Richard woke up to the infuriating din of the alarm clock. It was an anniversary present from his wife, and he loathed it. His love for her and a desire to avoid her overly-emotional rants – that was all that kept him from chucking it out of the window.
He wasn’t looking forward to going to work. No, his job wasn’t boring. It also wasn’t some bullshit about workplace politics. It didn’t matter that they called him a dick. Or a dickhead, for that matter, since he messed around with people’s heads. It was exciting work; rather, it was the nature of the job he had signed up for, that gave him the creeps. He would return home, often after midnight, ashen-faced and hyperventilating.
Rick was a psychiatrist. There is a reason why Seattle has the largest density of shrinks when pitched against any other American city. It has something to do with the always-gloomy weather. You never get to see sunshine. Rick used to have one of the most profitable jobs in the city, but he wasn’t too happy about it. He had left it for his current job.
He took a shower and dressed up for the day at work. He descended the stairs for the hall, where his wife had already served breakfast. She had eaten her share. Normally, she waited for him to dig in before she started eating, but things weren’t going well. Cursing the depressing weather, he decided that it was time for another one of those talks with her. Tonight. He picked up the day’s copy of The Seattle Times¸ dated 23rd March, 1952. He filtered out the anti-communist propaganda and scanned the precious few articles that actually had something worth reading.
He got into his car, a new Cadillac convertible; closing the door with more force than needed. It was a bad choice to buy a convertible in Seattle, given that wet weather, but his wife would have none of it. He started the hour-long drive. He could hear the soft patter of the raindrops on the glass, and watched the wipers swing. It was comforting, oddly relaxing in a way, and it helped him think. He tried to recall how he had landed himself in this mess.
He remembered Rod. Rod had been a close friend, a long-time patient of his. Chronic Depression. Shrinks should never get attached to their patients, but when you have a patient with an interesting personality pouring out the smallest details of his life for you (for purely diagnostic purposes), you can’t help but want to talk. It was that fateful Sunday, during one of their numerous afternoon chats, that Rod that had talked to him about a possible new job.
He’d said he had contacts in the government. That Rick could earn a lot more. Six figures! And the research! It was a known fact that if you did your research working under the government’s protection, you didn’t have to be at the receiving end of medical ethics lawsuits. Later, Rod admitted that he was a recruiter for the ‘agency’. They never said the name out loud. But it always meant the CIA. He had hesitated at first; later, the prospect of unlimited research funds and fat pay-checks seemed too appealing and he had to take the job.
He had always dreamt of publishing a ground-breaking research paper, something that would alter the scene of psychoanalytic research forever. Now, he had the chance. He was excited about it. Rick was a Harvard grad, and later had joined as a postdoc researcher there. But there was only so much you could do at Harvard. His research focused on mind-altering hallucinogens. Ever since the senate had passed that cursed new Act, the inflow of consenting test subjects had slowed down to a trickle. It wasn’t that the people were scared of tests; the act had bumped up the sheer amount of paperwork required to roughly thrice. It was suffocating for any academic and subject alike. But working for the CIA eliminated almost all the paperwork, and he could concentrate on just the research.
Rick was near the place. It was a dark and dirty street, the kind where you’d expect pot-smoking scum to linger. He stopped by a shabby-looking building, with wet plaster peeling off its walls. He parked his car alongside several others. The whole scene had a strange contrast to it; bright, expensive cars in a dirty street. As always, he paused for a moment before entering the building that was The Facility, contemplating the horrors inside.
He walked to the door in the brick wall. He pressed the doorbell, and after a moment, was greeted by a burly guard in uniform. The interior of the office looked the complete opposite of whatever the building looked from outside – clean, white, and smelling like a clinic. He was led to one of the examination chambers. Here, he was made to lie on a stretcher while a nurse checked his heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. A blood sample was also taken. This was all routine procedure, for everyone who entered the Facility, to be conducted every time. A quick way to know if the person had been drugged, was panicking, or was under pressure.
Once the tests were done, Rick walked to his office. He was to be assigned a new case today. He had no idea what it would be, but he knew for sure that it was going to be ugly. He unlocked the door (What was the point in having a lock? The bosses had the keys to all doors!). He cast aside his coat and hat on a chair and settled himself behind his desk.
The Facility ran low on ethics. They had Recruiters; people like Rod. The Recruiters would either befriend or kidnap people – civilians, doctors, soldiers, housewives, children, prisoners, rapists, homosexuals, and transsexuals – people from all walks of life, the rich and the poor. The doctors and shrinks were given posts like Rick’s, and the rest were either blackmailed into becoming Recruiters, or were used as test subjects. The doctors would give doses of barbiturates, LSD, and heroin to the subjects, over defined periods of time, and gauge their responses and behavior under the influence. Although no one ever said it out loud, since it seemed a bit preposterous, one of the driving factors behind the psychiatric research was the possibility of creating what was called a ‘Manchurian Candidate’. This was a person who would obey any order, carry out the task, and then forget all about it once the job was done. It was perfect espionage. The usefulness of such a pawn was evident in scenarios involving assassinations and spying. A substantial amount of time and research was invested in mind-control techniques: truth serums, hypnosis, and the like. Brainwashing was studied as a rigorous science. Then there was the radiology department. A particularly hideous experiment had involved the doctors taking a blood sample in a syringe from a pregnant woman suffering from cancer. They had dissolved a radioactive mixture of caesium and a particularly lethal plutonium isotope in the blood, and injected it back into the woman. The aim was to study the effects of radioactive poisoning on childbirth in the case of a potential nuclear war. The woman was told that she was being given vitamins, and that this was all research for a new medical therapy to have healthier babies. The woman’s health deteriorated and she died shortly after giving birth to a ‘jellyfish baby’. It had working organs, a brain, a beating heart, everything; but not a single bone in its body. The pitiful, ugly mass of flesh continued swelling and contracting in its desperate attempts to breathe, and died twelve hours after birth. The woman’s death was attributed to her cancer.
Rick wished he could quit this work and go back to Harvard. But something, deep down inside, told him that that was a lost cause. He knew too much. Once you joined, you couldn’t leave. He could either keep working, or get shot. Or worse, get used as a test subject. The people who worked at the facility couldn’t tell anyone about their work – everyone had a story ready, just in case. Wives were lied to. So much for that bullshit about America being the land of liberty, milk, and honey. All of this was somehow supposed to be justified: We’re at war!
But was there really a war? No! It was sheer paranoia, an imaginary war. A war of egos, a war of tension, of spirit, of ideology. He was disgusted by the artificiality of it all – all this research, all the military spending, the anti-communist propaganda – all of this looked like an excuse to go to war. Or was it the reverse? An imaginary war, a national mania, all induced to benefit all those arms and pharmacy corporations that had major stakes in the government? Suddenly, all those conspiracy theories the hippies used to recite made sense.
Rick stopped his chain of thoughts when someone knocked.
His boss walked in. He was wearing a white lab coat. Heinrich Krueger was a man in his forties, donning a lab coat and a wide smile that didn’t reach his eyes. He was a German. An ex-Nazi, he had conducted hundreds of experiments on inmates in Auschwitz, the infamous death camp. The CIA had screened the archives of Nazi doctors and had covertly recruited the ones it deemed experienced to work for US interests. It wasn’t like the doctors had any choice in the matter; this work was fun for them, and if they had refused, they would certainly have been sentenced to death in the Nuremburg war crimes’ trials.
Krueger got straight to the point.
“Your new case. A man aged fifty. Here’s his file. We have some questions we want you to ask him. They’re in the file. Write down your observations.”
He handed Rick the file, and abruptly got up. He walked to the door and paused ever so slightly, as if he wanted to say something, but then he quietly exited and closed the door behind him.
Rick didn’t know it then, but that day, his world, and everything he had worked for till that point in his life, was going to be torn apart.
To be concluded.