The evening traffic was choking the city’s arteries and Nancy was in Leon’s car.
As they joined the river of steel snaking its way homeward for the weekend, they’d both accepted that this would be a frustrating crawl.
“Ken’s back tomorrow, there’s a lot we should talk about before we see him. Is there any chance for us to have dinner tonight?” Nancy had suggested to Leon as they were about to depart the hospital.
“Today is...?” Leon had queried.
“Friday,” Nancy could never be sure whether he was serious about being bamboozled by the task of keeping track of life’s trivia.
“Ah-ha!” Leon had clapped jubilantly, “Not a problem then, not a problem at all. We’ve got a date.”
It had puzzled her that the day of week factored into it; as far as she knew, Leon was a bachelor with a limited social life. It seemed unlikely that any other day would be more convenient or less so.
She’d just shaken her head and chuckled; “It’s almost five, perhaps we go in one car? It’s not far and the traffic’s horrible.”
Without answering, Leon had been brusquely off, heading for the exit. “C’mon Luv,” He’d called to her in a loud and fake Yorkshire accent. “The train’s bloo’y leav’n.”
The busy reception foyer had come to a halt, passers-by stopping in their tracks to stare at this strange noisy foreigner in their midst.
“Now what’s come over him?” Nancy shook her head as she trotted in hot pursuit, shrugging perplexedly to bystanders who’d cleared a path to give Leon his purposeful passage.
She could well understand their dismay and alarm; he’d developed a hunched back and an exaggerated crab gait and proceded muttering and grumbling to himself.
“What’s that all about?!” She’d enquired when she’d caught up, not entirely certain whether or not to be concerned.
“Weekend!” He’d said it as if it was an astonishing and delightful surprise, adding in a perfect rendition of Queens English; “Give the masses some entertainment I say, give them some fun, what!”
“Sometimes I really wonder, Leon... I wonder and I worry.”
“Jump in,” he’d held the passenger door open for her.
“With you driving?” she’d screwed her face up.
“Never...!” he’d paused dramatically, “Judge a book by its cover, I’m the safest driver on the road I tell you. I get my frustrations out in other ways. I’ll be no statistic, no statistic at all!”
His words had struck a deep chord in Nancy’s soul and she’d swallowed back the welling emotion for the man she’d adored and lost. “I’d like to go via Catherine’s house, if we may,” she’d asked Leon. “I’d like to check something out… I’ve got the keys, Catherine won’t mind.”
Someone had been in the house; it was far from tidy but the breakages had been swept aside and Nancy also saw that some areas were denuded of ornamentation.
The scene was poignant and bleak; where warm rugs had once hung, were acres of cold white wall. Where warm hearts had once beaten, an icy chill brooded in silence.
Goose flesh rose all over Nancy’s body and Leon put a comforting arm about her shoulder and steered her toward the door. “There’s nothing that we can do tonight, Nance. Nothing at all.”
They returned outside to the world where the rhythm of life still throbbed. They rejoined the highway and merged into a lane, becoming another set of headlights on the highway.
“He’s an evil bastard, Leon.”
“He treats people like dirt. Money... money, money, money... and now this!”
“Nothing’s proven,” Leon cautioned, against his own deepest instincts. “Nothing’s proven.”
“You don’t mean that…” their starters course was arriving. “You’re a bloody devil’s advocate—no pun intended.”
The waitress was studying them, a quizzical look written on her face begged the question; what was an eccentric dotty old man doing out dining with a fine looking filly?
They spoke at length; establish what each knew about the fast unfolding situation at hand. During their commute, Nancy had filled Leon in on the details that she thought he might need to help Catherine’s recovery. The Santa Clara’s Psychiatric department had agreed to Leon treating Catherine as a private consulting specialist. It gave him full access to her at any time, for the duration of her stay.
Earlier in the day, driving Catherine to the hospital, Nancy had casually inquired of the preparation procedures that Ken had implemented prior to her cyber-sex incident. Something in Catherine’s original relating of it had bothered Nancy, it hadn’t sounded right—what triggered her suspicion was more an instinct than a detail.
“I know it’s awkward to talk about, but I think it may be important for treatment Cath. I’ll keep details in confidence...”
“Leon can’t know about the cyber-sex, okay.”
“Of course,” Nancy had committed.
“I need to know all of the precise details of how Ken ritualized you... you know we call the prep a ritual?”
Catherine had nodded, “I know exactly what it is you want to know... the same thing’s been plaguing me.”
As Catherine had spoken, she’d taken to the juice-stick, its glowing LED tip had danced, exaggerating the tremble of her hand.
Nancy wasn’t fond of the cherry aroma in the confined space of the car, but she didn’t have the heart to deny Catherine the crutch at such a difficult moment.
“I wasn’t hypnotized, yet I experienced an enormous time dilation.”
Nancy had done a poor job of covering the shock of confirmation on her face. Hypnosis was the key to Time Dilation... everyone knew that, so, if there was no hypnosis sequence...?
“I should’ve thought about it when I accepted the game, damn it...” The smouldering tip between Catherine’s fingers had accelerated its dance. “How was I going to be Time Dilated if he’d promised to not run the hypnosis sequence?”
The implications were horrifying.
“Sooooo... Where is it if it’s not in the hypnosis? A subliminal?”
“What about something in the champagne? Maybe that plaster?” Catherine had puffed nervously, “I’m a God-damned fool… Shit, Nance… I’m more street-wise than this! That bastard and his filthy habit, Christ knows what concoction he could have spiked me with? Two sunsets! It must’ve been strong as all hell. FUCK!”
Catherine had slammed her hammer-fist onto her thigh, sending her juice-stick cartwheeling through the air and down between the seat and door.
“Oh damn, I’m sorry Nance. It’s wont burn anything.” She’d begun awkwardly fishing to retrieve it, “I don’t normally use it in a car, I wasn’t thinking.”
“Relax sweetie, if this was our worst problem today, we’d have no problems.”
By the time Leon had arrived at the hospital, Catherine had already been admitted and was in the ward under the care of Doctor Johnson. Nancy hadn’t yet had time to brief him; all he knew was that Ken was somehow involved in her nightmares following an on-line Time Dilation run beyond the fighter jet simulation that Leon knew about.
“I’ll explain why later Leon, but have them draw blood and run a full battery, it looks like Ken slipped her a Mickey Finn.”
“No idea, Leon... just something that would exaggerated the Time Dilation?”
He’d raised his eyebrows and whistled;
“Better we first talk. That’s a pretty darned big haystack to find a very little needle Nance. A darned big haystack.”
Through Leon’s mind had been meandering all the flotsam; apparently meaningless tidbits he’d run into; Anton had come to him for advice on aspects of sexual motivation, wanting to know what deviations he could prompt into the Artificial Intelligence Due Diligence routines for a hush-hush program he’d been working on. Ken had also casually inquired about the psychological effects of gender switching.
Now, revelations of a clandestine game involving Ken, Catherine and narcotics had left Catherine with pathological fears of Ken, Leon was pretty certain he had the situation figured out. Catherine was suffering as a victim of guilt, her deep morals in conflict with her excessively liberated actions. He’d decided that this was not a case of doping; “...or not exclusively doping...” he’d re-qualified his thoughts.
He’d decided to appease Nancy and have them run some elementary tests to check for the more common hallucinogens.
Time had fled ahead of all the details that needed sharing, and the pair was well onto dessert already;
“I’m thinking of leaving the company, Leon.”
Sadness meandered into his eyes, “Surely not just because of this, Nance? Surely not?”
“It’s part of it, a big part... but it’s the attitude. My stock options are worth a fortune, but they’re not worth my conscience... Look what he’s done to Cath...”
“But he’s not treating Catherine badly Nancy, she willingly chose, nobody forced her. She got emotionally hooked, her emotions are frayed, but she’ll pull through.”
“It goes beyond this single affair, Leon,” she didn’t want to argue it all over again, it was getting late and she felt shattered. “I’m bored with my work, it’s time to move anyway.”
“Bored? You’re bored at LifeGames? Impossible, Nance, impossible!” Leon exclaimed. “You’re right at the cutting edge, it doesn’t’ get better than this. Our clients don’t get bigger. You’re not bored, Nance. That’s impossible.”
“I am,” she said plainly and with finality, “...the company might be doing fabulous things, but I do the same thing every day.”
Being Ken’s right hand was not her passion, she wanted to be an artist, and with what she could cash out, she estimated that she could now just about make it happen.
“I’ve sold my passion to buy survival,” she detailed it to Leon, “I’m an intellectual prostitute.”