, but . . .
“I don’t like this possibility, you know I don’t, but we have to know,” Logan said.
“All right,” she said, deciding to follow this line of thought to its conclusion—only so that they could discard it and never talk about it again. “Let’s say there’s something to that for a moment. Where do we go from there?”
“Well, we try and put you at the scene of the crime, so to speak,” Logan said. “You went to Gotham U, so that’s where you would have been involved in these studies, right? If you were involved in them, I mean.”
“And I’m guessing this would have happened in your first couple of years there?”
The very same period when this research program might have been ongoing.
“Yeah,” Ashley said.
“All right.” At the bottom of the Instapedia page was a link to de Ruyter’s faculty home page, which contained a number of documents, one of them a current version of his c.v..
“There’s nothing here about de Ruyter’s ever having had anything to do with Gotham,” Logan said. “But then, there wouldn’t be, would there? If they followed the same protocol there that they did over at Povenmire. Remember, Blake did theorize that maybe what was going on there was part of a larger program, being carried on at many different institutions.”
“So we don’t have proof because they don’t want us to have proof?”
“We’re just looking at possibilities,” Logan said as he went to the web site of Gotham U’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and called up a list of research programs conducted during her years at the school. Some of them involved brain imaging. All that proved was that research was being conducted at the college that might have given plausible cover to experiments of the kinds that Dr. Hamilton conducted at Povenmire.
But still Ashley remembered the sight of de Ruyter’s face behind the glass and got a sinking feeling. And she didn’t think any of this was dissuading Logan from his guess that she, too, had been subjected to the same research project. He was staring at the screen as if he was staring it down, controlling his voice.
He was angry, angry at the people who’d dragged her and him into all this, and killed his friend right in front of him, and then killed again—and now, he thought, strapped her into a chair and subjected her to their demented experiments.
She wondered if, despite the fact that he wasn’t about to say so, some of his anger was directed at her. If he ever regretted committing to watching her back, and going as far in that commitment as helping her in the job at Thorn C and C, and then fleeing New York with her when it all went bad. She’d put him through far more than she’d ever expected this past week, and amassed debts she didn’t think she’d ever be able to repay . . . and good a guy as he was, Logan was only human.
Which was all the more reason to face the facts, to do what they had to do in order to get through this, Ashley told herself. And that meant admitting to herself that, in the light of what they now knew, Dr. de Ruyter’s appearance in her dream looked like more than a coincidence.
“Where’s de Ruyter now?” Ashley asked.
“He’s still officially a Professor at Jefferson U in Cincinnati, but right now he’s working for . . . Florida Panhandle University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences,” Logan said. “A one-year appointment that started just this August.”
“So he’d still be there now,” Ashley said. “‘Florida Panhandle University.’ Never heard of it.”
“No, but then the big schools people like dropping the names of don’t have a monopoly on research,” Logan said. “Or even on high-profile faculty.” Logan reopened the window containing the Instapedia page and summoned the article on FPU. “Just like the name suggests, it’s a public research university. Right outside Fort Denham.”
“Fort Denham.” Ashley had heard the name, but didn’t have an image of it, so that was the next thing they looked up. According to that article Fort Denham was a small city of fifty thousand out on the far western edge of the Florida coastline.
“We have to go there,” Ashley said. “Talk to him.”
“But he’d prefer not to talk to us,” Logan said. “Any idea how you’re going to bridge the gap?”
“We already have something on him,” Ashley said. “His involvement in these experiments. That’s got to count for something.”
“It’s not much,” Logan said. “But maybe we can make it work. At the very least, letting him know what we have will get his attention. But remember, it might get the attention of other people too, other people who may have been listening to every word that passed between us and Blake back at Hammett.”
So that they could be walking into a trap. Again.
And once again it didn’t feel as if they had any alternative.