“It seems I caused a little stir at the hospital yesterday,” Ken conceded.
If Nancy didn’t know him better, she’d have thought there was a hint of apology was in his tone.
“I heard something had happened... I thought it had to be you, Ken.” It wasn’t easy feigning either ignorance of the ruckus he’d caused or geniality toward him, but she forced a lighthearted laugh, as if it was all quite amusing. “Terrifying patients is becoming rather a habit.”
“Hey, that hurts. I’ve got feelings too, you know?” Ken bought the sham.
The pair had been playing out the charade since their first greeting ten minutes earlier, each obscuring their true feelings toward the other.
Leon had coached her; he’d said the best way to manipulate Ken was to appeal to his ego, avoid confrontation and diminish any negative connotations attached to him.
When Ken had arrived at the office that Monday morning, she’d treated it as another mundane start to another unremarkable week; getting him coffee, updating him on the most important messages, and asking about his trip abroad.
When the time was ripe, she’d mentioned to him that Catherine was in the hospital for a nervous breakdown, evidently triggered by an unknown stress.
Ken had lapped the charade up, offering his own sham responses of surprise for the reception he’d received at the hospital. He was pretty sure Nancy was part of the problem.
And what to do about Nancy...?
He’d been pondering that for the better part of a week. She knew too much to just let her go; it would be easier to pay her out handsomely, give her an early retirement, connect her future payouts to her cooperation... all easy to do; just how to sell it to her? “She needs a hobby,” he thought. After a few months or years of happy retirement, when the heat was off... well, accidents happen.
It made him smile.
Their game of wits was an opaque veneer over a rotting core of mutual repulse.
Ken had put aside his rage of the previous day in favor of a tactical response to the extent of his employees’ betrayal.
His first agenda was to uncover precisely what motivated them; “What’s the objective here?” he asked. “How’re they planning to move, and why?”
Every answer reduced to jealousy; if they were him, they’d be like him; if he was them, he’d be like them. They wanted to be more like him… with wealth and power, so he’d feed it to them—or the illusion of it.
“What exactly is wrong with Catherine...? Some asshole on a power kick told me I’m on his little banned list... it’s all he’d say. Ugly sod too. I’d have thought it a liability to have him running the lunatic wards... his face around there must be terribly injurious to the fragile little minds.” Then he sighed as if it was amusing, “Guess I’m gonna see how much he likes being banned from playing king of his castle.”
The threat was chilling; Nancy had seen him crush careers before.
Nancy couldn’t manage a smile; “Catherine’s been having nightmares about you, apparently.” She made it sound matter of fact.
“Me?” Ken seemed aghast. If he wasn’t, it was a good show.
“That’s right...” Nancy’s tongue swished, poking against the inside of her cheek.
She’d estimated that Ken would have found out that Leon and her had visited afterward. The way he was acting, she knew he’d have put out feelers and had the feedback;
“... You sure got the staff agitated,” she pretended it was amusing, “...all that I could get out of them was that someone had come into the restaurant... that it had upset Catherine. I guessed that it must have been you... you know... the nightmares.”
“Me.... of all people, me? I can’t believe it!” Ken’s attempts at mock exclamation were as weak as his humor.
“It really surprised me Ken... something about you stalking her.”
“Good God, why would Catherine get that into her head.” He seemed to ponder it a moment and then tacked on a thought. “… and Leon’s part in all this?”
“When I heard about it, I suggested he see if he can help. They allowed him to probe a bit... with the hypnosis.”
“He find anything?”
Nancy had to think quickly; “I don’t know, Ken. Patient confidentiality... he hasn’t said anything... I didn’t ask.”
Ken’s mind was at full pace, he didn’t want the cyber-sex issue public record; it was private, it was another Ace that Nancy might hold that he’d have to pay for if she chose to play it.
“Sure... I’ll chat about it when I see him... Tell you, you never know a person... Catherine… of all people I’d never imagine she’d crack up.”
“Just stress, Ken. You know... you’re a taskmaster, a perfectionist; you did put a lot of pressure on her. I’m no psych, but... ‘why you’...? Well, you’re at the front of her mind, her big break and she can’t afford to disappoint,” Nancy felt like she’d gag on the butter she smeared on it.
“Hmmm,” he’d bought it. He finished his first coffee and pushed the discarded mug toward her. “I’m a little disappointed, though. You’d think it’s these stunning good looks that she wants and can’t get that’s really done the damage.”
It was his attitude that made him ugly, she thought.
“… have Leon contact me immediately he gets in.”
As Nancy reached Ken’s door, he called after her;
“Another bad night, I could use a refill."
Nancy called the hospital, not surprisingly; Catherine had also experienced a bad night.
Ten minutes later Leon called saying that he would be going via the hospital. He’d be at the office within the hour.
Nancy quickly briefed Leon on her key points of conversation with Ken, reminding him that she knew nothing of any further conversations he’d had with Catherine; only then did she connect him with Ken.
Five minutes later, Ken buzzed through on the intercom to relate what she already knew; the fact that Leon would be another hour, re-emphasizing that he wanted to see Leon the moment he arrived.
He paused a moment and added, “Catherine evidently had another attack last night. I’m quite concerned about her, it’s almost like I should feel responsible...”
Leon arrived bearing happy news, “There was a girl visiting Catherine, I think her name was Jacky? Catherine told me to bring you the message that they had ‘cleared up their problem’?”
Nancy doubted whether Leon would guess the nature of the relationship.
Ken couldn’t have been more apprehensive as he ushered Leon into his office and seated him in one of the easy chairs. He’d given Nancy an instruction to vet all calls and serve two coffees.
Leon took note of Ken’s excessively long nail, estimating its growth exceeded that of the other nine nails by perhaps two months.
“How’s Catherine today?” Ken was itching for details.
There was urgency in his voice that piqued Leon’s curiosity. “Oh a jolly lot better, Ken’o, a jolly-jolly lot better. Plenty improvements today... plenty.”
“I believe I’m the star of her nightmares...? Sugar?”
Ken never forgot a detail, and he was pretty certain that some time ago when Leon had lied about cutting his sugar, he was in fact covering for something else he was saying to Nancy that related to a conspiracy the two were plotting against him.
“Down to one now... cutting back slowly,” Leon was wise to Ken’s tricks, yet he was not prepared to suffer the full sugarless burden of his own trap.
Ken handed him the cup, not satisfied that his suspicions were groundless.
Leon continued talking;
“I haven’t yet established what precisely is wrong with her, Ken’o, but you’re the focus alright. She’s pretty fragile, I couldn’t risk scratching too deep into the problem. My guess...? You’re a scapegoat for her frustrations.”
“They’re pretty hostile toward me down at the hospital, was it your idea to keep me from seeing her?”
“Given the circumstances... Sorry if you copped it Ken’o. I had no idea you were back or I’d have warned you not to go.”
“So it’s a yes...” Ken stared at him long and hard.
Leon shrugged, “Sorry again. You saw her reaction Ken’o, it wasn’t for nothing. She thought she was in a nightmare...” Leon couldn’t duck the question, so he rode it.
“I actually feel rather bad, Leon,” Ken sounded convincing alright, but his hand came up to his cheek and half-heartedly dab at an irritation. “Going for a chat’s out of the question, so not much I can do to remedy it.”
“Ken’o... didn’t you mention you’d also dreamed about her... Catherine?” Leon had said it to track for revelations of that all-divulging finger, “You remember?”
“No... nope, I don’t. Maybe... because the details of dreams slip out of my head just about immediately.”
Leon could see that he remembered all too well, so Leon pressed him;
“Surely you remember, Ken’o...? You mentioned those sounds... those same sounds from your recording,
“Hmmm...” Ken pretended to ponder it.
“Any more episodes?”
“If I have, I can’t remember them,” Ken looked Leon directly in the eye, a practice he most often employed when trying to appear convincing.
“Talking about the sounds... that recording...” Leon thought he’d try his luck. “I’ve got a friend who’s very much up on that sort of thing... the paranormal and all that. Mind if I give him a listen to it?”
Ken assessed the request, there wasn’t much the little man could do with the recordings; he agreed to forward the file.
“How long do you estimate it’ll take to get her right... Catherine?” Ken asked.
“Tough to say. The mind’s complex... could be weeks, could be months. Difficult to say.”
“And nothing that I can do?” Ken wanted to smoke any suspicion of his culpability out.
“From what I can see... no,” Leon answered, and instantly realizing that it was an opportunity starring him in the face. “Unless, Ken’o... there’s something that you’re up to that’s triggering the poor girl.”
He made it sound like an absurd and whimsical notion.
Ken didn’t react, but Leon saw something eating at him. The ball was rolling, so he gave it a light push; “It’s odd though, Ken’o... seems Catherine’s also had some kind of sound associated with her hallucinations. Most peculiar... most peculiar indeed.”
“Well now... Maybe it’s nothing to do with me then. Probably old Craig dicking with both of us hey. He did fancy her, you know?”
“Could I miss it?” It wasn’t true, but Leon humored the lie to milk it for truth.
Leon didn’t miss much; only this morning he’d watched Jacky pretending to be a casual friend of Catherine’s.
Leon knew Catherine was severing ties between the companies, so he decided to give that conversation a light nudge too;
“I’ve been rather hesitant to bring something up Ken, but I suppose I’ve been silly. When I hypnotized Catherine, she told me about your game... some details… the sex game.”
Ken went ashen;
“Does Nancy know?” There was a brittle edge to his voice.
“Oh, Lord, no, Ken’o... not from me... no, no, not at all. And there’s no judgment either; lips are sealed and all that... lips definitely sealed."
Ken realized the advantage of suppressing his distrust of the little man, in favor of exploiting him instead. Afterall, there would be no way of banning Leon’s private contact with Catherine; threatening to fire Leon wouldn’t work, he had all the wealth he needed, and the competition would pay handsomely to have him. If Leon had Catherine’s ear, as he appeared to have, he could be an invaluable tool.
“No,” Ken thought, “I must guarantee his loyalty, I must keep his trust.”
“It was a hell of a ride Leon, your pacemaker wouldn’t have handled it,” he said.
Leon put on a good show, pretending to find it amusing, chuckling. Ken was looking for solidarity, so he gave it to him with a small ego boost;
“Frankly Ken’o, I think she’s hung up on you.... gave her too much of a good time, you see... completely obsessed with you now… and trying to suppress it, you see,” and then he thought to twist things a little; “This is off the record, I’m afraid, but she’s suffering rather significant delusions, terrified you’ve photographed or filmed her...”
Ken turned ashen again and dug at that old irritation, he looked ready to excuse himself to the cloakroom.
“...Can’t say I’d blame you if you did. Who wouldn’t have, eh... who wouldn’t?”
“That would’ve been a great idea. I of course had the CCTV pulled, so it’s off the cards,” Ken rose to his feet, “I’m bursting, organize two coffees, would you.”
Ken remained dead silent, listening from the inside of the door to his private toilet adjoining his office. He could barely make out the sound of Leon talking with Nancy.
“... It’s still just one sugar, Nance... just the one,” as he held up two fingers, pulling a disgusted face for the previous one-spoon cup.
Ken was also none-the-wiser of the exchanged nods and quickly scribbled notes that passed between the pair as they made insignificant small talk.
“Better out than in, Ken’o?” Leon asked of Ken on his return.
“As I was going to say, Ken’o,” Leon returned to his brief. “The Chinese have picked up where the Russians left off in ESP research. You know... all that stuff about thought transmission.”
Ken’s face spelled curiosity; what quirky new tangent was Leon onto now, he thought? So, he played a little unsure;
“Ah... sorry... Extra Sensory Perception, Ken’o... it’s when I think something and you can read what’s on my mind.”
“Ahh... yes... All the rage when I was a kid… And...?”
It was from an obscure piece of tabloid journalism Leon had read in a waiting room somewhere, but the principle of it was what he wanted to drive at.
“I heard they’re training battalions to receive orders via ESP. Well... not just ESP, they’re tinkering with electronics... with Wi-Fi making it more reliable. They send out the orders to a device, and the subject gets ideas in their heads... orders... maneuvers and the like… having the Wi-Fi tinker with their brain waves. The old Tibetan monks were supposed to be at it for centuries, of course, without the Wi-Fi.”
It sounded ridiculous; “What are you trying to tell me?” He challenged Leon.
“Well... it’s a crazy notion, Ken’o... it’s Tabloid afterall, but what if your intimacy with Catherine has you somehow… linked like that?”
“Like I’m a radio transmitter and she’s a receiver?”
“Possibly? But you do both carry one, you know... a radio... your mobile... it’s got Wi-Fi... transmits, receives... always connected."
There was no more doubt in Leon’s mind that Ken had a video recording of the event. Perhaps, he thought, whenever Ken watches the recording, some kind of a bridge connects. Sort of a Quantum Entanglement. It was a wild and crazy idea, even by his standards, but he decided to give it a go.
Guilt and a glint of worry had crept into Ken’s voice, “Do you give it credence, Leon? You think there’s science in it?”
“Proof... scientific proof? Now that’s the tough one. A tough one indeed.” Leon tugged absently at his own ear, as if loosening some details. “You’ve heard of Quantum Entanglement?”
“I just know it’s confusing.”
“Quantum Entanglement is a measured physical phenomenon. What they’ve measured is that when pairs or groups of particles interact in certain ways, at the quantum state of each particle, they entangle and can no longer be described independently—from that point forward, a quantum state exists for the system as a whole. In other words, they’re entangled—what happens to one, impacts the other over distance.”
“You understand this stuff, Leon?” Ken was scowling.
“Not the details, Ken’o, not the details, nobody does… But I know enough to sound good and be dangerous. I read a little on quantum information science, how information transfer relies on quantum effects in physics.”
“I think you’re going to lose me,” Ken admitted.
“Well... we’re all a little lost, Ken’o. I guess the message is that you have a connection and it’s bothering both of you. Give it up a while and see.”
Leon swallowed the last of his coffee and cheerily made for the door.
“Toodeloo, Ken’o, there’s work to be done... Toodeloo,” and he was gone.
Ken hadn’t missed the emphasis on ‘it’—the wily old coot had probably sniffed his deviousness out. He decided to give the advice a try—he’d put that obsessive video aside a while and see how things went. Because—if it worked, then it worked!—and the thought made him smile. It opened a whole new arena for manipulating others. Quite possibly there would be money to be made in it.