“In league with your master,” Nancy repeated.
It was lunchtime and Leon had been playing the recording of his latest session with Roger to her. She was using her spare time to type transcripts of the sessions, a task that had cost her many sleepless nights as the Bishop’s words began to invade her dreams.
“You’ve got a restless spirit,” An old friend, who claimed to be psychic, had once told her; “...it’s a gift you should develop... learn to understand the spirit world, just open your mind.”
The thought of it creeped Nancy out, and she’d ignored the advice.
Reading accounts of the paranormal or watching horror movies was one thing... thrilling, but it was quite another thing to pursue the supernatural and not know what calamity it might bring. Nevertheless, as time had worn on, like it or not, the Bishop was opening what Nancy had intended to keep shut.
“In league with your master,” she repeated. “Well, we’ve said ‘to hell’ with Ken enough times. I suppose the spell finally worked,” she laughed. “Then again, I’ve always suspected that he’s sold his soul to the Devil. This...” she swept her pointing index finger around to encompass all of the empire that Ken had accumulated into her statement, “...doesn’t happen for everyone.”
Leon grinned, “Now, now Nancy. Jealousy will get you nowhere...” he chanted the child’s lyric.
“Jealousy? No thank you! We both know what it does to you,” Nancy was referring to Ken’s moodiness and drug problem. She abhorred moodiness and had made an art out of being cheerful.
“Tut-tut,” Leon clicked his tongue at her in jest.
Nancy pushed the play button to resume the recorded session “...who uses foul balms and sweet words to recruit soldiers into the armies of the Anti-Christ!” She paused the recorder. “My guess is... it’s Ken’s after-shave that the Bishop is referring to. He baths in the stuff you know?” Nancy nodded, confirming her words to herself. She joked on, “I’ve spoken to him a hundred times about it, but it’s no use Leon, it’s absolutely no use,.” She let her voice trail in mock weariness of her fruitless struggles.
Leon chuckled at this lovely lady whom he had come to care so much for.
“And sweet words,” Nancy continued, “...do me a favor! If that isn’t Ken then I don’t know who it is... Sweet words... He’s the smoothest operator I’ve ever come across and believe me Leon, I’ve come across a few! Ken could actually slide up-hill, that’s how smooth he is.”
The voice was like a gong to the temple, Nancy felt giddy.
“Afternoon Nance, afternoon Leon. Can I see you in my office, Leon? Any messages for me, Nance?” Ken kept talking, as he walked from the entrance door, past them and into his office.
“Ken?” Nancy’s voice quavered slightly as though she’d seen a ghost, “Afternoon, I thought that you were in Korea today?”
“I couldn’t make it Nance, I had something come up. Are you coming, Leon?” Ken hadn’t looked back as he strode with purpose, speaking over his shoulder as he went.
Neither Nancy nor Leon knew if he had spoken any more words as he disappeared through his door, into his office.
“Faaaaaark.... Did he overhear us?” Nancy mouthed to Leon, her eyes wide with fright.
The instant that she had heard Ken’s voice she’d scooped the recorder and transcript from her desk. The flurry of action had drawn extraordinary attention to their otherwise innocuous presence on her desk.
“Coming... just coming...” Leon sang in a relaxed voice.
He shrugged in answer to Nancy before shuffling away towards Ken’s office.
Halfway to the door he leapt into the air, clicking his heels like Charlie Chaplain.
“Come in Leon...” Ken was wading through the notes on his desk, “...close the door.”
Leon kept eye contact with Nancy as he closed the inter-leading door, moving with chameleon speed, pulling horror faces at her.
Nancy wriggled and twisted, trying to hold back laughter borne of terror. Ken watched Leon’s performance from behind, accurately judging that his eccentric colleague must be up to something crazy.
All that he could do was shake his head in amazement at what made the little man tick. Not wanting Leon to know that he had seen the goings on, Ken timed his returned attention back to the paper shuffling perfectly with the door latching closed.
“What’s up then Ken’o? What’s up?” Leon was as sprightly as ever.
Since Ken’s blow-up over the hypnosis issue, their relationship had begun to repair itself, they’d had dinner together and Ken had accepted that Leon had meant him no harm and had in fact uncovered very little damning information.
“A little problem, Leon. I know that I can trust you and I thought that I’d open up. Something has been getting me down lately.”
Leon studied Ken, realizing that he betrayed all the symptoms of insomnia. For several weeks deep rings of exhaustion had encircled his eyes and he’d been experiencing uncharacteristic lapses in concentration.
Ken had come to the realization that he was in desperate need of psychological help.
He’d weighed up the pros and cons of using Leon against involving an outside private practitioner. It wasn’t a question of cost; rather, by nature he was untrusting and suspicious of psychologists or psychiatrists, and Leon was the only exception to his paranoia.
He’d further rationalized that he need only tell Leon what he felt comfortable imparting. By remaining in control of what he said, he knew that there would be no way for Leon to uncover the web of deceit that he had carefully woven.
Ken had also decided that he needed to share the burden of his secret recordings with someone. He felt that Leon would have a deep understanding for the inexplicable phenomena;
“Let me start by being honest with you,” he began, “I know that you’re visiting the hospital to conduct a study on the General.”
Leon covered his genuine surprise. He didn’t deny what Ken had stated, neither did he ask Ken for his source of information.
“At first I was angry, I felt betrayed that you went to the hospital against my express orders,” Ken stroked his chin, “I must admit, once I discovered the results you’re getting, it made me proud to have a man of your caliber on the staff.”
“Sweet words,” Leon thought, seeing straight through Ken’s buttering him up for something; “Thank you,” he replied.
“You know that I’ve always been a skeptic about the super-natural, the after-life... things that go bump in the night.”
“Not you, Ken’o? Surely not you?” Leon kidded.
For years Ken had been ragging him about his interests in the occult and those jeers had accumulated within Leon. Now, with Ken rattled by something in that vein, it provided Leon the perfect opportunity to administer some of the medicine that Ken had liberally dished out over the years.
“Please Leon. I’m serious, I need your help.”
There was a genuine plea there, desperation in Ken’s voice that Leon had never thought he would hear, and he snapped into his professional role, “I’m sorry Ken, I didn’t realize.”
“As I said, I must get something off of my chest,” Ken resumed, “I need your promise that you will keep this all to yourself.”
Leon weighed Ken’s words carefully, taking them seriously, “Ken, let me explain something. I flit around here in my own little world and it’s relaxing for me. I’m at my best when I can work in an easy atmosphere... but when the chips are down...” He paused dramatically, “...when they’re down, then I’m a hell of a good psychiatrist.”
Ken knew Leon’s words to be true and there was a moment of silence as each man focused his mind on the words that he would speak. Ken began first;
“I’ve never had an interest in religion or the occult... that sort of thing; you of all people know that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool rationalist. You know that I’ve always rejected that nonsense, Leon?”
Leon allowed Ken some time to recap what a thoroughly shallow money-grubbing lout he’d always been.
Ken’s self-centered views were most certainly not news to Leon but what was news to Leon was the incident that had sparked Ken’s reformation.
Ken confirmed that the turning point in his views had come with the death of Craig;
“As you know, I’d been distraught all day because of the police investigation, backed up work... security down because of the gate... all that. I was exhausted so I took a couple of sleeping pills at around lunchtime and went to sleep. After I’d slept I found that there were quite a few messages waiting for me on the voicemail,” Ken continued recapping, “It must have been around seven or eight in the evening.”
Leon observed as Ken scratched vigorously at the lower lid of his eye; the action that always betrayed his lies. The more vigorous the scratching, the bigger the lie; the scratching always commenced with the first words of the lie and ended simultaneously with the last.
This scratching routine had lasted for the entire duration of Ken’s recount.
“You hadn’t really been sleeping, so what had you been doing?” Leon silently pondered.
“There had been a few personal calls, one from Nancy and another from Craig. There had also been some less important ones after that,” Ken cleared his throat, “Nancy called at precisely five minutes to five o’clock. Twenty minutes earlier. Craig had called at twenty five to five. Both calls were from late afternoon on the day of Craig’s death, except... Craig should have been cold and stiff and in the morgue for God’s sake!” Ken’s voice rose to a squeal.
Although Ken had laid out all of the facts in his protracted build-up, Leon had been so busy trying to sift for lies that the story only gelled in his mind with Ken’s final summarizing sentence.
It took a moment for the implication to sink in, then the significance struck Leon like a blow;
“Are you sure, Ken? Are you positive that the message was recorded after Craig was already dead?”
“Absolutely. I had cleared voicemail the day before. The call log and date stamp on the message agree... it happened. Nancy even confirmed the time of her call and, according to Stuart in IT, they were definitely in sequence,” Ken ground his teeth, “Before Nancy’s call there had been a message from the police officer investigating the case... a message about a dead man, before the dead man’s call... it doesn’t take genius to see there’s something wrong with that! Then Catherine called a few minutes after this weird call from Craig that shouldn’t have been possible... and she... and the log... also confirm the date and time. It’s impossible... but it’s conclusive...”
Ken was very rattled.
It was cruel of Leon, but it was payback for Ken’s dishing out so many years of skepticism and ridicule; now, with Ken terrified, it was amusing to toy with him, making him work to prove he wasn’t mistaken or insane.
“A hoax?” Leon suggested.
Emotionally he loved the evidence that Ken was painting; if it proved true, it would provide concrete support for the view that he’d spent a lifetime and so many books trying to legitimize.
But as a scientist, Leon had a commitment first to finding a logical solution. He was professionally bound to plod through the obvious solutions first.
Ken became defensive, his voice rising yet more excitedly, “Not a chance of a hoax. Stuart checked for that too.”
“What do you think it was?” Leon wanted Ken to commit himself to an opinion.
“I don’t know, that’s why I’ve come to you,” Ken was too cagey to put his head in the noose. Admitting to an after-life would bring too many questions to bear on his personality and his actions in his present life, “...what do you think?”
“Do you want the answer of a doctor, or do you want the answer of a crazy old man who believes in ghosts and goblins?”
“Both,” Ken’s answer was no surprise to Leon.
“As your doctor, I know what you have always thought of these things. I’m talking here about you being an agnostic... maybe atheist. Am I right? It seems something in this has changed you?”
Ken began to answer Leon by filling him in on the content of Craig’s recorded message, he had brought the recording with him to let Leon assess it for himself and together they ran through it with Leon listening intently.
Something in the strange cacophony captivated Leon yet he couldn’t place what it was.
Ken attempted to put his own impressions into words, “...It had a very strange... an unfamiliar emotional effect on me, Leon. I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”
It seemed as if Ken was telling a lie when he said before, but Leon wasn’t sure. He considered what significance there could be if Ken had told a lie, without perhaps realizing it himself. What if he really had previously had an experience like this;
“Would the answer to that question be the solution to an even larger puzzle?” Leon wondered.
By suggesting a white lie of his own to Ken, and thereby tricking his subconscious mind into revealing some of its secrets, Leon thought that he might achieve clarity;
“Sorry to interrupt Ken, but are you sure that this was the first time that something like this has ever happened to you? I hate to have to bring it up, but it may be important... when you were hypnotized at the hospital, you started to tell me about other experiences that you’d had. Can you remember ever having had other supernatural experiences before this?”
Leon was watching Ken’s body language, watching for that scratch of the lower lid, seeking to reveal answers to his suspicions. What he did see was Ken’s genuine attempt to ferret out the elusive threads;
“I think,” Ken spoke as he sifted his mind, “don’t hold me to this, Leon... but I think that it may even go back to around the time that I started LifeGames. It seems strange, now that you mention it, I do recall having had an experience like this before. It’s weird!”
He shuddered—Leon saw it and decided to drive Ken laterally in the hope that, by not asking direct questions, but rather asking associated ones, he’d be able to build up a profile of Ken’s experiences;
“Did the stress of LifeGames bring you a different perspective on the meaning of life?”
Ken thought about Leon’s question; it made little sense, after all, he’d faced enormous stresses prior to launching LifeGames, “Sorry Leon, I’m not sure what you mean?”
“All right Ken, that was a little vague,” Leon carefully rephrased his question, “...Sometimes, during periods of great stress, the conscious mind becomes exhausted. Meanwhile, with all of the excitement and adrenaline present, the subconscious becomes overactive during sleep. Have you ever found that when times become stressed you start to dream a lot more than usual?”
Ken began to nod and the nod gained momentum as he polled his own mind, becoming vigorous; much more vigorous than Leon would have thought appropriate to the question.
It was a good sign, Ken was uncovering something about himself, so Leon pressed the point further;
“Dreaming can be a symptom. By simultaneously contemplating the...”
But Ken had ceased to listen, his eyes glazed with introspection and he continued to nod as memories ran through his mind, “Dreams...” he murmured.
“Dreams?” Leon repeated, dropping his own line in favor of spurring Ken to dredge deeper.
"No... no, not dreams... they were nightmares!” Ken reconsidered his initial definition.
Leon could sense a breakthrough about to occur, “What kind of nightmares?”
“I... I don’t know. Honestly. Th... they...” Ken sighed, unable to focus on the elusive recollection, “Damn it, I can’t remember,” he growled. “It’s right there, but I can’t get hold of it.”
“It’s ok Ken, we’ll get there,” Leon re-assured, well aware of the role that positive affirmation could play in assisting a patient.
Hypnosis would be the ideal method to circumvent this impasse, but for Leon it remained a frustration to have the tool so readily available yet be banned from suggesting its use.
“What is the first word that comes to your mind when you think of the nightmare?” Leon posed.
“Terror...” Ken did not hesitate in his answer, then he added, “...I know, that must be kinda obvious.”
“No, no!” Leon cautioned, “Don’t spoil the thought with a negative. I want you to clear your mind. Here, catch...” he threw Ken a priceless crystal ornament that had been lying on the desk then, as Ken scrambled to save it from breaking, Leon fired a question, “...when last did you play ball?”
Ken was furious, “What kind of idiot thing was that to do?” he yelled, incensed by Leon’s recklessness.
“Good,” Leon chirped happily, “your mind’s clear.”
Ken looked at him in bewilderment, disbelieving his own ears at Leon’s strange methods for achieving result.
Leon seized the moment to strike, peppering Ken with a barrage of briskly asked questions; “Your nightmare. Terror! What do you feel? What do you hear? What can you see? What?”
“The sound,” Ken sprung in a single bound from fury to elation, “that’s it! It was the same sound as on the recording!”
Leon tapped Ken’s mobile with the uncanny sound recording on it lying on the desk, “This sound?”
“Yes, exactly the same sound. No wonder it gives me the creeps when I hear it,” Ken shuddered anew with the memory revealed.
Leon wanted to re-check his own response to the sound, “Do you mind if we hear it again?”
They ran the recording through several times and, although it was a creepy experience, it revealed nothing more.
There were various people that Leon could think of who might be able to throw more light on the recording. The only way for him to investigate any further would be to have a copy but he judged that it was not the time to ask for one.
Instead, he’d find a way to get his hands on it some other time.
“Let’s recap,” Leon suggested, “You were a confirmed skeptic, but now I guess that you’d call yourself... open?”
“And the change is the result of nightmares?”
Ken agreed again.
Ken shook his head.
“I’m afraid that it doesn’t give us much to work with Ken, but its progress none the less. Its progress...” Leon maintained affirmation.
“You’re finished playing doctor?” for the first time ever, Ken seemed anxious to hear a theory from the crazy-old-man in Leon’s personality.
“Finished as finished can be.”
“Coffee?” Ken felt a hankering to clear his mind.
“Why not... why not indeed.”
“Nance. Two coffees, please,” Ken spoke into the intercom and released
“O...” Nancy’s reply was cut off mid-word.
“Am I bursting for a leak,” Ken rose, he’d scratched his eye again, “...I’ll be a moment.”
When Ken had left the room, Leon tapped the phone with his index finger, “What secrets do you contain?” he asked it.
He wished he could risk taking a peek, but there was no way he could dare... besides, it was sure to have a password, and there just wasn’t time.
The automated coffee was quick, and Nancy came into the office before Ken returned, hurriedly she whispered in an urgent tone, “What’s up?”
“I’ll tell you later" Leon promised.
“Did he overhear us?” she insisted; she’d been sitting on needles.
Just as Leon started to answer, Ken entered the room forcing him to finish his sentence with a decoy;
“...sugar for me, thanks Nance. I’m trying to cut down... cut, cut, cut...” Leon detested sugarless coffee but he needed to throw Ken off any hint they’d been discussing him.
Instantly realizing what Leon was doing, Nancy provided him with an escape out of his stated commitment, “Are you sure?” she asked,
“Actually... no, why suffer? Two as usual,” he took the gap, “I’ll start my diet tomorrow. Tomorrow’s a better day.”
As she dealt the cups out, Nancy marveled at Leon’s ability to think quickly when he needed to. It was an ability that ran contrary to every other aspect of his personality.
It was obvious to Leon that during his cloakroom visit, Ken had achieved a miraculous lift in his energy. It was also clear that he was anxious for Nancy to leave the office.
The moment that she was gone he asked, “You still in crazy-old-man mode? Jekyll or Hyde?”
“Absolutely unadulterated Jekly...” Leon said cheerfully, “...ab-so-lutely, Ken’o.”
Leon proceeded to fill Ken in on what he’d gleaned from Bishop Fernando and, although the crazy old man mode was evident, Ken was glad that Leon hadn’t resumed the worst of his over-the-top style of eccentricity. It was a trait of Leon’s that generally irked Ken, since he couldn’t come to terms with what it was that made the trait ebb and flow.
Leon noticed something as he related Roger’s hypnosis session to Ken. He stopped mid-sentence and asked Ken to have Nancy bring in the recording and the transcript she’d worked on.
When she entered, Nancy looked startled. Not understanding all that the two men had discussed, she assumed that trouble was brewing over Leon’s unsanctioned visit to the hospital and her unauthorized participation in it. She left, still knotted with trepidation.
After she’d gone, the pair listened to the Bishop’s ranting, then Leon put his hypothesis to the test with Ken;
“If we take his words literally, then my ‘Master’ must be you. Correct?”
“Correct,” Ken replied.
“And the Beast is presumably... worst case... Satan?”
“Presumably,” Ken answered hesitantly, unconvinced.
“In league with... in the Bishop’s parley, that would approximately mean working with or for, I presume?”
"I guess so,” Ken frowned, trying to understand what exactly Leon was driving at.
“So he thinks that you are working with... or maybe for Satan?”
“He may, but it wouldn’t be much of a theory, Leon. I reject all that tripe… we’re just ordinary flesh and blood doing its thing... no magic. I’d hardly be much of a candidate for this Satan guy to impress.”
“Actually, the Bible-bashers would say that you’re his best candidate,” Leon corrected him, “...and you may indeed be the best candidate, but that’s another story.”
“That bunch of nuts...” Ken scoffed.
“There may be something to it, Ken. They say the Devil does his most successful work with those who believe he doesn’t exist.”
“Very convenient,” Ken shrugged scornfully.
“What on earth was my point,” Leon sighed, “Ah, yes. Fernando says that you’re using foul balms,” Leon watched for Ken’s scratch, and it was vigorous, “and sweet words to recruit soldiers. Any idea what he’s on about? Foul balms?” Leon said it again; the trigger word that had set Ken off a second earlier.
“It sounds like ordinary ranting...”
Ken’s newfound openness was suddenly closing fast. Leon could see him fighting to keep his voice steady and strong, to keep his hands from fidgeting, but his forehead was prickling with sweat, with stress;
“...do you really think this guy is genuine, Leon? It sounds like bullshit.”
Ken’s sudden veering told Leon that there was something going on even more, but he thought it wise to let it pass and file it for another day;
“These religious loons do tend to go on, don’t they Ken’o... they sure do go on.”
Leon realized that he was quickly painting himself into a corner; Ken was smart and would realize he was onto something—his only refuge would be to exaggerate senility and act the buffoon.
Just then, fate came to his aid in the form of the intercom beeping. Ken held his hand up for silence;
“Ken, is Leon still with you?”
“Yep,” Ken snapped.
“They need him in operations, could he please urgently get hold of Henry?”
“Will do, thanks Nance,” Ken turned the intercom off, “Thanks for your time, Leon.”
“Only a pleasure Ken’o. Only a pleasure old chap, I’m sorry we couldn’t get to the bottom of it...”
As Leon was leaving the office, Ken called after him, “Where’d you learn to distract someone by tossing priceless crystal around, just to uncover what’s on their mind?”
“I didn’t, Ken’o... just thought it up,” Leon replied nonchalantly.
Then, as he reached the door, he turned back to Ken, absently repeating to himself loud enough to be overheard; “foul balms and sweet words.”