Breathless Page 25


After arriving by executive helicopter at the site, logging in, and signing nondisclosure agreements customized to the unusual nature of this incident, Lamar Woolsey and Simon Northcott were presented with laminated holographic photo-ID cards on lengths of cord, which they had to wear around their necks at all times.

Following an in-depth background presentation on the situation, they were told where to find Specimen 1 and Specimen 2. Already, the names given to them by the veterinarian, Camillia Rivers, were being used by both the uniformed security agents and the Homeland Security bureaucrats: Puzzle and Riddle.

The animals were confined in an inflatable tent in the backyard, only steps from the line of four mobile laboratories. Blood, urine, and other tissue samples would be collected here and taken to the labs. When needed for an MRI or other test, the animals would be conveyed to the laboratory containing that specific equipment. By keeping Puzzle and Riddle primarily in a structure accessible to the personnel in all four labs, several scientists could observe and examine them at the same time.

The twenty-foot-square tent had been anchored to forty pitons. Each eighteen-inch-long piton measured an inch in diameter and had been driven into the earth with a pneumatic hammer.

Access to the tent was through an uninflated flap, next to which stood an armed agent. They flashed their photo ID and went inside.

Interlocking panels of tight plastic grid made a stable floor. Four free-standing racks of adjustable lamps provided illumination.

A nine-foot-long, seven-foot-wide, four-foot-high platform occupied the center of the tent. The platform held an eight-by-six steel cage that the Colorado crisis-response team acquired somehow before leaving their home base in Colorado Springs.

In the cage were a bowl of water, a dog bed—and two creatures who were inexpressibly more beautiful than the photos of them that Lamar had seen during the background briefing. They came at once to the wall of the cage and reached out entreatingly, between the bars, with their small black hands.

The sight of them affected Simon Northcott as nothing and no one ever had before: He was stunned silent.

As Lamar approached the cage, he reached out to hold one hand of Puzzle’s, one of Riddle’s.

The feeling that came over him must have been different from the one that rendered Northcott speechless, for he would have ranted his enchantment in whatever humble poetic language he could summon—if anyone had been present who would understand this most human of all yearnings for mystery and meaning.

These animals had about them an aura of innocence and purity that he found almost palpable, that he had never before encountered nor imagined he ever would. He approached them rapt with wonder, but then found himself surrendering to an unexpected veneration for which he had no explanation. He came to tears.

Moving slowly around the cage, intently studying the animals and oblivious to Lamar’s emotion, Northcott broke his uncharacteristic silence and spoke of things that didn’t matter, of things that Lamar could not compute.

When at last Lamar could speak, he said, “Their eyes. Isn’t it ironic, Northcott, that perhaps the principal challenge they offer you is the impossible nature of their eyes?”

Northcott understood his reference and was not pleased.


On the kitchen table stood a two-foot-square multilayered pane of sandwiched glass, held in a steel frame between two three-inch-diameter steel cylinders. Red light shown within a penny-size hole near the top of each cylinder. The device plugged into a wall outlet but also into Paul Jardine’s laptop.

Cammy had been told that lasers scanned her eyes for responses of the irises, recording a continuous measurement of the dilation of her pupils, which assisted in determining the truthfulness of her answers because the pupil involuntarily opened wider when a lie was told. Other changes in the eye, unspecified by Jardine, were also evidently analyzed.

At the start of the session, the lasers also mapped her face as expressionless as she could make it. Thereafter, a continuous record of her facial topography detected the subtlest nuances of expression that researchers had found to be associated with either truth-telling or prevarication.

This laser polygraph had been developed exclusively for Homeland Security. Jardine used it in conjunction with a tightly fitted glove woven full of electronic sensors that measured changes in the body activities that were of interest to more traditional polygraphers: pulse, blood pressure, perspiration.

Before being subjected to the session, she had been provided with a statement signed by Jardine in the presence of a witness, stating that no information obtained herein could be used against her in any court of law and that she was immune from prosecution for any matters touched upon by his questions and her replies.

“We are more determined to get the full truth of all this than we are interested in prosecuting anyone for anything,” Jardine had said.

On the other hand, once she had been granted immunity, if she still declined to be polygraphed, she could be prosecuted under two statutes that, upon conviction, allowed for consecutive sentences totaling as much as four years in prison.

When Cammy had still hesitated, Jardine said, “Look at it this way. If you want to lie your head off, you can do so with no fear of punishment. You’ve got immunity. But if you lie, it’s still worth my time to conduct this debriefing, because I’ll see when you’re lying and I’ll have some hope of deducing why.”

“I have no intention of lying to you.”

“By the time we’ve gotten this far,” Jardine had said, “no one ever intends to lie.”

Now, an hour into the interrogation—which Jardine insisted on calling a debriefing—the blinds were closed over the kitchen window and door. Light came only from the soffit lamp over the sink and the screen of the deputy director’s laptop.

Cammy couldn’t see the low-intensity lasers. They were of a single specific wavelength of light or a narrow band of wavelengths, and all the crests of the individual waves coincided. Although the beams were invisible to her, she sometimes thought she saw shadows tremble or leap in her peripheral vision, where in fact nothing moved.

She had not once lied to him. His questioning was meticulous but unimaginative, therefore tedious. Then one of two moments came that were different from all the rest of the session.

He looked up from his laptop and regarded her through the pane of sandwiched glass. “Dr. Rivers, have you been to the state of Michigan in the past two years?”


He returned his attention to the laptop. “Have you ever been to the state of Michigan?”


“Have you ever heard of Cross Village, Michigan?”

“No. Never.”

“Have you ever heard of Petoskey, Michigan?”


“Have you ever known anyone from Michigan?”

She thought for a moment. “In college, veterinary college, there was this woman from Michigan.”

“Where in Michigan was she from?”

“I don’t remember. We weren’t close friends or anything.”

“What was her name?”

“Allison Givens. We called her Ally.”

“Is she in veterinary practice in Michigan?”

“I assume so. I don’t know. I didn’t stay in touch with her.”

“Have you stayed in touch with anyone from vet school?”

“Yes. A few.”

“Have any of them stayed in touch with Ally Givens?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. They’ve never said anything. What’s all this about Michigan?”

“Please remember, as we discussed, I ask the questions, you answer them, not the other way around.”

Either he had come to the end of that subject or he did not want to pursue it with her curiosity raised. He moved on to her experiences with Puzzle and Riddle.

Almost an hour later, as the session was drawing to a close, he asked a question that was a verbal punch.

“Dr. Rivers, have you ever killed anyone?”

Stunned, she met his eyes through the glass.

He repeated the question. “Cammy, have you ever killed anyone?”


“Who did you kill?”

“My mother’s boyfriend.”

“What was his name?”

“Jake Horner. Jacob Horner.”

Jardine didn’t bother consulting the graphics on his laptop screen. He knew that she was telling the truth.

“That was on your fifteenth birthday, wasn’t it?”

“Those police records, the court hearing—that’s all sealed.”

“That was on your fifteenth birthday, wasn’t it?”

“Sealed. It’s all sealed. I was a juvenile. Nobody has the right to know about that.”

Jardine’s eyes gave out no light in the gloom, but in the glow of the computer screen, Cammy could see them well enough to recognize his contempt.

He said, “Was it ten years aboard Therapy? Ten years? Was it ten years, Cammy?”

In addition to his contempt, she saw his rich satisfaction in her reaction, her distress.

He had the power to reveal her ten-year ordeal and thereby to ensure that, ever after, when people looked at her, they would see her past in her present and would disdain her or, worse, pity her.

This was his way of guaranteeing her perpetual silence about Puzzle and Riddle, and her meek cooperation.

She stripped off the glove woven full of electronic sensors and threw it on the table.

“That’s it,” she said. “I’m finished.”

“Yes,” Jardine said. “I believe you are completely finished.”


The noise in the attic came and went, came and went. Sometimes it was a crawling sound, like someone shuffling from eave to eave on hands and knees. At other times, someone softly rapped out rhythms on a ceiling beam.

Henry walked through the house, back and forth, gazing at the ceiling, tracking the sounds. Wondering.

Standing in the bedroom closet, staring at the attic trapdoor, listening to the rapping, rapping, rapping on the back of that panel, which was bolted from below, he began to think of the sound as being more precise than mere rhythm. This was measured rhythm divided into stanzas. This was meter, as if some poet living in the garret above was composing new lines and rapping out the meter as he wrote.

When this thought fully flowered in his mind, Henry decided not to listen to the rapping anymore. He returned to the kitchen to continue preparing his lunch.

Later, as he ate, he wondered what the secret retreats were like where the senator and the other power elites would hide out when the social order had been purposefully pushed into collapse. He supposed they would be far more comfortable and better-provisioned quarters than any Henry could arrange for himself.

Of the many hundreds of billions of dollars that had gone out the treasury door, not all had been wastefully spent. Fully a third of it had been cleverly and secretly transferred into the accounts of those who had devised this strategy for the remaking of the world, which included numerous politicians but also many private-sector entrepreneurs.

The senator and those with whom he ran had panicked just once, when an investigative journalist with the Post reported that seventy billion of funds were gone and unaccounted for from just one package of the economic stimulus. But the public seemed indifferent. And considering that the Post’s number was woefully short of the true figure, the reporter’s sources could not be inside the circle of the conspiracy.

It was during that crisis-that-never-was that Henry decided not to throw in with the senator but to make his own preparations. Now, as he listened to the rapping in the attic, to the rapping that he was not listening to, he wondered if he had made a serious mistake when he had come west to become his brother.


For the first time in memory, Tom Bigger slept deeply and peacefully. The trouble began when he woke.

Usually, dreams poured from a reservoir of venom and flooded sleep. In the murk of sunken cities and drowned countryside, he moved ceaselessly, going nowhere and seeking nothing, but going and seeking with quiet desperation nonetheless. Out of submerged streets, down from fathomless hills, along lonely airless roads came half-seen figures to menace him. In perpetual flight, he breathed water with increasing panic, until he woke and breathed air. Awake and sometimes while asleep, he suspected that every one of those who menaced him was only a shrouded aspect of himself.

At 4:15 Monday afternoon, after a uniquely dreamless sleep, Tom woke, and the real world felt as airless as his usual dreams. A suffocating need oppressed him. In this condition, he found relief only and always in one thing: spirits of the bottled kind.

Having been unable to still his restless mind, which had circled incessantly around the memory of the incident on the bluff above the sea, Tom had stretched out on the bed with no expectation of sleep, still wearing his clothes. Now he sat up, stood, moved toward the motel-room door, hoping that fresh air might relieve his sense of suffocation.

One step short of the door, he turned from it and went to his backpack. The previous night, from a bridge, he threw an unsampled pint of tequila into a dry creek. Five pints remained in his supply.

He extracted a stuffsack from the backpack, a bottle from the sack. The glass was smooth in his rough hands, smooth and cool.

The journey ahead and the task at its end required commitment, focus, sobriety. He had spent his life fleeing from all three.

Smooth and cool.

Considering that he was forty-eight, still alive, and not in jail, an argument might be mounted that he had fared better than some who made more responsible decisions than he did. Fundamental change at his age might bring the opposite of what he desired; he might be trading failure and sorrow not for hope and peace, but for worse misery and despair.

One incident, one moment of recognition in decades of barren existence, did not justify a revolution of the mind and heart. At the time, his head and stomach turning in spirals of vertigo, he had been vomiting into a barrel, not a situation in which his perceptions or his judgment were necessarily reliable.

The pint bottle of tequila felt smooth, cool, full of power, full of promise, the power of forgetfulness, the promise of death by incremental self-destruction. The power of the tequila passed through the glass container and into his clutching fingers, causing his hand to shake, then his arm, then his entire body. The tremors shivered cold sweat from his palms, and he gripped the suddenly slippery bottle with both hands.

Although he needed a drink, a long one, he intended instead to empty the bottle into the bathroom sink.

He stood no more than six steps from the bathroom door. The sink lay one or two steps beyond that threshold. Eight steps. During the previous night, he walked mile after mile. Now eight steps seemed to be a greater distance than he traveled from his cave to this room.

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