Cranial Loop (a novella) Chapter Three: Suffering the Found

7-21-2017 - Cranial Loop - Chapter three

Frozen, the secrets and kept under glass, the last is first and first is last.

Chapter Three
Suffering the Found

Hopes high, Basil entered Emily’s room. She lay on her back, head on a pillow, eyes closed. “Hello, Emily,” Basil murmured. “Professor Grimes told me the wonderful news.” He caressed her cheek with the back of his hand, which elicited no response. He gazed at Emily’s serene face and wondered for the thousandth time what had taken place that fateful day when he walked away from her at the river.

If he could only talk to Hedgeny but it was impossible to find his old friend alone. His fame had grown by leaps and bounds. He was constantly surrounded by fans and hangers on. Basil had gone to his apartment one day in the wee hours of the morning, hoping when Hedgeny emerged to begin his day, to have a few private moments with him. He would give anything to know what transpired after he left, especially as concerned him. Why hadn’t he told Emily how he felt, rather than expecting her to intuit his feelings? He fell asleep in a sitting position, leaning against the wall outside Hedgeny’s door.

Basil had a rude awakening when Hedgeny came spilling out, two girls in tow. “Basil, you ol’ dog! Where ya been?”

“I, uh… I wondered if I could have a few moments alone with you,” Basil stammered. “I just have a few questions about Emily the day before she went to sleep, when the three of us were at the river.”

“Oh, that again,” Hedgeny complained. He offered Basil a hand up. “C’mon, buddy. Me ‘n Nene ‘n Kate were just going to get us some breakfast. We had us a pretty wild night. Why don’t you just tag along with us, my treat?”

Basil was astounded, as he always had been, by Hedgeny’s brute physical strength. He took the offered hand and was lifted from the floor like a rag doll. “I’d like to, I really would,” he lied. “But I have to get to class. Anything you could tell me about that afternoon might help us with Emily’s treatment.”

“Hedge, I’m hungry; you promised,” one of the girls whined.

“Shut up!” Hedgeny said curtly. He grabbed Basil’s arm and dragged him half a dozen steps down the hall. “Basil, you got a guilt trip. I wasn’t the one walked away from Emily, you were. You hurt her feelings; you hurt ‘em bad. Is that what you wanted to hear? Next time you talk to me, remember this: the subject of Emily is closed. I got other things to worry about. Your guilt is your problem. You’d better damned well learn to deal with it!” He went back to his girls and walked away with them, a hand on each of their half-covered butts.

Basil reached across the bed and took Emily’s tiny hands in his. “I didn’t want to leave you that day, Emily. It’s the hardest thing I ever did. I just couldn’t find the words that needed to be said.” He bent and kissed her forehead, checked the various monitors surrounding her bed, then left the room.

The next day was a flurry of activity. School was officially out so Basil busied himself moving his personal effects from the dorm into the Psyche Building. He considered himself a frugal man and was quite shocked at the size of the pile of his personal belongings. A bit less than two years before, he had carried them in, lock, stock, and barrel, in a single duffel bag. Now he was forced to scout various University departments for empty boxes and a package cart from the mailroom to haul them. Further shocking to his sensibilities was his inability to let go of a single book, poster, or picture.

Dinner with the Grimes’ was a poignant and special occasion. Mrs. Grimes was not only plump and huggable, she was a hugger who expected to be hugged back. Basil responded to her requirements but, being a shy and private person by nature, was kept a bit off balance by her doting attention. Mack and Louise were there with the announcement that a decade long University rumor was about to be put to rest. They had indeed been seeing each other and were to be married in Germany, Mack’s country of origin. The Grimes’ were to stand as “Best People”. Basil loved the term and thought it fit them perfectly.

Basil enjoyed the meal and the company. He promised Mrs. Grimes he would come to dinner a minimum of three times a week once school returned to session. She cluck-clucked about young folks nowadays and their eating habits that it was unconscionable that Basil wouldn’t agree to more than that. She high fived the professor and all around after Basil left, celebrating her astounding victory, having claimed the charming young man for three nights a week.

In his element, lurking the hallways of the Psyche Building, Basil set out the next day to discover the homes of each of the keys on the ring Grimes had given him. There were seventy-six of them. He spent the first week in the upper rooms of the old building and found working fits for fifty-eight of the keys. Each time he made an exciting discovery, he’d hurry to Emily’s room to regale her with fantastic stories about the University’s history and secrets. Always he watched and waited for, but never asked, the blink of an eye or the twitch of a finger.

Emily’s parents, an affluent couple from Colorado, came to visit on Friday of that week. Basil had tidied Emily’s room and advised the shift nurses, done everything he could think of in preparation. Unaware of Basil’s affection for their daughter, Emily’s parents assumed he was the young and dedicated intern assigned to her care. The assumption was correct in most aspects so Basil had decided to leave it at that. He realized that, upon waking, Emily might see the situation in such a light herself; in which case, he planned to jump off the nearest bridge.

“Emily Anna is a junior,” her mother proudly informed Basil. “I am Emily Anna Senior. Please, just call me Anna. This is Emily’s father, John.”

Basil had escorted them to a conference room, where he served coffee. He had Emily’s files in hand and knew them inside out. He praised them for their dedication to their daughter and their pro-active involvement in the initiation of the Cranial Loop procedure. Their research and knowledge of the subject made the process of explaining events relatively easy. The eye-blinking episode was of primary interest to them. Silently thanking Professor Grimes for his wisdom, Basil was able to walk them through the event with the required clinical poise and distance. Mirroring his own private feelings, Anna seemed deeply troubled that so little promise could be taken from what could very well have been a mere random chaotic tic.

“Are there any questions?” Basil asked finally.

“I’d like a copy of Emily’s file,” John said matter-of-factly. “I know the director of psychiatry at the University of Colorado personally. He’s an old friend of mine. We’ve talked about the case and I’d like to have him take a look at it, get a second opinion, so to speak.”

Basil’s heart skipped a beat. He had never considered losing Emily to another institution. What would he do then? “Professor Grimes anticipated your request,” Basil replied in his much-practiced doctor’s voice. “There’s quite an accumulation of data and reports, notes and such. They’re in a couple of storage crates in the professor’s office. I’ll set them in the hall so you can take them whenever you’re ready to leave. Do you have any other questions or requests? I am at your service and will assist you in any way I can.”

Anna took Basil’s hand. She gave her husband a stern glance. “You’re a very nice young man, Basil. We appreciate your obvious dedication to our daughter. We could hardly leave her in better hands.”

John stood and straightened his tie. “I’ll second that, young man. If there’s anything else, I assume we’ll be able to find you in your office. Will you take us to Emily now?”

Basil rose from his chair and released Anna’s hand. He glanced at Emily’s large and imposing father and was reminded of something Professor Grimes had said. “Big John” had been a famous football player in his youth. He was known as “The Galloping Greek from Boulder Creek” or something like that. “Straight away, Sir,” he said with his best disarming professional smile. “Just follow me, folks.”

He led the couple out into the hall. “Now that sounded like a real southern invitation,” John said. “But you aren’t from around these parts, are you, Basil? You look to be Indian to me, something about your eyes, Eurasian or maybe from the mid-east.”

Basil stopped and turned to face him. “I’m an American man,” he replied, “a bit of African, Japanese, Cherokee, and German, near as I’ve been able to figure out.” He let his smile go and looked John in the eye. “Where y’all from?”

Anna grinned and proffered a bent arm. Before John could reply, she said, “We’re from Colorado, Basil. I thought you knew that. Now, I’d appreciate it if you would escort me to my daughter.”

Basil joined arms with her. “I would be honored.” John grumbled incoherently and brought up the rear. Once they were with Emily in her room, Basil went to his quarters. He sat at his desk and pondered the situation. What was the matter with Emily’s father and why the attack on his person?

Anna ushered John to a far corner of Emily’s room. “John, you’re an old fool. If you had waited for one second before opening your mouth, you’d have realized Basil is one of the young men Emily wrote us about. She and Basil and that other one… oh, for the life of me I can never remember his name. What was it that Emily referred to them as? “The Mighty Three”, that’s it! She was so proud to be one of “The Mighty Three.”

“I know perfectly well who Basil is,” John replied. “Emily didn’t tell us he was an Arab or an African or whatever the hell he is.”

Exasperated, Anna said, “She told us he was her friend, her best friend. What more should she have to say?”

“The other fellow’s name is Hedgeny,” John offered. “An unusual name but one you’d certainly be aware of if you paid any attention to current events. Brass balls, that one, a one-man cyclone on the football field. If our boys don’t contain him, he’s just liable to knock us out of a Bowl position this weekend. Now that’s one of “The Mighty Three” I’d like to meet. Reading about him reminds me of myself in the heyday of my youth. Why, he…”

“Hush!” Anna interrupted. “We came here to visit our daughter, not talk football. John, I wish…”

John slumped into the corner and wept into his big hands. “I’m sorry, Anna. I just want our baby back. I want my Emily Anna. I can’t stand to see her lying there helpless and alone. There must be something we can do for her.”

Anna held him, joined in his weeping. They consoled each other as only the jointly bereft can.

Basil sat at his desk, dumbfounded and listless. He willed his hand to turn off the intercom but his will was weak and failed him. He had set up the sound monitoring system to listen for Emily. A dozen times the past week he had awoken from deep sleep, certain there had been a whisper, some soft sound issuing from the darkness of Emily’s room. But the sounds were always in his head, Emily’s sweet voice saying, “Hedgeny.”

The sorrow of John and Anna’s weeping was more than he could bear. He left his room quietly and made his way to the tiny elevator. He entered and pulled the gate. ‘Prisons’, he thought as it clanked shut. Basil set the travel lever for ‘sub-level one’, positioned himself next to the brake, and pressed the ‘down’ button. The car shuddered, fell ten feet or so, and then stopped. Basil experienced a moment of vertigo, then had the presence of mind to set and clamp the brake.

Professor Grimes had never stopped the car at either of the first two sub-levels, so Basil wasn’t sure what to expect when he threw back the iron scissors gate. The light in the elevator was dim but the darkness outside the car was absolute. Looking at the lower half of the door, Basil saw concrete and was terrified for a moment. It appeared as if the car had stopped in the elevator shaft between floors. What if it was stuck? Basil closed his eyes and placed a hand in the pocket of his trousers. He made a fist around the large ring of keys there. It comforted him to feel them, all seventy-six of them. There they were, right where they were supposed to be. He kept them with him at all times when wandering the halls in case he found something new to unlock and explore.

“Seventy-six keys,” Basil said softly to himself, the sound of his own voice peaceful and empowering. “Seven and six are thirteen.” Basil gasped. Studies in Astronomy had introduced him to the ancients and Numerology. Curiosity had introduced him to the Occult and the attributes of numbers aside from the positions of the cosmos. “Thirteen as in power and dominion,” Basil intoned in a singsong voice, “Mystery and destruction.”

“A bunch of stuff!” he said in a louder voice and opened his eyes. He knelt and walked the fingers of one hand up the concrete wall in the opening. Approximately halfway up, a finger poked through. Basil rose to his feet and reexamined the opening. It was clear to him now that the car had stopped halfway past the opening to sub-level one. He gripped the concrete where it topped out and prepared to climb out of the elevator onto the floor of the first sub-level.

His face met with resistance and, when Basil realized he had pressed it into a massive cobweb, he fell back into the elevator. He landed on his butt and clawed at his face with both hands. Strings of webbing stuck to his fingers. A thousand spiders, real and imagined, skittered across his skin. He pressed his palms against his thighs and counted slowly to ten.

When he had regained some of his composure, Basil stood up and tugged at the iron gate. Just as it closed, something large and dark bounced against the web from the other side. “Oh no, I did not see that,” Basil tried to convince himself. “Spiders don’t grow that big and what else could be down here?” He eased the foot-brake loose from its keep and pressed the buttons for ‘down’ and ‘sub-level three’. It had been a very long time since anyone had visited sub-level one and, as far as Basil was concerned, it could remain that way. The same applied to sub-level two, at least for now.

The elevator ground to a halt. Basil heard a spring in the cables echoing though the shaft. He had never noticed that as he and the professor traveled up and down, in and out. The lights blinked off and on. Basil set the foot brake, threw open the gate, and lunged into the hall. He paused and took a deep breath, relieved to be out of the belly of the hungry little beast the elevator had become. Basil had begun to see shadows where there were no shadows, phantom movement at the periphery of his vision.

Glancing frantically up and down the hallway, he couldn’t decide which way to go. “They’re not really what I’d refer to as hallways,” he recalled Grimes saying. “They are a labyrinth of tunnels connecting to the main body of the University. They spider-leg out to satellite buildings, the Psyche Building for instance, take dozens of forgotten turns to places men long-dead devised.”

Basil reached into his pocket and grabbed the keys. “Seventy-six keys, seven and six is thirteen. I found homes for fifty-eight of them upstairs, five and eight are thirteen. Ah damn!”

He put one foot in front of the other and, following his instincts, reached the stainless-steel operating theater. He opened the door, reached in, and flipped on the lights. After his experience in the elevator and the dim-lighted hallway, Basil gloried in the stark light of the operating room. He opened the control panel of the Cranial Loop and plopped down exhausted in the chair before it.

Basil punched the power switch and a myriad of colored lights came on. The message, “Cranial Loop unable to engage”, displayed itself, end to end, over and over, on a computer monitor screen. At a tonal beep, the message changed to: Attach external device to initiate startup.

Spiders crawled through Basil’s brain. For a long-suspended moment, he imagined he was seated at the helm of a space ship, two prehistoric alien worlds away from his own civilized planet. “Wow,” he said aloud, “this place is beginning to get to me, it really is.”

Glancing around the room, Basil thought, ‘Eighteen keys left; how many can I account for down here? One and eight, that’s nine… endings.’ Basil rose from the chair, shaking his head. It aggravated him that he was unable to shake the inane tumble of numbers and their attributes from his mind. It was illogical behavior and unfamiliar territory for him. He had more important things to think about. He tried a few keys in the control panel. The fourth one fit. Basil found another that fit the door to the room. “Sixteen left,” he mused, “One and six is seven; lucky, lucky seven and lucky me, nothing left to unlock.”

Basil wandered into the hallway. There were no doors he could remember between the operating theater and the elevator. He took half a dozen steps in the other direction, figuring he was safe from getting lost as long as he could glance back and make out the bright light shining from the operating room into the hallway. To his surprise, the hallway ended in a dozen yards or so. There was a single door at its end. The door was locked but Basil was able to open it with one of the remaining keys on the ring.

Half expecting cobwebs and spiders, maybe a bat or two, Basil was relieved when he reached in and found a light switch. He clicked it up and the lights in the room came on. He stepped in and found himself in a large rectangular shaped room with a couple of desks and workstations complete with computers. There was no dust visible and it appeared as if the area was used recently and regularly. The long wall opposite the desks was composed of a bank of metal filing cabinets. Basil grinned; fifteen keys left and, without counting, he knew there were fifteen filing cabinets. He started from the left, whistled a little tune as he opened them one by one.

“And what secrets do you have to reveal?” he teased the final cabinet. He was smiling happily as he opened it, reassured to have found snug little caves for each and every one of the keys. Seventy-six keys, it was almost unbelievable to him that he had found homes for all of them. The smile left his face when he pulled the first drawer open. There was a sliding glass security cover over the contents of the drawer, ‘EYES ONLY – RESTRICTED MATERIAL’ stenciled in large red letters on top of it. The glass cover was in two parts, fitted into grooves in the drawer, and fixed with a cylinder lock of its own. “So much for seventy-six keys,” Basil murmured to himself. The lock required a round, tooled key; those on the ring were all conventional in style.

Basil squinted his eyes in an attempt to make out what was written on the file tabs under the glass. The master tab was easy enough to make out and intriguing to say the least. It read: DEATHS. Following it were a number of individual folders with names on them. The names were hand written and impossible to discern through the glass. Basil went on to the second drawer, which was titled: SUSPENSIONS AND EXPULSIONS. Unable to make out any of the names, he moved on to the third one: SLUSH FUND EXPENDITURES and the fourth and final drawer: CLASSIFIED INCIDENTS.

Basil fell to his hands and knees, the better to peer through the glass in an attempt to discern the contents of the bottom drawer. Without realizing it, he got so close his face touched the glass. No matter how hard he tried to focus, he was unable to make out the hand-written names on the folders. Frustrated, and completely out of character, he pounded a fist against the glass. The restrictive cover shattered and cut Basil’s hand. Blood splashed onto the folders in the drawer.

Using the thumb of his uninjured hand on a pressure point above the cut, Basil was able to staunch the flow of blood. He left the room and went to the Operating Theater, which was equipped with a scrub sink. He turned on the water and winced at the sharp pain when he began to irrigate the wound. It was half an inch long and close to his wrist. Apparently, a shard of glass had stabbed him when his fist went through the cover. He hoped the cut wasn’t deep, tested it by flexing his fingers and rotating his wrist. Moving it was painful but everything seemed to be in working order.

After a few minutes, the wound stopped bleeding. Basil cleaned it and applied antiseptic. A bit clumsy with his left hand, he wrapped gauze around his wrist and fastened it in place with tape. He went and sat down in the chair next to the Cranial Loop apparatus. What had gotten into him, he wondered. How would he explain the broken glass and blood to the professor? Wrist throbbing, he decided to go back and clean up his mess. He’d been off-center and out of sorts since meeting with Emily’s parents. As soon as he finished straightening the drawer out, he’d go visit Emily. After that, maybe he’d scout out something to eat, then try to get some rest. Maybe he could replace the glass but what about the blood. Ah hell, he’d just have to tell the professor he was a curious idiot and hope he’d understand. The situation would be clearer in his mind tomorrow in the light of day.

‘Blood and oil,’ Basil thought, “a drop spilled spreads and looks like a gallon.’ He carefully picked the larger pieces of glass from the drawer and dropped them in a waste basket. Basil stopped abruptly and sat stock still. The first file in the drawer labeled ‘CLASSIFIED INCIDENTS’ was Emily Alexander’s file. It bothered him deeply that her records would be kept in a secret cabinet. Basil grabbed his injured wrist, applying pressure and using the resulting pain to calm himself. “This file is probably just copies of papers I have seen,” he said to himself in a reassuring monotone.

He took the file and sat at one of the desks where he began to peruse its contents. Words and phrases from various reports and examinations demanded Basil’s focus, then reached out to slap and shock him with their implications: Bruises on the patient’s upper arms and inner thighs; human bite marks on both breasts (impressions made, see exhibits); signs of forced entry (see tissue samples); semen and blood evident (samples taken; see exhibits); traces of opiate in blood (sample in exhibits); high levels of Triazolam (induced temporary coma?). The list went on and on. It contained more, much more, than Basil could absorb in a single sitting. Nowhere could he find it stated but it was obvious to him that Emily had been drugged and raped. The evidence was conclusive and staggering in its preponderance to premeditation.

A blood drop splattered onto the paper Basil was reading. For a tense, insane moment, he thought it must be Emily’s. Hand clenched into a tight fist, he had reopened his wound. The gauze around it had begun to drip blood. Basil stared at it, dazed and uncomprehending. He shifted in his chair and held his arm over the wastebasket under the desk. His whole world had begun to spin out of control. That he might bleed it away made perfect sense to him. Dear Emily had been brutalized and where was the outcry? What steps were being taken to bring the monster responsible for committing these atrocities to justice? ‘Maybe they’re waiting for her to regain consciousness so she can tell them what happened,’ Basil reasoned. “No, you fool!” Basil was startled at the sound of his voice, terrified and angry in tone. There was plenty of evidence. Those at the top must know or at least have a close idea who committed the awful crimes against and upon Emily.

His mind wrapped and warped around the CLASSIFIED INCIDENT the attack on Emily represented. Whoever did this to her was sure to be out there and waiting. Emily was in grave danger. If this cretin thinks for one minute he’s about to be discovered… “Oh God,” Basil moaned, “Who can I talk to about this? Maybe the professor…” His eyes blinked, focused on the papers spread before him across the desk. How many stacks of notes had Basil transcribed for Professor Grimes? It was obvious the examinations were carried out and documented by none other and signed off in his hand. Why hadn’t the authorities been brought in?

Hedgeny. Basil bit down on the name. From the first, he had been sure Hedgeny knew something more than he was willing to divulge about what happened to Emily. Now it was obvious he was covering for someone. Professor Grimes, a man above reproach, was involved in some kind of cover-up. ‘Do they think I did it?’ Basil thought wildly. ‘Is that why they’re keeping me close, thinking Emily will wake up and point her finger at me?’ “Stop it!” Basil ordered himself. ‘They have DNA,’ he thought, ‘Blood and semen. They have all the tools needed to figure out who brutalized Emily.

Basil gathered the papers and put them back in the folder. He would give them to Emily’s parents and advise them to take her back home with them. She wasn’t safe here, was she? John Alexander was a rich and powerful man. Acting from his deep sorrow and pain, he would bring action against the University and get to the bottom of this thing. ‘How will I tell him what really and truly happened to his baby, his Emily Anna,” Basil wondered. Basil was a bloody mess and in such a state of mind that he was completely unaware of his physical appearance. He had blood all over his face and clothes. His eyes were shocked, open and wide. His hair stood up in greasy spikes. He looked every bit the madman.

Operating on automatic pilot, he made it back to the main floor of the Psyche Building. The boxes he had left outside Grimes’ office for Emily’s parents were gone. Basil paced back and forth, frantic and at his wits’ end. How could they have gone already? He made his way to Emily’s room, opened the door a crack, and peeked inside. She was resting peacefully. He opened the door next to hers and entered his own quarters, turned on the light and sat down at his desk. He noticed John Alexander’s business card lying where he had left it earlier. The number to the Alexander’s hotel was written on the back of it. Basil dialed the phone excitedly, hands shaking and eager to share his pain. The phone rang several times. He was ready to hang up when a clerk picked up and informed him the Alexanders had checked out half an hour or so ago.

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© 2017 artwork, music and words
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Tom (WordWulf) Sterner 2017 ©

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