by Joe Zabel
Friday morning after Thanksgiving, Sally was trying on one of Kathy's dresses. 'It's a bit long for you, but not enough to notice,' said Kathy. 'We can get a proper wardrobe for you over the weekend.'
'Does my hair look alright?' asked Sally. No longer did she wear the flowing tresses identified with Jen. Kathy had given her a short pageboy cut.
'It looks fine. The important thing was to change it. The style you were wearing would have reminded people... it would just have been awkward.'
'I think I like it better this way,' said Sally, peering into the mirror.
At 8:45 AM their car pulled in to the Hunt Building entrance. They parked and got out. Sally turned and faced the facility, which sparkled in the morning sun. She glanced at Kathy, who gave her a reassuring nod. Then the two of them went in.
Sally craned her neck to study the vertical expanse of the lobby, which stretched up the entire four-story height of the the building. A massive mobile sculpture hung in its center, expressionistically depicting eyes, the cerebrum, and the spinal cord. When they'd entered the elevator, Sally turned to Kathy. 'This isn't how I remembered it!'
'That's taking the initiative!' declared Deidre when the two presented themselves at the Human Resources office. 'How did you two get together?'
'Sally was recommended to me by a friend in New York,' said Kathy.
'Well, Sally,' said Deidre, 'We've got all sorts of forms for you to fill out, and I've got to go over the institute's policies, benefits, retirement plan, and all that other stuff with you.' She turned to Kathy. 'I'm going to claim her for the entire morning!'
'Ok. Can I make a copy of the resume? I need it for my files.'
'Sure,' said Deidre. 'Let me punch in the security code.' She did so, and Kathy made her copy.
Kathy took the resume back to her office. She found the resume folder among her files, and pulled out the old resume for Jen Marriott.
She examined it and the new resume, side by side, with a sinking feeling. She was comparing the paragraphs below the names and addresses for Jen Marriott and Sally Smith, respectively.
'Identical!' she thought. 'Word for word-- even down to the typos!'
At lunchtime, Sally and Kathy dined with Margo at the BSC Food Court.
'You'll love it here!' Margo was saying.
'Margo's been with the institute practically since it started,' said Kathy.
'Actually, I was hired when Dr. Yang came on board, but that was near the beginning. Dr. Vaughn and a consortium hand-picked all the department heads. They had enough seed money to get the youngest and the best from all around the country. Vaughn has an outstanding reputation because of an innovative clinic he'd founded a few years back; so even without the money, he was a magnet for talented MDs.
'They conceived it as a sixty/forty split between research and patient treatment. Right from the start we had clinics for insomnia, narcolepsy, posttraumatic stress disorders-- virtually every known sleep disorder.'
'Of course, treatment and research go hand-in-hand,' said Kathy. 'But VISR has a completely separate budget to finance extensive studies with hundreds of subjects. We've got a pool of volunteers, mostly students; but they try to rope in the staff as well, so watch out!'
'They use the staff as volunteers?' asked Sally.
'Don't laugh,' said Margo. 'Dr. Yang had me wearing a nightcap every night-- that's a portable electronic sleep monitoring device-- and he wanted me to write down my dreams when I woke up. My dreams! They make some interesting reading, let me tell you! But I had to censor them before I let my boss read them!'
Kathy and Sally burst out laughing.
Margo and Kathy sat in the clothing store. Kathy looked at her watch.
'Level with me, Kathy,' said Margo. 'Are you and Sally pulling my leg?'
'You're claiming a qualified secretary from the Big Apple just happens to show up at your door in Wausau, holding in her hand a reference from an old college of yours-- what was her name, Hildegarde? Do I got the story right?'
Kathy sighed. 'It's complicated to explain.'
'I'm sorry, Margo.'
'Don't worry about me, Kups-- but it's your career, and your responsibility.'
'You're a good friend, Margo. And you're right.'
Sally stepped out of the fitting room and displayed the new dress she was wearing. 'Whaddya think?' she asked.
After lunch, Kathy explained Sally's duties to her, and gave her some work to file and some pamphlets to read. She explained that she had an appointment in town, but didn't disclose to Sally who it was with.
At the downtown police precinct, Kathy was lucky to find that Lieutenant Paul Corruthers was at his desk and had time to speak to her. Corruthers was the detective who'd investigated Jen Marriott's suicide.
'Of course we're convinced it was suicide,' said Corruthers, 'and the coroner backs us up. Do you have any evidence that it WASN'T a suicide?'
'Couldn't it have been a robbery or something?' asked Kathy. 'She sees the robber's face, and he decides to shut her up permanently?'
'By shoving sleeping pills down her throat? After forcing her to write a suicide note?'
'But do you know for certain that nothing valuable was missing? Did her purse still have money in it? Did she still have her purse at all?'
'Yes to both questions,' said Corruthers. 'And her car was still parked at the Hunt Building, with the flat tire. There's no connect there.'
'What do you mean?'
'The tire was slashed-- but we get slashed tire reports all the time in this town.'
'What about her keys,' asked Kathy. 'Did you find her keys in the apartment? She had to have them with her-- otherwise she couldn't get in.'
Corruthers looked at Kathy with a resentful expression on his face. 'I don't distinctly remember. I'll have to check.' He got up.
He returned a few minutes later, holding a clear-plastic evidence bag. 'The keys were in the purse,' he said, and dumped the keys from the bag onto the desk. Kathy picked up the keys and stared at them.
'Will there be anything else, Ms. Swanson?' asked Corruthers.
'No, Lieutenant,' said Kathy. 'Thank you very much.'
After she left his office, Kathy pulled Sally's keys from her purse to compare them with the ones she'd seen. The two sets of keys were nothing alike. They had only one key in common-- the key to Kathy's office in the Hunt Building. 'Whoever gave Sally that ring of keys put my office key on there, counting on the fact that I'd recognize it, and think they were really Jen's keys!'
'Facts about combating destructive mind-control,' said a poster in the window. Another said, 'Reconciling families through mediation.' A third added, 'Reliable information about religious intolerance.'
It was a storefront in a run-down section, next to a hair salon and a motorcycle repair shop. The sign above the door said 'Cult Information Support Group.'
Kathy stepped inside and looked around. The room was surprisingly empty. A pamphlet rack next to the door held only a handful of tracts. 'Facts about deprogramming-- a stain on our heritage,' said one. 'Fact versus fiction about Neuro-mesmerism' said another.
'Can I help you,' asked a young, portly blonde sitting at the only desk. She appeared to be alone in the office.
'I'm trying to help a friend,' said Kathy. 'I need information about the cults that are active in this part of the country.'
'You've come to the right place,' said the girl. She opened a drawer and fished out some membership forms.
'Do you have any kind of guide to local cults?' asked Kathy.
'Um, no,' said the girl. 'Could you fill these out for me, please?'
'Do you yourself know anything about them?' asked Kathy.
'I'm just a volunteer,' said the girl. 'None of our senior staff are here on weekdays. If you could just start with these, please?' She pinned the items to a clipboard and handed it to Kathy.
Kathy sat down with it. The item on top was a pledge card, with membership levels from $25 through $1000. Below that was a leaflet, 'How to bring family and friends back together.' It showed smiling parents with a young man who was apparently their son. Surrounding them on both sides were a crowd of other smiling people.
She got to the questionnaire, and began filling it out. The first page appeared to be ordinary demographic questions. But when she got to the second page, the questions gave her pause.
She brought the questionnaire over to the lone staffer. 'I don't understand the purpose of these questions-- 'Do you enjoy challenges or find that they weigh you down?' 'Is loneliness a problem for you?' --What do these have to do with finding out about cults?'
'They help us to get to know you better,' explained the girl. 'That way we can help you more.'
Kathy put the forms in her purse. 'I think I'd rather wait and talk to one of your senior staff. I'll take these with me.'
'Could you at least fill out the pledge card? We're a struggling organization, we really need the money.'
'I'll have to think about it,' said Kathy.
'Can I at least have your address so we can send you our newsletter?' persisted the girl.
'I'll have to see,' said Kathy, walking out the door.
When Kathy returned, she found Dr. Yang in her office, chatting with Sally.
'...So he goes into the bank, and he hands the teller a stick-up note. But the teller can hardly read it, because it has so many spelling errors-- it's a riot, I'm telling you!'
'What's the title again?' asked Sally.
'Take The Money and Run-- I'm sure you can rent it in any video store.'
'Hi, Alan,' said Kathy.
'Kathy,' said Dr. Yang. 'I was just getting to know your new assistant.' He smiled at Sally, who shyly smiled back.
'Trying to recruit another test subject, Doctor?' asked Kathy jokingly.
'Not yet,' said Dr. Yang. 'I don't want to scare her off on her first day. Speaking of which, I received back one of the units, and I can give it to you to take home. Are you game?'
'Sure,' said Kathy.
'Can you stop by now?'
Yang bowed cordially to Sally. 'Nice meeting you, and welcome to the Institute.'
'Thanks you!' said Sally.
As they walked down the hall, Yang said, 'Peculiar girl! Do you know she's never HEARD of Woody Allen? Can you imagine that?'
Kathy smiled and said, 'No, I can't!' But she was thinking to herself, 'Woody Allen? Who's he? Am I suppose to have heard of him?'
In his office, Yang was showing Kathy the nightcap device. 'These are just elastic tennis headbands. You fit this on your head. This is an accelerometer that records your body movement. And these are piezoelectric films you stick on your eyelids. They detect it whenever your eyes move.'
'That's a key factor, isn't it? asked Kathy. She was trying the device on for fit.
'Yes. REM sleep is named after the Rapid Eye Movement that takes place. It's the stage of sleep when dreams seem to be the most complicated and intense.
'Anyway, the unit is complete and self-contained, and will record for five days. Keep up with your dream journaling, and make sure you record the time. And I'll see you next Wednesday.'
'Ok,' said Kathy.
Kathy was reviewing the day's batch of newspapers when she got a call from Dr. Vaughn's secretary. Vaughn wanted to see Kathy that afternoon. She said she was available immediately.
When Kathy entered Vaughn's office, he was sitting in his wheelchair over by the bookcase, and another man was sitting across from him.
'Kathy, I'm glad you were available,' said Vaughn. 'I wanted to introduce you. Roger, this is Kathy Swanson. Kathy, this is Dr. Roger Hollister.'
Kathy shook Hollister's hand. She recognized him from his picture on the backs of his books, a pale, grave man with a large-domed bald head and long, greasy hair in back. His black mustache and goatee were flecked with grey. What the book covers didn't show was how tall and lanky the man was.
'I've read your books, Doctor,' said Kathy, smiling fixedly.
'Have you? How nice,' said Hollister.
Vaughn explained. 'We picked up Kathy from Dunleigh and Hatton in New York. She's the new head of our Reputation Office.'
'I've had some dealings with Dunleigh and Hatton,' said Hollister. 'They organized my last book tour. Excellent!'
Vaughn addressed Hollister. 'Kathy's put out feelers. Just as we expected, there's strong staff resistance to affiliating VISR with you.'
Hollister nodded. 'The typical scientist prefers to view the human subject as a corpse on a dissecting table. The idea that these are living people with intense spiritual needs just annoys the heck out of your old-school types, because their simplistic, one-dimensional methods don't work with a living, thinking individual-- and never will.'
Vaughn turned to Kathy. 'Obviously we've got our work cut out for us, reconciling some harshly-contrasting views of science and research. But I'm sure you know, Kathy, what this will mean for the institute, in terms of high-profile publicity and enthusiastic donations.'
'Does that mean...' asked Kathy.
'Yes,' said Vaughn. 'We've come to an agreement; it's just a matter of writing up the contract.'
'Wow!' said Kathy, apprehensively.
Vaughn went on. 'Starting Monday, this will be your number one priority. We need a plan for announcing Dr. Hollister's hiring. We've got to anticipate the reaction, and neutralize it.'
Vaughn turned to Hollister. 'A critical part of this is determining which current relationships can be salvaged, and which cannot. For the latter, I think you'll agree that we should take the initiative and terminate those relationships.'
'Absolutely!' said Hollister.
Kathy nodded, trying to hide her revulsion. She understood Dr. Vaughn's bureaucratic double-talk--
He expected her to make up a list of staff members to fire when Hollister was hired.
Just over a month on staff, and she was being asked to decide who would stay and who would go!