I was not surprised to find that Michael Black resided on the uppermost floor. I pressed the button next to his name and was greeted by the same voice I had heard earlier on the recorded phone message, "Thank you for coming and for your patience, Mr. Bering. Please come on up."
The elevator creaked and trembled in response to the cables slapping against the car in its ascent to the eleventh floor. It was an elevator I would not have imagined to have found in a posh downtown apartment building.
The elevator lurched to a stop and bounced as if it were suspended on large rubber bands instead of steel cables. I stepped out into a large darkened hallway. Save those on the elevator behind me there was but only one other door visible at the end of the hall. As I approached the portal there was the distinct sound of an electric relay being tripped and the door swung open.
I stood for a moment inside the thresh hold, not certain whether I should close it or wait for it close on its own. On cue, a hidden circuit clicked and the door began to close. Moments later the mechanisms involved appeared to have not only locked the door outside but on the inside as well. It was disconcerting to think that I would not be able to leave unless my host so deemed.
If I'd thought before that my host might be some rich eccentric, by that time I was convinced. I turned and entered into a large living room. The center of the room was dominated by a six-foot television screen. It stood before a leather sectional couch strategically arranged in a half circle for obvious optimum viewing angles. To the left was an enormous row of shelves which sported a veritable library.
Before I had a chance to further study my surroundings his voice from a darkened corner startled me. "Please have a seat, Mr. Bering. Make yourself comfortable on the sofa before you."
Once seated I strained to see the barely perceptible figure who remained hidden. "Aren't you going to join me, Mister ... ah ... Black?"
"In due time, Mr. Bering. In due time," he replied. "Before we are face to face, however, there are a few formalities I'd like to run by you. After that I will give you a preliminary preview of why we contacted you."
"We?" I asked. "By we, I assume you mean you and ... Michelle Gray?"
"That is correct. I will get to Ms Gray directly," he answered sternly, thus assuring me that he was going to be directing the interview. There was a click of a cigarette lighter and its light allowed me to briefly make out the features of the lower half of his face as he lit a cigarette. Then he was bathed in shadows once again.
As a courteous acknowledgment of his wish for control I said with a measure of sarcasm, "As you wish. You have a captive audience."
"Ahem," he began, "First of all, let us drop the cloak of needless formality. As you no doubt noted from my name on the call panel in the garage, my name is Michael Black. You are free to address me as either Michael or Mike. As for any background information about myself, that shall not be revealed at this time for reasons that will become apparent later." He was still for a moment and then added, "Do you have a problem with that, Mr. Bering?"
I shook my head, "No, I guess not. You would not have gone to such secretive lengths to gain my audience only to then reveal yourself before feeling certain that I can be trusted."
"Very good. Now let's see, your name is Benjamin B. Bering. What, if I may, does the "B" signify?"
"Ball," I replied hesitantly, "my middle name is Ball, after my grand mother on my mother's side."
"Ball? Ball Bering?" he mused. "I can see why you would prefer to use the middle initial." He must have seen the grimace on my face. "I'll not go there, Ben. Or would you prefer Benjamin?"
"Ben is fine."
"I don't wish to embarrass you further, but I can guess that there was another nickname that you hated, especially during your school ages. Am I correct?"
He must have been watching me as my head turned in his direction and I nodded slowly. "That you are. That name got me into a lot of fights back then. I take it that you are familiar then with that Hannah-Barberra cartoon show, Top Cat?"
"Indeed I am. TC's little companion, Bennie the Ball, was my favorite character on the program."
"It figures," I mumbled. "I thought I'd heard the last of that name many years ago."
"You'll hear of it no more from me, Ben," my host promised.
The large television screen suddenly came to life. There was fuzzy snow and the scratchy sound of static emanating from the set.
"Ben, in about fifteen minutes you are going to be seeing a couple engaged in some rather graphic sexual activity. It will be understandable if you find the images to be pornographic." He stepped for the first time out of the dark corner. "The couple performing those acts will be ... are in fact myself and Michelle."
Stunned I snapped at him, "You brought me here review your x-rated home movies? What are the both of you ... perverts?"
He smiled, but there was a serious look upon his countenance. "It is not the fornication I want you to see, although it cannot be avoided. It is what will and does take place during and after the sexual interplay. As you will see, and I hope you will realize, the intercourse was a necessary part of our experiments."
"Really, Mr. Black? Experiments as in ... ah ... Masters and Johnson?"
"Again I reiterate, the sexual act was a necessary means to achieve an end," he said. He sat down at the end of the sofa and lit another cigarette. He exhaled and looked me in the eyes, "That end," he paused for another drag from the cigarette, "That end was achieved. Our experiment and our research was a success."
I sat up and leaned forward, "What success? A mutual climax?"
He abruptly rose from the sofa and walked around the large television. He placed his arm and elbow on top of the set and rested his chin in his hand. He stared at me for several moments before speaking, "Ben, I really need you to watch the tape. It's very important that you understand what has happened to us." He took a deep breath and stood up straight and exclaimed, "You see, for me ... And for Michelle ... It's a matter of life and death!"
He extended the remote and pushed a button. A grainy black and white panoramic scan of a laboratory appeared on the screen. The walls and bench surfaces were dominated by all sorts of sophisticated electronic equipment, none of which I would venture a guess as to their purposes. Miles of tangled wiring snaked along the walls and the floor.
A door opened at the left of the image. A young man, obviously a younger version of my host, entered the room carrying a box overflowing with wires. He sat the box down and pressed a button on the wall. A door to the right swung open. A young woman stepped into the lab cradling a small dog in her arms. I surmised that she must be the other half of the team, Michelle Gray. The image froze on the screen.
"You'll have to excuse the quality of the tape. It was filmed using a VHS video camera. The scene you are watching took place six years ago in small lab at Northeastern University. We were given use of the lab for one year as undergraduates to conduct experiments based on brainwave activity." He paused to light another cigarette before continuing. "The director of the Science department was impressed with the limited but favorable results we'd been having."
"The first tape you will see was recorded during the early phases of our experiments." He raised the remote and there was movement on the screen as the tape began to play again. While the woman held onto the dog to keep it still the man attached small electrodes to several shaven areas on the dog's head. If this was uncomfortable to the animal, its only response was to lick her face. She then stretched and slipped a strip of black cloth over its eyes as a blindfold.
While the man was reaching into the box he'd carried into the lab earlier, the woman pressed a button on a tape recorder and spoke into a microphone attached to her lab coat, "January 14, 1998, Test 4A, Sensory Perception: Smell and Taste."
Michael produced a curious device with dozens of wires attached to it. He then methodically began inserting the lead ends of the wires into color-coded jacks on the face of an impressive piece of equipment. The remaining wires were connected to the ends of the wires connected to the dog.
After checking and double-checking the connections he placed the wired assemblage from the box onto his own head. The device covered his ears and the back of his head. The object resembled headphones with the exception of a dark triangular piece of glass which he swiveled into position over his left eyebrow. He nodded to Michelle and then flipped the glass down until it covered his eye.
She reached across the bench and flipped a switch. A series of lights began to blink in a trailing pattern on the equipment into which the wires had been connected. She toggled another switch. A pair of circular screens resembling an osciloscope came to life. Her finger touched a third switch and still more blinking lights could be seen, this time on diodes of the device on the man's head as well those on the head of the small canine.
Michelle turned on the recorder and spoke, "Smell and taste object number one ... onion." She removed an onion from a small basket and held it in front of the dog's nose. The animal immediately turned its head away from the pungent vegetable. The man reacted in the same manner, jerking his head to the side at the same moment the dog had done so.
"Hold it!" I exclaimed. "You could see the onion and you heard her name it."
He paused the film and nodded, "Right you are, Ben. We quickly made that same observation. Our experiments were set back three days while we constructed an isolation booth. For our tests to be valid, I had to be unable to see or hear Michelle and our test subject. When the booth was completed we had to outfit it with a separate video camera synchronized with the first one. With the help of one the computer geeks on campus we programmed the images to be recorded in a split-screen format. For good measure, we had the dates and times superimposed on the two videos."
Lost in thought for a few moments I found myself playing that silly game with my thumbs. I pulled my interlaced fingers apart and stood up. I glanced at him from the corner of my eye and said, "I'm going to take a leap of faith now. You successfully managed to get into that dog's brain and you were able to smell and taste the same onion ... while in a different room?"
Michael shrugged and nodded at the same time in response to my query. "Yes and no. I cannot honestly say that I could actually smell or taste the onion. However, I was able to feel or sense that the dog did not like or want the onion near his nose. What I did sense were the electrical charges of the synapses within its brain in reaction to its olfactory senses. Via the wires connecting me and the dog, the synapses in my own brain reacted as if the onion had been placed under my own nose!"
I had to admit that the results of their experiments were impressive, but I failed to see why I was brought there. It seemed to me that they would have been better served publishing their findings in a Journal of Medicine as opposed to a newspaper.
He rose from the set and ejected the tape from the VCR. He then activated a DVD player and inserted a disc into the drawer. "I'll spare you the drama of the next two hundred hours of video. Those tapes show much of what you observed in the last one. Our tests had proved conclusive enough that we felt it was time to move onto the next phase. The brains of most animals do not form actual thoughts but rather function more on primal instincts."
"So you moved on to a more advanced brain ... The human brain," I interrupted.
Michael grinned and replied, "Yes. We turned our efforts to the most highly developed brain on earth, our own." He returned to the other end of the sofa and said, "Again, I will skip many hours of our recorded tests. We had reached the point where the best results were achieved while monitoring the strongest emotional reactions within the brain, like fear, hate, laughter, love and pain ... and of course sexual desires and releases."
The disc began to spin within the DVD player. Out of character I grinned sheepishly and said, "Now we get to the steamy stuff!"
(To be continued Monday 12/8 in part 4: Jack and Jill.)