Part 40 of an original tale that delves into the unexplored realms of the human mind. Hired by her lover to find a raven haired beauty, Benjamin Bering must avoid the local police as well as the agents of a nonexistent government agency who are after him and the woman. There are just two problems. The woman is in a coma and her body has been stolen. (Part 1 can be found HERE.)
"A remote control that can make someone the most powerful man on Earth?" I pondered aloud. It was with skeptical sarcasm that I added, "Of course! He could, with the click of a button, block all the TV commercials and therefore throw the world's economy into utter chaos."
Gates, if he even had a sense of humor, didn't afford me the satisfaction of knowing that I might have tickled it. Instead his facial features reflected his stoic nature when he responded, "This remote, as you referred to it, suggests to me that they have concluded the research. King is close to launching his master plan!"
"General, why do I have the feeling that we now have a major reason to be worried?" Stu asked.
Susan swung her feet to the floor and addressed the old soldier, "They know that thing is missing, don't they? That bomb was not intended for any of us. They don't want us to have that thing. They were trying to destroy it."
"Of course!" I declared. "General, what are the chances that they think they succeeded in destroying it?"
"I'm not one for gambling," he said in response, "but I'd say they the odds are heavy in our favor." He turned his attention to Susan, "Young lady ... Susan, that was a good observation on your part." He rubbed his hands together as he made his way over to the bar. "Since King was willing to sacrifice it, we have to consider that this one was probably the prototype, and that he has another one."
Pouring more of the scotch into his glass he turned and addressed us, "I'm going to ask you to bear with me while I attempt to explain exactly what we are up against. It is ironic that their research, under the guise of national security, is in fact a threat to our nation's security."
Lifting the glass to his lips, he hungrily poured half of its contents down his throat. "When I first learned the nature of old man King's research, I'll admit that I was intrigued. Viet Nam was the ideal laboratory in which to conduct his experiments because that war torn country was replete with the test subjects he needed." He paused and looked at the glass in his hand, considered downing more of the room temperature liquid, but set it down on the bar instead.
"I'm sure you can appreciate how a Commanding Officer in a hostile war zone, where it was nearly impossible to know who was and wasn't the enemy, would relish any information that could be extracted from prisoners. King promised that his experimental interrogation methods would produce results beyond my wildest dreams. Damned if he didn't deliver the goods."
We listened intently as Gates related the events surrounding King's early experiments. It was only after three months that King had taken him on a tour of the secretive facility and explained how the interrogation process worked. "I was blown away when I learned that he was "reading" the minds of those captive Viet Cong soldiers. The first step in the process was the injection of some compound drug that turned the prisoners into docile zombies. The poor bastards never knew or remembered that they had just given us the coordinates of their camps, the placement of their forces, the number of troops in their units, as well as strategic objectives."
I felt Susan grow tense next to me when the general's story reached the point where the Vietnamese women were being introduced into the equation. "King's researchers had learned that a female's penchant for highly sensitive, if not over-active emotions made them especially susceptible to their experiments," he related with a cautious glance at Susan. "There was a lot of excitement at the camp one day when they discovered that a handful of those women had a special 'gift.' The researchers were able to actually exchange thoughts with them."
He picked up the glass from the bar and took only a small sip of the scotch. "The other women were turned over to the men to be used for their personal entertainment and to perform domestic chores around the camp. King then had me choose two of my most trusted soldiers to supervise an operation wherein those women were to be tagged with tattoos of butterflies. You saw on the discs that those two individuals were 1st Sergeant Brock O'Day and Corporal James Coleman."
He swirled the liquid in the glass before lifting it to his lips again. Susan took advantage of the pause in his story and asked, "So the women with the tattoos were rejected from further experiments? That made them expendable and as a result they were to be eventually executed? How awful!"
He cleared his throat and looked her in the eyes, "I know what you saw on that disc. I assure you, not everything is as it appears."
Conscious of the same tattoo on herself, she crossed her legs and pressed again, "What of the women since then, those in this country with those tattoos? Are they to be executed?"
"Bear with me," he replied, "I'll get to that in a moment. Now, where was I? Ah, yes." He returned the glass to the bar and continued, "At that time we were well aware of the massive offensive by the Cong forces that had been staged all over South Vietnam. It was a week later that we learned that the Cong were amassing outside Saigon. By the time the airlifts were underway we were shutting down our operations in preparations to cross the border into Cambodia where transportation was awaiting us."
As if it was a crutch to lean upon, Gates took another drink, "King said that they could not afford to leave any traces of their operations behind and that included the tagged women. While it was my duty to carry out those orders, I could not bring myself to have my men execute them." He looked again at Susan, "I ordered my men to take them into the jungle and to empty their chambers into the trees above them."
Susan smiled, a sigh of relief pursing her lips. "Was that when you earned the nickname, Old Gravedigger?"
He looked to the ceiling and snorted, "That sobriquet was authored by none other than Sgt. O'Day. I was not pleased about it, however I must admit that in the end it cemented my reputation for following orders given to me to the letter."
"The women who were not tagged," Susan queried, "what became of them?"
"I can only assume that they were retained as test subjects when King's operations were resumed once he had established facilities back here in the States."
Gates grabbed his drink and drained the contents. He began to pace the floor with an erratic gait. His face was red and he was angrily baring his teeth. Then in an abrupt display of anger he hurled the empty glass into the fireplace. He regained his composure as he realized his performance had been staged before a live audience.
"You'll have to excuse my actions. They were unbecoming of an officer," he said. "I found myself with the urge to vent the pent up anger I have been suppressing ever since that tour of duty in Southeast Asia. I should have seen the bigger picture, the future ramifications of King's work."
"How could you have possibly known, General Gates?" I countered.
He stared at me for a moment before replying, "How could I have not known, Mr. Bering? It was obvious to me even then that the man had no compassion whatsoever. It was apparent when he ordered the execution of those innocent women."
He eyed the bottle of scotch sitting on the bar, but averted his eyes from it. He turned to Susan and said, "Young lady, you asked about the women over here with the tattoos, didn't you?" He shook his head and lowered it until his chin was resting upon his chest.
"You seem reluctant to go there, General Gates," Susan said. "Should I be reluctant to hear your answer?"
Before replying Gates responded to a calling from the bottle of scotch on the bar and ambled over to it. The bottle, two-thirds empty by then, was the force which was fueling his resolve to discuss matters he had been for so long duty bound to preserve. I couldn't help but be in awe of his consumption of so much alcohol in such a short amount of time and yet maintain his ability to walk and to talk.
"Yes, I've been reticent to discuss that matter, reticent because of my personal stake," he muttered. Although not mentioned by name, we knew his personal stake was comprised of Faye, Rosie and even Susan. It was then that he must have realized he had for several minutes let down his guard. The visage of compassion evaporated in an instant, replaced by the familiar veil of cold stone.
"There are no less than three hundred fifty women spread across the lower forty-eight living otherwise normal lives who were subjected to those experiments. Those three hundred fifty women have no recollection or knowledge of their participation. Perhaps some of them have discovered those tattoos upon their bodies, but more likely most have not." He stood quiet to allow us to digest his words.
He steeled himself and held aloft the object I'd found packaged in my apartment. "I fear that this device and their new state-of-the-art neural headpieces when up-linked to GPS satellites gives Mr. King access to a silent army of three hundred fifty saboteurs, three hundred fifty assassins, three hundred fifty unsuspecting women pre-programmed ... to his bidding."
(To be continued in part 41 on Friday 4/16, with The Dating Game Enigma.)