Marisa sat on the couch in their condo, as pale as a corpse. Her eyes tracked Kat’s movements, as Kat went into the kitchen and got her a glass of water, but she had a look on her face that Kat could not recall having ever seen before. Kat honestly had no idea if her lover was still in a trance or not.
Kat sat on the couch next to her, putting the glass of water in her hand. “Drink this,” she said quietly. “You could be dehydrated.”
“From all the crying,” Marisa said. Her voice was as strange as her expression.
Kat swallowed against a growing lump in her throat. “Yeah.”
Marisa raised the glass and gulped at the water noisily, draining half the glass in one go. Afterward, she looked at Kat again with that oddly flat expression. “So that’s what happens when you don’t wake me up properly, huh?”
Kat took her lover’s hand. Marisa did not move to grip back. “It’s called an abreaction,” Kat said. “It’s not only because you didn’t wake up right. It could also be the stress of the situation.”
“Situation,” Marisa said. The flat tone did not make it sound like a question. She was not in trance, her questions had led Kat to feel sure about that, but her affect was unsettling all the same.
“Are you okay, Ris?” Kat said, squeezing the hand. Marisa did not squeeze back. “Are you awake, alert? Is everything yellow, at least?”
“I don’t know what I am right now,” Marisa said. Her eyes wandered over the apartment, looking at everything except Kat. “We don’t have a color for this. I’m gray.”
Her color was starting to come back, so at least she did not look as gray as she claimed to feel. “What do you remember, Ris?”
“Remember?” Marisa said the word as though she had never heard it before. “About what?”
“About today. Just tell me everything you remember from today.”
“We met with the audio producer. I went to Washington Square Park. I remember the big stone arch, and then … You were there.”
Marisa looked directly at her. In her eyes, was that anger? Kat feared that it was.
“What were you doing there?” Marisa said. “You told me you couldn’t come to the park. You lied to me? And followed me?”
Kat had hoped Marisa wouldn’t remember the two of them meeting in front of the building. In that case, she might be able to avoid having the difficult conversation. Instead she felt forced to say, “Yeah. I did follow you to the park.”
“And you tranced me there?”
“No. It was the guy. He called you and played the music for you.”
Marisa gave her a look that Kat remembered from their first date. A look that seemed to spear her right through the torso and expose everything inside. “How do you know that?” she said quietly. “My earbuds were in. I remember that much, because you yanked them out and it hurt. He would’ve been in my earbuds, so how do you know?”
There was a part of Kat which, even then, considered lying. Just for a second, she thought she could get away with it. But then she remembered that last text on Marisa’s phone, and thought, Just what in the hell has lying gained for you? The psycho knows everything and your girlfriend just about had a seizure. She tapped and swiped on her phone, silently, before presenting it face-up to Marisa.
Marisa read the list of text messages. She said, without looking up, “I don’t remember sending these.”
“You shouldn’t,” Kat said.
Now Marisa did look up. “Because you hypnotized me and told me not to remember.”
Kat nodded. Her eyes were wet.
Marisa looked away and sighed. The heaviness of the sigh made Kat realize she had been wrong to expect a knock-down, drag-out fight; her lover was too exhausted for that. “I can’t,” Marisa said. She stood up from the couch with another heavy sigh. “I just can’t do this right now.”
“I’m going in there,” Marisa said, pointing toward their bedroom, “and I’m not coming out until I have the strength to yell at you. You don’t come in until I come out. Sleep on the couch, shower at the gym, I don’t care what you do. But you don’t come in.”
As she began to trudge toward the bedroom, Kat tried. “Marisa.”
Marisa finally turned back around. She did not shout, but her exhaustion added an edge to the word, “What?”
“I need your phones. Work and personal. He might try to control you again.”
In her flat, morose tone, Marisa said six words that cut Kat to shreds. “Is he any worse than you?”
She finished her trek to the bedroom, and slammed the door so hard that the windows on the other side of the condo rattled. Kat buried her face in her hands. She cried silently, so she would give nothing away to the other rooms of her home, a lesson she had learned from her mother at the age of seven.
The man sat on the floor of his apartment, next to the sliding-glass door that led to the balcony. The door was still open, and a cool early-spring breeze caressed his face, but he was sweating through his shirt. His hands gripped the burner smartphone so tightly that the knuckles had turned white.
It was clear, by this point, that Marisa Ivan would not be arriving at his door. Yet he dialed her number anyway, hanging up when connected with her voicemail.
He had watched her walk out of the park! How could his plan have gone to shit in such a short amount of time?
The girlfriend must have called her. I should have given her some kind of suggestion about that!
But even if he had, the girlfriend might have found a way to counteract it. Because she was a hypnotist as well.
The man dialed again. He disconnected when the voicemail picked up.
“How terrible is my luck?” he whispered to himself. His very first test case was not only a lesbian, but in love with a hypnotist who practiced her skills on her lover “all the time”? What were the fucking odds?
I have to withdraw. Destroy all records of her and begin again somewhere else.
But the real agony in his heart came from knowing that withdrawal might not even matter. A hypnotist would know what to look for. She would dig around in the Ivan woman’s mind, trying to get her to remember what The System had done to her. She would call the psychology department at every school in the city, including GU. Sometime soon — next week, next month at the outside — someone would come knocking on his door.
Doesn’t matter. I haven’t done anything illegal.
Again, he feared that might not even matter. He was a forty-five-year-old man who lived alone. His specialty was hypnosis, of which most people on a jury would understand nothing and (thanks to Hollywood) would fear. A loner such as him, versus smart enough cops and a smart enough prosecutor? His life would be over.
I have to leave town.
In a month, or less? Impossible. He would need the money from selling the apartment to travel, and it would take months to find a buyer. And if he just walked out of his life with no money? They would find something in the apartment to trace him. The FBI might even get involved, if the NYPD had someone smart enough to understand what The System was capable of. The law was a machine, and being able to flee the machine was a television fantasy, something a man such as himself could never do.
That machine will chew me up and spit me out.
He dialed Marisa Ivan’s number again, but did not press Call. He stared at the rectangular glass screen.
Why am I calling her? What would I do if she answered?
He would play the music for her. Because The System was all he had. He’d said it himself, right before he called her the first time: what else did he have to go back to? The System was the greatest thing he would ever do.
The only escape is to dive right in. The only way to protect myself from her is to make her mine.
The man deleted his potential sixth call of Marisa Ivan’s number, and stood up. There were many preparations to make.
The sun had dropped below the horizon, its red afterglow bisected by the struts of the George Washington Bridge.
Kat stared at the television. A college softball game was on one of the lesser-known sports channels, but she could not have told someone the score if they had asked her. She did not watch the sport any more, despite having played it, and played it well, in her youth. By the end of her college career, she had hypnotized three of her teammates, and discovered a new passion.
A police siren blared from the street below. Kat blinked, and came out of her depressive fugue. The police can’t help us, she thought. That guy is still out there. And now he knows about me.
She looked around, exploring with her eyes, as though entering the room for the first time. Chairs. The TV. The couch. The kitchen island.
The kitchen island where she had dropped everything of hers and Marisa’s when she had practically dragged Marisa in here earlier that afternoon.
Kat rose from the couch and walked over to the island, trying to make as little noise as possible, wary of what powerful emotions could be roiling behind the bedroom door. She picked up her bag and dipped her hand into the so-called security pocket. The thumb drive with the demo, and now the new files from Dustin, was still there.
Kat let out a breath that she did not even realize she had been holding. Some part of her, the part that had loved the old spy shows as a kid, had wondered if the man who made the demo could have been tricky enough to have Marisa pickpocket the drive away through her tears.
Kat hid the demo drive in the secret place that she fervently hoped Marisa did not know about. Once that was done, she returned to the kitchen island, for the other bag lying there.
As she lifted it, she saw both of Marisa’s phones within: the aging iPhone that was her personal phone, and the gleaming new Android that work paid for. She took each phone out carefully, with two fingers, not wanting to disturb anything else.
Kat touched the on/off stud of the iPhone, and saw nothing on the lock screen. She touched the screen of the Android, and the screen displayed the notification: 5 MISSED CALLS / UNKNOWN NUMBER.
Hello there. She had no way to trace him. She didn’t know the unlock code for either of Marisa’s phones, and there was no way Marisa was helping any time soon.
If she wants to break up with me when she comes out of that room, I’ll deal with it, Kat thought. The anger was right at her fingertips, and it felt good. But he doesn’t get to have her. Not as long as I’m breathing. I’m going to stop this music bullshit, ruin his life, and crash his funeral so that I can be sure he stays down.
Kat took both phones and put them in her bag. Then she crossed the living room to the corner where she had a small IKEA laptop desk. This was where she had done her writing in her previous career, and now where she took her online hypnosis courses. With a Google window open in front of her, Kat rolled her eyes skyward, thinking.
If he’s a professor or an ex-professor, he taught at GU. GU makes deals with landlords in the neighborhood. It’s the only way he can afford a building that nice.
The “Faculty” section of the GU Psychology department’s website listed 73 names, by Kat’s count. There were no pictures, and obviously no home addresses (Kat thought, Did you really think it was going to be that easy?, and allowed herself a small grin). From Kat’s rough guesses with with the directory, there were 32 men, 34 women, and seven names like “Pat” which could go either way.
Looking at the list of names, Kat began to understand the enormity of her problem. As many as thirty-nine grown-ass men whose lives she was going to have to invade to such depth that she could discover their secret psychopathy. Without them finding out that she was on their trail. And she was on a clock, because Marisa was going to want to return to work on Monday and would demand her phones back.
She Googled every single one of the thirty-nine names along with the address of the apartment building. No clear hits for any of them. Same for the building’s actual name, The Olympian.
She Googled every one of the thirty-nine names followed by the word “scandal.” No hits.
Every name followed by “hypnosis.” Nothing.
“Fuuuuuuuck,” Kat groaned, slumping backward in her chair and pointing her head at the ceiling. The night was growing late, and she had neglected to turn on the living room lamp. The walls and ceiling were painted in the annoying bright light of the screen.
Again I ask, a sardonic voice in her head piped up, Did you really think it was going to be this easy?
“Would’ve been nice, yeah,” Kat muttered.
Well, it isn’t. None of these guys is obviously dirty, so you need to try something else.
“I need another angle,” Kat complained to the voice. “What other angle do I have?”
The music. Surely not every guy in the NYU Psychology department has the skills to come up with that.
“How do I find the guy who does?”
As the experts. If you’re so sure that Mister Print Voice is the hypnotist, then you’ve got at least thirty-four experts who can help you.
“Right,” Kat said loud. She straightened up in her chair, flipped to a text editor, and began devising a cover story.
Marisa walked into the Office. Some part of her knew it was the same Office as in her past trances, because it was always the same Office. But Marisa was not a lucid dreamer and never had been, so she accepted the Office at face value.
Kat sat behind the desk. She did not rise to greet Marisa. She was wearing a navy blue pantsuit, her auburn hair in a professional-looking bob. Some part of Marisa knew that the suit and the haircut were not things that Kat would even consider, but this knowledge was not important.
“Hello, Marisa,” Kat said. “Are you ready to begin?”
“Begin what?” Marisa said.
“You look tense, Marisa,” Kat said. “Let me play some music to help you to relax.”
“Wait,” Marisa said, and then the music filled the room, bass and theremin of something that sounded a lot like a Hammond organ.
Marisa was suddenly exhausted, like having a stressful twelve-hour day at work. “Don’t,” she murmured, as her legs turned to jelly. She went down on one knee, then slumped to her side on the floor.
Her eyes never felt heavy at any point, so she looked at the legs of the desk from her vantage point on the floor, her body completely inert.
“‘Don’t’?” Kat said. Marisa watched high heeled shoes that Kat had never worn in her life come around the edge of the desk. “Don’t play the music?”
Moving her lips was an unusual effort, lifting outside her limit at the gym. “Yes,” Marisa whispered.
The feet disappeared from view, moving around behind her head. Marisa did not even consider turning her head to follow Kat’s movement. She was so comfortable on the floor like this. The carpet was deep and soft, reminiscent of her own bed.
“Yes,” Kat echoed. “Yes, I’ll play the music. It’s so soothing, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Marisa felt herself getting wet, as she always did during a scene with Kat when she began to submit.
“It feels so wonderful to feel so soothed, doesn’t it?”
“Your right hand is free, Marisa.”
It was a standard trigger they used. Marisa’s right hand came alive and dived between her legs. She strummed herself intensely, moaning softly in rhythm with each stroke.
Fingers reached down to caress her face. The nails were ragged, as though bitten. Kat did not bite her nails; indeed, her nails were the only part of her body that she curated with any glamour. Not Kat’s nails. Not Kat’s fingers.
“You are in my power,” a man’s voice growled into her ear, and Marisa awoke from her dream with a start so violent that she could not distinguish it from her orgasm.
Kat heard a sound through the door. It was not loud enough to clearly determine, but she assumed it was a nightmare, as those often followed an abreaction. My nightmare, she thought glumly. My fault.
She slumped in the chair for a few moments, staring at nothing, thinking about how badly she had screwed this up. Then she shook her head and squared her shoulders. Gonna make this right, she thought. Gonna stop this guy, the right way this time.
She had constructed her story and composed her email. But who to send it to? For the answer, she returned to the GU Psychology department’s page. She was well into the wee hours of the morning, and the list of specializations befuddled her sleep-deprived mind.
Developmental psychology, quantitative psychology, cognition and perception ... which one would teach hypnosis? And which one comes closest to using hypnosis the way HE is using it?
In the end she settled on Social Psychology, as it would make the most sense with her cover story. She made a list of all the women listed as faculty in Social Psychology, and used an online random number generator to pick one completely blind. She scheduled her email to be sent at 8:00 the following morning, as sending an email with this subject matter at zero-dark-thirty might make her look like a crazy person.
Kat stood up and immediately staggered. She had been awake for almost eighteen hours and under extreme stress for most of it. She did not remember lying down on the couch.
Marisa was in Washington Square Park.
She was sitting on the same park bench as before. It was the early afternoon, the sun almost directly above. The sunlight struck her hair, which could appear mouse-brown in the wrong light, to make it look as dark as ebony. Her Russian cheekbones stood out strong in the half-shadows cast by nearby trees, and Kat though she had never looked so beautiful.
A man walked down the path on Kat’s right. His back was to her, the collar of his jacket turned up to obscure his features. Even so, Kat knew that it was Mr. Print Voice, the man who had made the demo and used his own untrained vocal cords to create its subliminal suggestions. She knew it the way we always know such things in dreams, the elemental certainty with which we understand that we will not die during a dream of falling.
Kat wanted to stand up. She wasn’t exactly sure what she would do — grab Marisa’s arm and urge her to run? Tackle the man and scream for the police? — but she knew she had to stand up to do it.
Her muscles did not obey. Her legs remained bent, her hands stayed folded in her lap. Kat had given Marisa post-hypnotic suggestions on many occasions to create similar inertia in her body; in fact, she had done so during their very first scene together. But she had never experienced the sensation herself, neither hypnotically nor otherwise. So this is what it feels like, she thought, strangely calm.
The man sat to Marisa’s right, angling his body to keep his back to Kat and his face turned away. Marisa turned her head to look at him, her mouth opening to say something, but then her eyelids drooped. She sat facing him with eyes closed, her mouth agape.
I should scream, Kat thought. She made no sound. Instead, she felt a familiar sensation: a shiver that ran all the way down her spine and into her secret places.
The man tapped Marisa on the forehead with an index finger. Her head instantly lolled, chin sinking down to the center of her chest. Kat watched, her body and voice completely disconnected from her emotions. She felt wetness in her panties and shouted to herself, No! Don’t do that! I don’t want to masturbate to this!
The man reached down and took Marisa by the elbow. There was nothing romantic about that hold: it was a come-along, practiced by mothers on disobedient children, deployed by police officers on handcuffed suspects. He stood, and she stood with him, chin still resting on her chest.
The began to walk away, their backs to Kat. Kat knew with the elemental certainty of dreams that Marisa would never return, would be his forever, would be in trance as she lay on her deathbed with him at her side. Her paralysis broke, she shouted “NO!” and as she moved to catch them she fell off the couch and landed on the living room floor.
In the bedroom, Marisa slept soundly. She did not hear her lover’s body hit the carpet. She would not move from that spot for another five hours.
Kat groaned, rolling over onto her belly. She looked at the bedroom door, hoping that her discomfort could somehow will Marisa out of the room. No such luck.
Kat half-crawled, half-walked over to her computer. It was just past nine; the email had gone out an hour ago. She had assumed that it would work much like sending a text, where if the subject did not reply right away, they would not reply at all. Thus, she was overjoyed to see the response:
I am willing to speak with you, in person. As it happens I am in my office today (Saturday) at 2:00 pm; if you prefer a weekday, we can wait until the same time next Tuesday. My comments will likely be in the background, however, as the head of the department prefers for individual faculty not to comment on such matters.Dr. Karen Kendall
Kat smiled. The professor wasn’t familiar with the term “on background,” but she understood how it worked, which was good because Kat had planned to guide her towards choosing that option anyway. Even better, the professor was willing to talk today.
She snapped off a quick response (“Call me Kat”), confirming the meeting at two that same day. It was only at that moment that she realized how miserable her physical condition was. She had the worst sort of bed-head imaginable (“Couch-head is a hundred times worse than bed-head,” Marisa liked to joke), she reeked of stress-sweat, and she was wet...
Kat looked over at the closed bedroom door. The bathroom was only accessible from the bedroom, as were all of Kat’s clothes.
Marisa was likely still asleep. When she fell ill, she became even less of a morning person than Kat was when healthy, crashing until well past noon. Kat thought maybe she could slip in and out...
Stop kidding yourself. The shower is loud.
Kat began to gather her things for the interview. She made sure to include her gym membership card.
The office had two rooms. The outer room was more like a waiting room; the professor must have students lining up for her office hours. Kat stood in the doorway, saying, “Doctor? It’s Kat Alexander, we spoke over email?”
No answer. A student might stay in the hallway, or in the waiting room, but Kat’s inner journalist could not stand for such things. Even though she didn’t do that sort of writing any more, there was always going to be a part of her which thought, unlocked door, huh? Let’s see what we can see.
Kat walked into the rear room of the office and started when she saw a shape at the desk. The deck was angled toward the corner such that the head and shoulders were hidden in shadows. “Doctor, you sc—“
“Hello, Kat,” Mister Print Voice said. The room filled with music. Bass, theremin, and a not-Hammond-organ.
Kat turned to run, but her legs moved at a more leisurely pace. She made it to the outer door, but she could not lift her hand to open it. She let her head sink forward until her forehead lay on the cool metal door and closed her eyes.
“NO!” Marisa started again, violently, for the second time in the same night. Then she realized it wasn’t night any more. Full-strength sunlight streamed through the small spaces between the closed blinds. Marisa turned to look at the bedside clock, and gasped. She had been in this bed nearly twenty hours.
Her mind felt more clear and alert than it had any time since the meeting with the audio producer. Only at that moment did she even realize how fogged her mind had been when she had arrived at Washington Square Park.
Marisa leapt out of bed and ran into the bathroom. After she had relieved herself, she started toward the living room, but stopped with her hand on the bedroom door handle.
What if she’s still here? What do I say?
She didn’t care. Her body could not stay in the bedroom another minute. She would improvise. As it turned out, she did not need to worry. Kat was gone, with only a note in her place.
I have a meeting. Might know who the guy is afterward. I took your phones with me, because I couldn’t risk him getting you again. Check your Gmail, if I learned anything useful it will be there.
I’m so sorry, baby. I have no excuse.
The nightmare still echoed through Marisa’s mind, mixing with that phrase I have no excuse. In that moment she had an epiphany, the deepest understanding of Kat she had ever had.
She really doesn’t have an excuse, because she doesn’t do excuses. It was just the most aggressive approach she could think of. She’s the sort who will barge right into the unlocked office. I give her patience and responsibility, and without them, she’s going to put herself in danger. She messed with my head without my consent, and I am going to make her sleep on the couch for a month because of it, but she did it because she needs me.
Marisa hurried to Kat’s laptop, to begin retracing her lover’s steps.
Doctor Karen Kendall came around her desk to shake Kat’s hand, smiling bemusedly. “Are you a student here?”
“Ah, no,” Kat said, feeling a blush creep up her cheeks. Since she couldn’t enter her room, she had decided to buy new clothes for the interview. But as she was buying on an unemployment budget, all she could afford was the sporting-goods store. She had not realized how much her choices of gray cargo sweatpants and white T-shirt covering a black sports bra made her look like a student. Until now. “It’s Laundry Day.”
“I deal with students all day,” Kendall said, waving her hand dismissively. “I’ve seen much worse.”
Kat took out her phone and laid it on the professsor’s desk. Time for The Speech; she fell into it naturally, despite not having done an interview like this in years. “My plan is to have this interview be what we call ‘on background.’ You’re giving me the background information that other people will confirm later. I will record you using an app on my phone, but you will not be quoted by name or identified in any way in my writing. I may ask you later to give a quote on the record, and you are free to refuse, but if you do I can still use the material from this interview as long as I do not quote you. Does that sound okay?”
Kendall took out her phone and laid it down on the desk next to Kat’s. “That sounds fine, but I would like to record our conversation as well. Psychologists are quite vulnerable to charges of malpractice if they do not record their professional interactions.”
“That’s fine with me,” Kat said. “Let’s get down to business, Doctor. Or is it Professor?”
“Doctor is fine.”
Kat repeated the same story they had given the audio producer, about stumbling onto the demo file while reporting on subliminal messages in advertising. But here she added the detail that she thought she should keep hidden from Dustin: “The file appeared to induce a hypnotic trance in the first person I played it for.”
The professor cocked an eyebrow, her lips curving into a slight grin. “‘Appeared?’ Lots of things ‘appear’ like hypnosis, especially since most people have only a Hollywood conception of how hypnosis works.”
Kat could see that she was ready to go into a long spiel, designed for amateurs, about what hypnosis actually was compared to the Hollywood conception. She tried to skip all of that by cutting in with a follow-up question. “Let’s say that I had a trained professional examine the affects of the file, and that she determined it was in fact hypnosis. Would it be possible for the music to do that?”
“Well, I would still want to know who the trained professional was,” Kendall said. “The hypnosis business has its hacks, just like any industry.”
What the hell, Kat thought. Need to get past her skepticism, might as well tell her. “It was me,” she said. “I’m a certified hypnotist.” That statement wasn’t yet true, but it was would be true very soon, so she did not see the lie as unethical. “I played the file for someone, and her reaction definitely looked like a trance. Then I played it for myself, and it definitely felt like a trance.”
Kendall leaned forward in her chair, and Kat could see that her interest was piqued. “But there was no one speaking, you say? You just played the file, and the subjects went into trance?”
“Yes. I had no idea that was even possible.”
Kendall shrugged. “When it comes to hypnosis, very little is impossible. As you know, trance is a totally natural state of mind that even non-suggestible people can enter a half-dozen times a day.”
“This music file induces deep trance, by itself, in a waking person.” Kat said. “It’s not like getting focused on a really good book. Any trance I’ve ever seen like this thing creates, required another person.”
Kendall nodded. “My colleague who teaches hypnosis likes to say that it’s a team effort.”
“So how does this music file do it without another person present?”
“Are you scamming me?” Kendall said frankly. She cocked her head. “I’ve never heard of a prank this intricate. But I want you to say it while the recorders are on.”
“This is not a prank or a scam,” Kat said quietly. “It’s serious. The music file works, and I need to know the science of how it works.”
Kendall sighed, leaning back in her chair. “As I said, when it comes to hypnosis very little is impossible. But I’ve never heard of such a thing, inducing trance remotely in someone who didn’t know it was coming.”
“Hypothetically speaking, then,” Kat said, picking her words carefully. “How would you do it?”
“You’re familiar with alpha waves?”
“For the sake of the story,” Kat said, taking out her notepad, “assume that I am not.”
“Before a person goes to sleep, the brain starts to produce alpha waves,” Kendall said. “Loosely defined, the alpha state is when your body is relaxed and your eyes are closed, but you’re not yet asleep.”
“So it’s adjacent to trance as well,” Kat said, nodding her head to indicate she was following the doctor’s professional jargon.
“Yes, exactly,” Kendall said. “So ... hypothetically speaking, of course ... maybe someone found a way to do it in reverse. They found some combination of audio frequencies that cause a person’s brain to produce alpha waves even when their eyes are not closed and they are not feeling particularly relaxed.”
That’s the key, Kat thought. That’s special thing Mr. Print Voice did. The three melodies that sound like a Hammond organ are supposed to induce an alpha state in a waking person.
“The person relaxes and closes their eyes,” the doctor continued, “because that is the physical reaction which their brain associates with that state of feeling.”
“And then you get a trance.”
“Well, that’s the tricky part,” Kendall said. “For one thing, the technology doesn’t exist. But even if it did, it would only work at short range, and could easily be broken by outside sounds.”
Not so difficult in a world of noise-canceling headphones, Kat thought but did not say.
“Then, even if you had quiet, you would still need someone to actually give suggestions, guiding the person from an alpha state toward a trance state.”
“But I told you what my story was about.” Kat leaned forward herself, to press the point. “Subliminals. The file contains a subliminal portion, a man’s voice making suggestions. The person I played it for has acted on those suggestions.”
“You can prove this?”
Kat had downloaded the subliminal track to her phone, and now she played it. Mr. Print Voice filled the room. “You will send me an email containing your phone number. You will send me an email containing your phone number. You will send me an email...”
When she turned it off, the room was silent for a moment. The doctor tried to keep a poker face, but Kat thought she had seen some recognition there. She leaned forward as she asked the doctor, “Do you know the person who made that recording?”
Kendall sat back in her chair, sighing. “What is your story really about?”
“Doctor, do you know that voice?”
“I assume that’s why you contacted me directly instead of going through the department’s press office,” Kendall said. Her voice had gone chilly. “It’s a fine tactic to keep the lawyers away.”
“Doctor, who is the man on that recording?”
“This interview is over.” Kendall reached forward to shut off the recording on her phone. “Get out.”
“Get. Out.” Kendall pointed at the door. “Before I call security.”
Kat collected her things, stood, and left. The doctor followed her all the way to the elevator, to make sure she got on. At the bottom floor, Kat stalked into the women’s restroom and kicked a stall door open, shouting, “God damn it!”
In the brittle silence that followed, a voice from one of the other stalls said, “He’s not worth it, honey.”
You have no idea how wrong you are, Kat thought. Then she took out her phone and began to type.
Tracing Kat’s browser history was frustrating, like trying to follow the plot of a novel while reading only every other chapter.
Marisa assumed Kat’s meeting was on the Gotham University campus; almost all of her most recent browser activity was on pages in the GU Psychology department. But there was no way to figure out which person she was actually talking to. None of her other page searches guided Marisa in any obvious direction. Kat had done a lot of Google searching, but if it had led her to any one person, that person’s identity was a mystery.
Marisa rolled her head, rubbing the stiffness out of her neck. “I would just call you, if you hadn’t taken my fucking phones with you,” she said to the empty room.
She’s trying to help you. In her own misguided way, she’s trying to help. You can’t imagine what’s it’s like to be in her shoes, seeing you in his power...
Marisa cocked her head. “No,” she murmured. “I can’t put myself in her shoes. So maybe I should stop trying to do the same thing she did.”
She switched to Google. Kat, being a hypnotist, would try to trace the hypnosis angle. That’s why she went to the GU Psych department, of course.
But Kat doesn’t know what it feels like to be controlled by him, and I do. Maybe I can find him that way.
When she entered a search for “gotham university hypnotist amnesia,” the first page was covered in results for hypnotists whose offices were vaguely near Gotham University. One of them was fifty blocks north. Could one of these hypnotists be Mr. Print Voice?
Doubtful. Not impossible, but doubtful. Kat said the person who made the demo would need to have a doctorate in psychology. You didn’t have to have a doctorate to help people stop smoking or investigate their past lives; Kat herself was proof of that. Marisa was ready to dismiss these results and start another search when the result at the bottom of the first page caught her eye:
Hypnotic Amnesia and Other Suggestible Phenomena: A Study
By Paul A. Baker
Marisa had not imagined that there were peer-reviewed papers on hypnosis. She and Kat had done a fantasy once, where Kat had made her imagine that she was a faerie. It was strange to imagine a scientific study of something like that. She clicked the link.
The paper’s abstract was so laden with jargon that Marisa found it impossible to determine whether the paper’s author believed that hypnotic amnesia was possible, or not. “This is promising,” Marisa muttered as she tried to read it the second time. Soon she was opening a separate tab to Google the author.
It quickly became clear that this Paul A. Baker was not Mr. Print Voice. He had written the paper six years ago and had been on the faculty in Berkeley at the time. A search of the Berkeley Psych department website suggested that he was still there. So, not this guy, but now she was sure: a guy like this guy. Someone who could oversee a study on hypnotic amnesia, and write a paper on the results.
Hours rolled off the clock as she looked at paper after paper on hypnotic amnesia and adjacent topics. There was no clear connection between any of the authors and the building by Washington Square Park. She tried to refine her searches, adding words, quoting phrases, stretching her Google-fu well beyond its breaking point, until she had completely lost the “academic papers” thread.
“Fuuuuuuck,” she groaned, flexing her shoulders. She looked out at the sun, hovering behind a cloud just above the George Washington Bridge. It was getting late and Kat hadn’t come home. She imagined that Kat didn’t want to come home and have the conversation that would follow.
Marisa thought back to their last conversation. What was the last thing Kat had said? He might try to control you again.
And she had fired back so cruelly. Her eyes stung at the thought. Kat did a bad thing. But she wasn’t trying to control me. Not like him.
“Control,” Marisa said aloud. She sat up straight. “Control, control, control.”
She Googled “man controlling woman hypnosis” and received an avalanche of written stories, Pornhub videos, and self-published Amazon books in which that was a central plot point. She knew Kat sometimes browsed this world, looking for ideas for their scenes, but it was not Marisa’s world. It would take her months just to figure out how to find Kat in this part of the internet, let alone their mystery man.
She changed her search to “gotham university man controlling woman hypnosis” and received an ungodly amount of DC Comics fan fiction, most of it involving the character The Mad Hatter. Christ, New York! Why are you so proud to be compared to Gotham City? Do you know how bad a city has to be to need a Batman?
Unsure how to refine her search further, she clicked to the second page, then the third. It was not until the fifth page of results that an interesting result caught her eye:
Professor at Gotham U sleeps with his students
Marisa clicked. It was a website that would not have existed until the #MeToo era, whose goal was to track men who were abusive in some way. She read the story:
I was a student at Gotham University in NYC. Freshman year, I got placed in a campus job in the psych department. From day one there was a prof I just couldn’t take my eyes off of. Just the way he looked at me, the way he spoke softly but with so much intent ... I feel so stupid now, but then, I was smitten.
“Don’t beat yourself up,” Marisa said quietly, as though the author could hear her. “You’re not the first one.”
We went to dinner, and I slept with him on the first date. I never did that with a guy before. I can’t even explain it. He just looked at me in this weird way, like he was staring through my head, and everything he said made perfect sense. It was like I was an open book to him. He knew everything and I agreed to everything.
Marisa’s breath caught in her throat, and not just because the story was so sincere that it was like hearing a stranger’s therapy session. Like he was staring through my head. When Kat couldn’t think of a new induction, that’s what she would do, say “look into my eyes” and stare at a spot apparently a foot behind Marisa’s head. She continued reading:
He was doing studies on hypnosis, and I would act as a subject for him. He told me he never hypnotized me away from the tests, that it would be a bias in the studies, but I think he was lying. I would wake up in my dorm room and my vagina would be sore, but I never remembered anything but studying from the night before.
The paper was almost done, and he told me I would be a co-author. But then I missed my period. He became a different person, like night and day. He said I would get an abortion, and even though I had been raised that it was wrong, I did it. I just couldn’t resist him.
My depression since then has been like a storm cloud over my head. I dropped out of school, moved back in with my parents. I have nightmares every night. I tried to go to a hypnotist, to get him out of my head, but I went into hysterics as soon as I went under. Writing this down is all I have left.
His name is Quentin Hallam. Don’t ever talk to him without another person there. Don’t ever agree with him. When he gets into your head, your life will be ruined.Ashley
Wiping away silent tears, Marisa went back to Google. At that point it became very easy. Quentin Hallam was not on the GU faculty now, but he had been as recently as three years ago, when he authored a paper called “Alpha Waves in Relation to the State of Hypnotic Amnesia.”
Marisa flipped to Gmail, intending to send Kat a message. But Kat had already sent her one. Marisa checked the time stamp: around 3 PM, nearly four hours ago by now. The message had no text, just a link to bestbuy.com. Marisa clicked, blinked, and said in a bemused voice, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
At the same time Marisa was just beginning her multitude of Google searches that day, Kat took a seat in a coffee shop near the campus library. She got a hot tea to combat the chill of April in New York, plugged her phone into a charger, and opened the Google app.
He must be former faculty. Something bad happened with him and now they all want to forget about it.
She hated cover-ups, as most journalists did, but in this case she could almost sympathize. Having a psychopathic hypnotist in your psychology department could turn your campus into a ghost town. It would be in the campus newspaper every day for a full school year.
The campus newspaper!
Now she knew what to Google. A minute later she was calling the office of the Daily Gothamite.
A professional-sounding female voice answered. “Gothamite.”
“Hello, can I speak to someone in charge?”
“That’s me. Executive Editor. Can I help you?”
Kat gave her the same story that she had given Dr. Kendall, that she was a reporter for websites that she actually had not written for in two years. “In the course of reporting on an unrelated story, I’ve heard some disturbing rumors about a former member of the Psychology faculty. The department is stonewalling me. Is there anything you can help me with? Reporter to reporter?”
“Uh...” A long pause followed. Kat could hear the hustle and bustle of a campus newspaper office in the background. “Can I put you on hold for a moment?”
Kat said, “Sure,” but the line had already gone quiet. There was no hold music, and Kat wondered how long she would sit here if the girl hung up on her by accident. Then she heard a click, followed by empty silence with no background noise. The Executive Editor had wanted a private room.
“Just call me Monica, okay?” There was tension in her voice.
“Okay,” Kat said, keeping her tone even. “A story has led me to ask some questions about the psychology—“
“You can’t report this story.”
Kat took a measured pause. “Why do you say that, Monica?”
“I’m a scholarship student and I graduate in June. If you report this story, I am going to get sued. Me, my parents, probably my grandparents, we’re all going to go bankrupt, and I’ll have a pile of student loans on top of it. Do you get me?” The woman called Monica was not shouting, but the tension in her voice had only increased.
“I get you,” Kat said patiently. “I don’t have to quote you and no one ever needs to know we spoke.”
“No,” Monica said. “You don’t get it. If you report this, they will connect the dots. I’m the only person who can give you the story. They’ll know it was me.”
“Right,” Kat said. “I hear you, Monica. But you were onto this guy, and I’m telling you that I think you were right. I think he’s still trying to pull some gross, non-consensual shit. I need confirmation. Please. Give me something. Give me anything.”
A long pause on the other end of the line. Then Monica said quietly, “An undergrad dropped out of school. A rabble-rouser on the Internet gave me a story that her professor had got her pregnant and forced her to get an abortion. I found the student. She told me a similar story, but it was crazier than I expected.”
“He was hypnotizing her,” Kat said quietly.
Another long pause. “Allegedly,” Monica said, her voice stiff and awkward. “I could not make anyone believe it. Nobody outside the department understood how hypnosis worked. The Psychology department forced him to retire and threatened to sue me. My editor was a jackass Business major who just wanted to get out of here and onto Wall Street; he threatened to spike the story. I was a freshman, I barely knew how reporting worked. I backed down. I’ve spent the next three years trying to tell myself it didn’t matter.”
A long, shaky breath over the phone. Something that was not quite a sob, but wanted to be.
“I understand,” Kat said. “I won’t back down. Give me his name. He will pay, for her and for you.”
There was no question the next sound she heard was a sob. “Hallam,” she said, and spelled it. “Professor Quentin Hallam.” Then, as she began to erupt into more sobs, she hung up.
Kat left the coffee shop so quickly that her tea was forgotten. The confirmation was almost at her fingertips and she could not wait another minute.
It was less than ten minutes’ walk to the building in the north side of Washington Square Park. Now she could use the electronic directory, and did. Quentin Hallam was on the 15th floor. Kat, who had never hit a home run in her entire softball career, now understood how it felt to do so. She exulted inside.
Yes! I’ve got you, you son of a bitch! I’ve got you!
Her first instinct was to call Marisa. Then Kat remembered that she had both of Marisa’s phones, and would only be calling herself. Instead, Kat could not help herself from dialing a different number, on the directory’s keypad.
A reedy male voice answered. “Hello?”
The audio was of terrible quality. On the one hand, that was a positive thing; he wouldn’t be able to play the music for her. On the other hand, though it sounded a little like Mister Print Voice, she couldn’t be completely sure over the garbage connection. “Quentin Hallam,” she said slowly.
A brief pause, then, “Yes?”
“My name is Katherine Alexander. We have a mutual friend. Marisa Ivan.”
A longer pause. “I think you have a wrong number.”
Kat leaned in close to the speaker. “You don’t want to play it that way, Quentin,” she said. “I have the demo and I know where you live.”
“Maybe you should come upstairs,” Hallam said slowly. “This is some kind of mistaken identity and we need to sort this out.”
“Come upstairs so you can have a private concert for me?” Kat said. “No fucking way.”
Another long pause. “What do you want?”
“You’re going to come downstairs,” Kat said. “We’re going to look each other in the eye and talk this out, in full view of your doorman and God and everybody.”
Yet another long pause. “Give me a minute.”
“You get five,” Kat said. “Then I go to the New York Post.”
The buzzer sounded, and Kat entered. She took a seat in one of the lobby lounge chairs. Three minutes later, Dr. Quentin Hallam emerged from the elevator. He nodded to the doorman, and took a chair opposite Kat, a flimsy-looking coffee table between them.
“I’m going to cut to the chase, Doctor,” Kat said. “I’ve got proof that you’ve been texting my girlfriend. I have the demo and I’m sure that if I went up to 15C right now, I would find the equipment that you used to create it.”
“I’m a scientist,” Hallam said. His eyes seemed to lose focus, staring through Kat’s face at the wall behind her. “Of course I would have scientific equipment in my home.”
“I have the girl you got pregnant,” Kat said. “The GU Psych department will quit covering for you in a heartbeat, once they find out about that demo file. Also, quit that shit and look me in the eye, or I will cut your fucking balls off.”
Hallam winced, and blinked. His eyes focused on hers. “You’re very angry,” he said quietly. “I wish you would calm down and discuss this like peaceful people.”
Kat leaned forward. “I guess that covert-induction stuff works on the undergrads,” she said calmly. Inside, her fury roiled and raged. “Society programs them to obey teachers. But I am trained, prepared, and pissed off. If you think you’re going to trance me, give it up.”
Hallam’s face changed, and for the first time, she thought she was looking at the real man. Mister Print Voice. “Sounds like you should be talking to the police,” he said. “But you’re here. You’re here because I haven’t done anything illegal and the courts have no clue how hypnosis works anyway. So I’ll ask again: What do you want?”
“I want to look you in the eye,” Kat said. “I want you to know it was me, and Marisa. I want you to know it was that girl whose position you abused and whose love you betrayed. I wanted to see the look on your face when you realized that I was going to destroy you in the media and on the internet, and there was nothing you could do about it.”
She took out her phone and took a picture of him. As she did so, he said calmly, “Well, I’m glad that’s settled.” Hallam turned, his voice loud enough to reach to the front desk. “Antoine? Sapphire Armadillo.”
Antoine Robinson, who had been overjoyed last year when one of the tenants had been willing to offer him free therapy to deal with the gambling addiction that was threatening to cost him his security guard job, sagged in his chair. His eyes closed as his head nodded to his chest.
Kat had an impulse to run. However, she froze for just a half-second, time enough to think, What is his game here? He can’t trance me. This caused her to miss the stun gun as Hallam took it out of his pocket. He lunged across the coffee table and jammed it into her neck.
Kat issued a squeaking grunt and went limp. She did not even have time to think Marisa’s name.