Double-blinds, triple-blinds, codes instead of names, codes instead of the details of procedures or drugs. Dr. Charne-Sayre has assured her bosses that the lab assistants will have no idea what projects and experiments produced the blood tests and organic compounds they're analyzing, and that this will not, in fact, even seem strange to them. The old men ask if it can't all be done by computer instead; they have what Bonita Charne-Sayre privately considers a charmingly naive faith in computer security, possibly because they think of it as half magic and half obfuscation. No, she says, and again no, and finally they give in. Medical research, it seems, requires a larger budget and a more select staff than mere conspiracy.
It's Joy Takahashi, Roger Berring, and Sam Bernstein in the summer of 1993, the cream of the Stanford biochem crop, earning stipends and with luck a publication credit or two working in a Nobel winner's lab. The files that bear the rings of their coffee mugs are for subjects FG1207, FG3460, FG1212, and FG4908. Theresa Nemman, William Miles, Karen Swenson, and Margaret O'Dell are just names the team will never recognize, people whose stories they'll never hear.
My son, a man wrote once, this is the truth I never wanted you to know. He paused so long the pen point bled the period into a dash, and then he lay the pen down and tore up the paper and threw it away. He poured himself a Scotch and pretended it was straight up only because he was too tired to go to the kitchen for ice, and when he spoke to the boy three months later, it was only about how he was doing at school, and he'd convinced himself that the dull rage he felt was because the boy wasn't doing well enough in his studies, or was studying a ludicrous subject, or was doing something or other wrong, something or other horribly and unforgivably wrong.
The first member of the Bellefleur High School class of 1989 to die was Robbie Pescari. He got hit by a drunk driver in 1988. People didn't talk about him, or rather they did talk about him, in normal voices, and they looked his mother in the eye when they offered condolences; he wasn't one of the ones people whispered about.
The first of those to die was Elyza Mori. They found her in the woods a month after graduation, wearing nothing but underpants and a They Might Be Giants T-shirt, her feet ripped up and dirtied as if she'd walked the three miles from her house barefoot. She wasn't wearing her glasses, even though she was so near-sighted that even her parents hardly knew what she looked like without them.
There was no sign of violence or sexual assault, and the coroner ruled that she'd died of exposure.
You'll get used to the needles and the tests and waking up with your throat screamed sore, but you'll never get used to the way others appear and disappear here, the way you'll whisper good night to the woman in the next cell and wake to find her gone and a new stranger drug-bleary and terrified in her place. The ones who have been there longest, the ones who say they have been coming and going since childhood, will tell you that They just put people back, that sometimes you'll be able find each other back in the world, but those women will all have crazy eyes anyway. You'll be sure it's only a choice of waking up in your cell, or not at all. After a while, you won't be sure which you'd prefer.
When they found out Mike Holloway had nearly wrecked the whole thing, some of them wanted to kill him. A few, to do them justice, wanted to kill him for other reasons. Cooler heads prevailed, and he simply took the spot his son Jason had been intended to fill.
The police found Jason Holloway in 1983, but by then there was nothing to tie the skeleton to the diplomatic family who'd moved away ten years earlier--some sort of foreign reassignment or promotion, the neighbors had thought, some sort of Cold War emergency, maybe, since they'd packed up and left so quickly they'd forgotten to leave a forwarding address.
The mail always arrived mid-afternoon on weekdays, some time between two and four. The day the first alimony check came, she'd taken two Valiums before noon. The sun swam in a blurred haze that meant either sleep or rain soon; she'd already gotten fuzzy on the difference between inside and outside. Both were empty, after all.
He'd enclosed an unsigned note. I'm sorry. I love you both.
Her only stationary had both their names on it, but she wrote back to him on it anyway. Don't ever write me again. She signed it with her full name, as if it were another one of her divorce papers.
By the time her son came home from school, she was already in bed. She'd left everything on the kitchen table. She'd addressed the envelope, but had given up on sealing it when she couldn't remember where she'd put the stamps.
The boy mailed it for her before she woke up.
THE ALLENTOWN TIMES, Monday, January 22, 1996:
Betsy Hagopian, 34, of Allentown, Pa., died Sunday, January 21, 1996, in the Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg.
Born: April 25, 1962 in Paterson, N.J., a daughter of Eleanor Wittier and the late Donald Hagopian.
Personal: She was an elementary school teacher and especially loved gardening.
Memberships: She was a member of Effort United Methodist Church.
Survivors: Betsy is survived by two older sisters and a younger brother.
Services: The Newbaker Funeral Home, Route 94, Blairstown, is in charge of arrangements. The family has asked that donations be made to Betsy's favorite charity, MUFON-PENN, in lieu of flowers.
The video tape is very poor quality; static spits and hisses, and the woman's voice sounds like a steam-whistle on its highest notes. The blinds have been shut so the picture will show better, but it's midday and the gold light that spills through turns the shadows on the screen into ghosts and the dust motes in the air into fireflies.
You just need to know where to look, the woman finishes shrilly. She has a fierce glare and a stubborn mouth and a small oval face; both of the men watching the tape have seen color photos and know the glare is blue and the face is pink, though only the one who has met her knows that just now the penny-bright hair has been dyed dark.
He's the one who chuffs out a laugh, soft and almost affectionate.
The other man appears to disapprove of levity. He folds his pale and papery hands. "And they found?"
The first man pulls a pack of cigarettes out of an inside pocket and taps one out on the table. "Nothing," he says, pausing to light it. "What did you expect them to find?"
"A nonhuman corpse. Strange chemical compounds. An implant."
"Ashes. Misread test results. Misfiled evidence that would have only been fused metal if they'd been able to analyze it."
The Englishman watches the tape: the woman has left, and all that is visible is the narrow rectangle of the tall man's back, bent over a tray of slides. "And you're certain Bill won't talk?"
"I'll pay him a visit if you like, but I don't think it's necessary."
The tape clicks loudly and whirs into automatic rewind. The old men turn their attention to other matters: experiments, researches, charities, deaths, betrayals, and miracle cures; stories and histories that will be recorded in code in secret files if at all, unrevealed, unacknowledged, untold.