Night Chills Page 9


“And once we’ve got the corporation?” Klinger asked.


Money and business arrangements were Dawson’s vocation


and his avocation. He began to declaim almost in the manner of a Baptist preacher, full of vigor and fierce intent, thoroughly enjoying himself. “The corporation will purchase a walled estate somewhere in Germany or France. At least one hundred acres. On the surface it will appear to be an executive retreat. But in reality it will be used for the indoctrination of mercenary soldiers.”


“Mercenaries?” Klinger’s hard, broad face expressed the institutional soldier’s disdain for the free-lancer.


The corporation, Dawson explained, would hire perhaps a dozen of the very best mercenaries available, men who had fought in Asia and Africa. They would be brought to the company estate, ostensibly to be briefed on their assignments and to meet their superiors. The water supply and all bottled beverages on the estate would be used as media for the drug. Twenty-four hours after the mercenaries had taken their first few drinks, when they were primed for total subliminal brainwashing, they would be shown four hours of films on each of three successive days—travelogues, industrial studies, and technical documentaries detailing the use of a variety of weapons and electronic devices—which would be presented as essential background material for their assignments. Unknowingly, of course, they would be watching twelve hours of sophisticated subliminals telling them to obey without question any order prefaced by a certain code phrase; and when those three days had passed, all twelve men would cease to be merely hired hands and would become something quite like programmed robots.


Outwardly, they would not appear to have changed. They would look and behave as they always had done. Nevertheless, they would obey any order to lie, steal, or kill anyone, obey without hesitation, so long as that order was preceded by the proper code phrase.


“As mercenary soldiers, they would be professional killers to begin with,” Klinger said.


“That’s true,” Dawson said. “But the glory lies in their unconditional, unquestioning obedience. As hired mercenaries, they would be able to reject any order or assignment that they


didn’t like. But as our programmed staff, they will do precisely what they are told to do.”


“There are other advantages, too,” Salsbury said, not unaware that Dawson, now that he was in a proselytizing mood, resented being nudged from the pulpit. “For one thing, you can order a man to kill and then to erase all memory of the murder from both his conscious and subconscious mind. He would never be able to testify against the corporation or against us; and he would pass any polygraph examination.”


Klinger’s Neanderthal face brightened a bit. He appreciated the importance of what Salsbury had said. “Even if they used pentothal or hypnotic regression—he still couldn’t remember?”


“Sodium pentothal is much overrated as a truth serum,” Salsbury said. “As for the other. . - Well, they could put him in a trance and regress him to the time of the murder. But he would only draw a blank. Once he has been told to erase the event from his mind, it is beyond his recall just as surely as obsolete data is beyond the recall of a computer that has had its memory banks wiped clean.”


Having finished his second brandy, Klinger returned to the bar cart. This time he filled a twelve-ounce tumbler with ice and Seven-Up.


Salsbury thought, He’s right about that: any man who doesn’t keep a clear head here, tonight, is plainly suicidal.


To Dawson, Klinger said, “Once we’ve got these twelve ‘robots’ what do we do with them?”


Because he had spent the last three months thinking about that while he and Saisbury worked out the details of their approach to the general, Dawson had a quick answer. “We can do anything we want with them. Anything at all. But as a first step—I thought we might use them to introduce the drug into the water supplies of every major city in Kuwait. Then we could saturate that country with a multimedia subliminal campaign specially structured for the Arab psyche, and within a month we could quietly seize control without anyone, even the government of Kuwait, knowing what we’ve done.”


“Take over an entire country as a first step?” Klinger asked incredulously.


Preaching again, striding back and forth between Salsbury and the general, gesturing expansively, Dawson said, “The population of Kuwait is less than eight hundred thousand. The greatest part of that is concentrated in a few urban areas, chiefly in Hawaii and the capital city. Furthermore, all of the members of the government and virtually all of the wealthy reside in those metropolitan centers. The handful of super-rich families who own desert enclaves get their water by truck from the cities. In short, we could take control of everyone of influence within the country—giving us a behind-the-scenes managerial dictatorship over the Kuwait oil reserves, which compose twenty percent of the entire world supply. That done, Kuwait would become our base of operations, from which we could subvert Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, and every other oil-exporting nation in the Mid-East.”


“We could smash the OPEC cartel,” Klinger said thoughtfully.


“Or strengthen it,” Dawson said. “Or alternately weaken and strengthen it in order to cause major fluctuations in the value of oil stocks. Indeed, we could affect the entire stock market. And because we’d know about each fluctuation well in advance, we could take rare advantage of it. Within a year of assuming control of a half-dozen Mid-Eastern countries, we should be able to siphon one and a half billion dollars into the corporation in Liechtenstein. Thereafter, it will be a matter of no more than five or six years until everything, quite literally everything, is ours.”


“It sounds—crazy, mad,” Klinger said.


Dawson frowned. “Mad?”


“Incredible, unbelievable, impossible,” the general said, clarifying his first statement when he saw that it disturbed Dawson.


“There was a time when heavier-than-air flight seemed impossible,” Salsbury said. “The nuclear bomb seemed incredible to many people even after it was dropped on Japan. And in 1961, when Kennedy launched the Apollo Space Program, very few Americans believed that a man would ever walk on the moon.”


They stared at one another.


The silence in the room was so perfect that each tiny wave breaking against the boat dock, although it was little more than a gentle ripple and was muffled by the window, sounded like an ocean surf. At least it did to Salsbury; it reverberated within his nearly fevered mind.


Finally Dawson said, “Ernst? Will you help us get those magnetic tapes?”


Klinger looked at Dawson for a long moment, then at Salsbury. A shudder either of fear or pleasure; Ogden could not be certain which—passed through him. He said, “I’ll help.”


Ogden sighed.


“Champagne?” Dawson asked. “It’s a bit crude after brandy. But I believe that we should raise a toast to one another and to the project.”


Fifteen minutes later, after a servant had brought a chilled bottle of Moët et Chandon and he had uncorked it, after the three of them had toasted success, Klinger smiled at Dawson and said, “What if I’d been terrified of this drug? What if I’d thought your offer was more than I could handle?”


“I know you well, Ernst,” Dawson said. “Perhaps better than you think I do. I’d be surprised if there was anything that you couldn’t handle.”


“But suppose I’d balked, for whatever reason. Suppose I hadn’t wanted to come in with you.”


Dawson rolled some champagne over his tongue, swallowed, inhaled through his mouth to savor the aftertaste, and said, “Then you wouldn’t have left this estate alive, Ernst. I’m afraid you’d have had an accident.”


“Which you arranged for a week ago.” “Nearly that.”


“I knew you wouldn’t disappoint me.”


“You came with a gun?” Dawson asked. “A thirty-two automatic.”


“It doesn’t show.”


“It’s taped to the small of my back.”


“You’ve practiced drawing it?”


“I can have it in my hand in less than five seconds.”


Dawson nodded approval. “And you would have used me as a shield to get off the estate.”


“I would have tried.”


They both laughed and regarded each other with something very near to affection. They were delighted with themselves.


Jesus Christ! Salsbury thought. He nervously sipped his champagne.


5


Friday, August 19, 1977


PAUL AND MARK SAT cross-legged, side by side on the dew-damp mountain grass. They were as still as stones. Even Mark, who loathed inactivity and to whom patience was an irritant rather than a virtue, did no more than blink his eyes.


Around them lay a breath-taking panorama of virtually unspoiled land. On three sides of their clearing, a dense, purple-green, almost primeval forest rose like walls. To their right the clearing opened at the head of a narrow valley; and the town of Black River, two miles away, shimmered like a patch of opalescent fungus on the emerald quilt of the wild land. The only other scar of civilization was the Big Union mill, which was barely visible, three miles on the other side of Black River. Even so, from this distance the huge buildings did not resemble millworks so much as they did the ramparts, gates, and towers of castles. The planned forests that supplied Big Union, and which were less attractive than the natural woods, were out of sight beyond the next mountain. Blue sky and fast-moving white clouds overhung what could have passed for a scene of Eden in a biblical film.


Paul and Mark were not interested in the scenery. Their attention was fixed on a small, red-brown squirrel.


For the past five days they had been putting out food for the squirrel—dry roasted peanuts and sectioned apples—hoping to make friends with it and gradually to domesticate it. Day by


day it crept closer to the food, and yesterday it took a few bites before succumbing to fear and scampering away.


Now, as they watched, it came forth from the perimeter of the woods, three or four quick yet cautious steps at a time, pausing again and again to study the man and boy. When it finally reached the food, it picked up a piece of the apple in its tiny forepaws and, sitting back on its haunches, began to eat.


When the animal finished the first slice and picked up another, Mark said, “He won’t take his eyes off us. Not even for a second.”


As the boy spoke the squirrel became suddenly as still as they were. It cocked its head and fixed them with one large brown eye.


Paul had said they could whisper, breaking their rule of silence, if the squirrel had gained courage since yesterday and managed to stay at the food for more than a few seconds. If they were to domesticate it, the animal would have to become accustomed to their voices.


“Please don’t be scared,” Mark said softly. Paul had promised that, if the squirrel could be tamed, Mark would be allowed to take it home and make a pet of it. “Please, don’t run away.”


Not yet prepared to trust them, it dropped the slice of apple, turned, bounded into the forest, and scrambled to the upper branches of a maple tree.


Mark jumped up. “Ah, heck! We wouldn’t have hurt you, you dumb squirrel!” Disappointment lined his face.


“Stay calm. He’ll be back again tomorrow,” Paul said. He stood and stretched his stiff muscles.


“He’ll never trust us.”


“Yes, he will. Little by little.”


“We'll never tame him.”


“Little by little,” Paul said. “He can’t be converted in one week. You’ve got to be patient.”


“I’m not very good at being patient.”


“I know. But you’ll learn.”


“Little by little?”


“That’s right,” Paul said. He bent over, picked up the apple slices and peanuts, and dropped them into a plastic bag.


“Hey,” Mark said, “maybe he’s mad at us because we always take the food when we leave.”


Paul laughed. “Maybe so. But if he got in the habit of sneaking back and eating after we’ve gone, he wouldn’t have any reason to come out while we’re here.”


As they started back toward camp, which lay at the far end of the two-hundred-yard-long mountain meadow, Paul gradually became aware again of the beautiful day as if it were a mosaic for all the senses, falling into place around him, piece by piece. The warm summer breeze. White daisies gleaming in the grass, and here and there a buttercup. The odor of grass and earth and wild flowers. The constant rustle of leaves and the gentle soughing of the breeze in the pine boughs. The trilling of birds. The solemn shadows of the forest. High above, a hawk wheeled into sight, the last piece of the mosaic; its shrill cry seemed filled with pride, as if it knew that it had capped the scene, as if it thought it had pulled down the sky with its wings.


The time had come for their weekly trip into town to replenish their supply of perishable goods—but for a moment he didn’t want to leave the mountain. Even Black River—small, nearly isolated from the modem world, singularly peaceful— would seem raucous when compared to the serenity of the forest.


But of course Black River offered more than fresh eggs, milk, butter, and other groceries: Jenny was there.


As they drew near the camp, Mark ran ahead. He pushed aside a pair of yellow canvas flaps and peered into the large tent that they had erected in the shadow of several eighty-foot hemlocks and firs. A second later he turned away from the tent, cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted, “Rya! Hey, Rya!”


“Here,” she said, coming out from behind the tent.


For an instant Paul couldn’t believe what he saw: a small young squirrel perched on her right arm, its claws hooked


through the sleeve of her corduroy jacket. It was chewing on a piece of apple, and she was petting it gently.


“How did you do it?” he asked.


“Chocolate.”


“Chocolate?”


She grinned. “I started out trying to lure it with the same bait you and Mark have been using. But then I figured that a squirrel can probably get nuts and apples on his own. But he can’t get chocolate. I figured the smell would be irresistible— and it was! He was eating out of my hand by Wednesday, but I didn’t want you to know about him until I was sure he’d gotten over the worst of his fear of humans.”


“He’s not eating chocolate now.”


“Too much of it wouldn’t be good for him.”


The squirrel raised its head and looked quizzically at Paul. Then it continued gnawing on the piece of apple in its forepaws.

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