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Shift: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Saturday, March 4, 2006 11:49 EST



    The following day, Ziegler strolled into the canteen. The smell of grease hit him the moment he stepped through the door. The joy of working at Upper Heywood - cutbacks, locked windows, no air-conditioning and a cook who believed that all food had to be sterilised in fat.

    He smiled. One day it would be different. One day he’d have his own plush private consultancy, complete with rich, confused clients, wealth and respect.

    And if he could write the definitive book on Pendennis, that day might be very close indeed.

    He grabbed a tray and dreamed of future celebrity. There was more than a book on Pendennis, there was the chat show circuit, lecture tours, a film maybe. Pendennis was box office. A killer with his own gang of multiple personalities. A killer who dissected the bodies of his victims, searching for some hidden inner voice that only he could hear.

    And that was just the start. Underlying everything was a pattern. An explanation, something that Peter would hint at before changing the subject or being pushed aside by another personality.

    But it was there - Ziegler was convinced - and this John Bruce delusion might be the key to its unravelling.

    He let his hand hover over the Thai salad before weakening - the steak and kidney pie did look especially inviting today, and that smell of chips and vinegar…

    He paid for his meal and looked for a table. Bazley was sitting in the corner, reading a newspaper.

    Ziegler walked over. "John's back," he said.

    Bazley grunted and turned a page.

    "And guess what. This time he's given me a list of contacts - names, addresses, even phone numbers. What do you think? Should we try them?"

    Bazley shrugged. "Nothing to do with me. He's your patient." He didn’t even look up. He kept on reading - or pretending to read - eyes down, tight-lipped, determined not to be drawn.

    "Come on, Paul! You were as intrigued as I was about this John Bruce delusion. You know Peter better than anyone. What do you think I should do?"

    Another shrug. And an outstretched hand. "Do you want all those chips?"

    "Help yourself," said Ziegler, pushing his plate towards his colleague. "But I’m going to phone. I've got a feeling about this one."

    He waited until late afternoon to make the calls to America. Couldn't get through to all the numbers but after the third one he didn't have to. They were all dead. Killed in a plane crash.

    It was to have been a big surprise. A celebration dinner in Washington, everyone was going to be there: the President, senators, foreign dignitaries. A homecoming dinner for the astronaut hero, John Bruce.

    A special plane was laid on at the President's request to fly in John's family and close friends. A kind thought. But that plane needed more than kind thoughts to keep it airborne that night. It was a sad day for America. An even sadder day for a hero.



    "Do you think he knew they were all dead?"

    Bazley hurried across the car park, pursued by Ziegler and a biting north-easterly. Neither were welcome. Clouds scudded low and fast overhead, the occasional flurry of light snow whipped up on the raw winter wind, the continual flurry of questions from Ziegler.

    All Bazley wanted was to find his car and go home. 

    "Convenient isn't it?" continued Ziegler. "For Peter, that is. He can continue to claim he's John Bruce and no one can challenge him. Though where he got hold of their private phone numbers is beyond me. Most weren’t even listed."

    Peter, Peter, Peter. Doesnt anyone talk about anything else these days?

    He pushed on, his breath coming fast as he picked up the pace. Yesterday had been a mistake. He’d weakened for a second and let that monster sneak back inside his head. Like an alcoholic walking into a bar, one sip and down he went. But not again. Not if he could help it.

    The younger man matched his stride; effortless, unhurried, his speech uncluttered by pauses for breath.  

    "And the way he took the news of his parent's death - you would have sworn he was their son. He's totally convinced - I’m sure of it - that he's John Bruce. But what I can't understand is why, after all that careful preparation he gives me another name - and this one's alive."

    "How do you know?" Bazley stopped and turned. Once again, Peter had managed to slide a hook inside his brain.

    "Because I just spoke to her. She's coming over tomorrow."



    Imagine that, John Bruce! How many years had it been? Twelve? Thirteen? Her first love. The boy next-door. She remembered feeling so grown-up talking to her friends about her American boyfriend. To be fifteen and in love.

    And how strange. Both the phone call and the timing. It was only two nights ago that she’d had that dream.

    Had it been a premonition?

    And was that why she’d accepted such a strange request?

    Louise emptied yet another wheelbarrow on the steaming muck heap. One of her many daily tasks - mucking out, strawing down, watering, feeding, medicating and checking. Maybe that was another reason she’d accepted - a break from the monotony of a smallholding in winter.

    Funny how he’d changed. John Bruce, that is. Her John would never have entered politics. She could see him as an astronaut; he'd always had that mad desire to push himself into strange inhospitable places. And his family were all Air Force, it was obvious he was going to follow his father into the services when they returned to the States. But standing for the Presidency? Not Johnny Bruce. Not the boy she'd known all those years ago.

    Nor the boy who’d floated into her dream the other night. And what a strange dream that had been, even for one of hers. He kept floating in and out, as though he wasn't really part of the dream. He'd be there and then he wouldn't. Just as she felt he was going to take the dream soaring in another direction, he'd fade and something else would take over. She'd be over a mountain range or dipping under the ocean and then she'd see him again - floating, calling to her, imploring. But she could never reach him. He'd blur into the background before she could react.

    The unattainable? Was that it? One of those psychological dreams to prove how low Louise's social life had sunk? Condemned to dream about old boyfriends she could never have?

    Or was it her subconscious, conspiring with the night to find the excitement that it lacked during the day? The daily grind of milking and feeding, struggling through mud and bottomless puddles carrying endless buckets of water to animals that would as soon knock them over as take a drink.

    Why did she do it? A question she often asked herself when the days dragged and her muscles ached. And then she’d see the scars and protruding ribs of her latest rescue case and she’d know the answer. Someone had to do it.

    Not that she’d meant to set up an animal rescue centre - it just sort of happened. First the donkey, then the goats - before she knew it they’d taken over her life. Who could resist those big sorrowful eyes or refuse to take in the battered and starving if they had the room? Louise Callander couldn't.

    She had the space - just. Five acres of Oxfordshire scrub. An oasis of self-sufficiency in the midst of affluence. An affluence that couldn't find a home for its animals once they'd outstayed their welcome.



"You see, he thinks he's John Bruce." Ziegler stopped to open a door for Louise. Smiling, beckoning her through, doing his best to make her feel at ease.

    "Like some people think they're Napoleon?"

    "Similar. But this one's very convincing and, besides, he doesn't wear a funny hat."

    They laughed, the ice broken. It wasn't every day that Louise found herself stalking the corridors of the criminally insane.

    "I still don't quite understand why you want me here."

    "He asked for you. He wants to prove he is who he says he is. He believes he can do that by convincing you. Little things that only the two of you could know - that sort of thing."

    "But why are you helping him?"

    "It’s … part of his therapy."

    The corridors seemed to stretch out for miles; a windowless warren of blank white walls and forbidding doors, the smell of disinfectant, echoing footsteps, recessed lights that hummed and flickered overhead. And cameras mounted at every intersection, their lenses turning to track Louise and Ziegler’s every step.

    "John's dad used to work here, you know?" she said, filling in the silence.  "When it was an air base. This was part of the old air base, wasn't it?"

    Ziegler nodded. "The barracks, I think. Did John live on the base?"

    "No, his family lived in Wootton." She paused. "How does he explain that the real John Bruce is alive somewhere else?"

    "He doesn’t. Not yet. I'm waiting for the right moment to ask him."

    "It still seems strange, though. To ask for me. What can he hope to gain?"

    "He really does believe. He's a strange man but you do understand he'll be secured throughout the session? There'll be no danger to you whatsoever."


    Had she heard that correctly? The man had to be secured?

    Doubt, and a rush of second thoughts. What on earth was she doing? The man had to be secured for Christ’s sake! No one had mentioned that yesterday!

    A request to help a sick patient - that's all she'd been told. A strange request but nothing dangerous. 

    Or was securing patients standard procedure? Were they being extra cautious because she was a visitor?

    "You all right?" asked Ziegler.

    "Yes, fine," she lied, feeling trapped. She'd promised. She was here. She couldn’t back out now. "Just feeling a bit funny. I've never done anything like this before. I won't get hypnotised myself will I?"

    She swallowed hard, fighting the temptation to turn and run back the way they'd come.

    "No, don't worry. You can always close your eyes and cover your ears if you think it helps."



    The room was stark and cold. The hum of a solitary overhead light, the only sound besides the slow drone of Ziegler’s voice. The prisoner - someone called Peter - lay strapped to a reclining chair bolted to the centre of the room. 

    "I'm going to count to three," said Ziegler, "and when I get to three you will awake as John Bruce. One … two … three."

    There was a pause, then the man’s eyes snapped open. He turned his head towards Louise and stared straight at her. 

    "Louise? Is that you? I knew you'd come." His eyes moved up and down her face. "You've changed your hair - it’s shorter."

    She froze in the shadows behind Ziegler's shoulder. She’d thought herself invisible and apart from the process. He didn't look anything like John; he was smaller - slighter - and facially completely different. And yet that voice…

    It was John’s. Or as close to John’s as she could remember. Out came ribbons of memory, tugged by the sound, long walks in the countryside, winter evenings by a log fire, smiles and laughter.

    "It's OK, Miss Callander," said Ziegler. "Come closer, he seems to recognise you."

    "Hello." She shuffled forward, not knowing what to say or do.

    "You've hardly changed," he said. "What is it - twelve, thirteen years?"

    "I think so."

    "Have they told you what's happened?"

    "Not much."

    "It's going to be hard to believe. I'm not sure what's happened myself but you're my last hope." He paused, his voice lowering. "You’ve heard about my parents?"

    She nodded.

    "I don't know what's going on. It's as though everyone who was ever close to me has been killed. Like someone's trying to erase all memory of me from the human race - as though I never existed. You'd better watch out too."

    "I'll be fine."

    "I'm serious, Lou. Be careful."

    "I will."

    He breathed out hard. His face relaxed. 

    "Do you remember what I gave you for your eighteenth birthday?" he asked.

    Louise looked at Ziegler, unsure how she should answer.

    "It's OK, Lou," said John. "I'll tell you what the present was. You tell the Doc if I'm right. A St. Christopher on a white gold chain. To keep you safe on your travels. You were about to go to University. To Exeter, to study Biology. I never knew how you did. We'd returned to the States by the end of your first year there. And now, here you are. How’d I do?"

    The two men looked at Louise, awaiting an answer, but she was too shocked to speak. It couldn't be! He sounded so real, so convincing but it was impossible. She was flustered, struggling to marshal her thoughts. Other people had known of her present, could one of them have told him? What was there that only she and John could know, that neither of them would have told anyone else… And that she could talk about in front of Ziegler?

    Funny. She was already beginning to think of him as John. It was Ziegler who she considered the stranger, the one she couldn't talk in front of.

    "Who was Bunny?" she asked.


    She could feel the concentration in his face. His eyes twitched, a slight but rapid movement, almost as though they were being bombarded with fast-forwarding images as memories cascaded into and out of view.

    "The dog!" He remembered in a flood. "The dog from across the road. That's it, isn't it? You were the only one who called him Bunny. His real name was Jason but he'd tag along with us and you'd tease him, calling him Bunny because he liked to chase rabbits. We'd walk over the fields behind the village and he'd be running around like crazy chasing rabbits that were always too clever for him. That's right, isn't it? Isn't it?"



    They returned along the corridors in silence. Ziegler could tell that Louise was shocked and was willing to give her time to come to terms with her feelings. God knows, she needed it. It's not everyday you meet an old boyfriend trapped inside the body of a crazed murderer.

    Ziegler needed time to think as well. Things were moving rapidly into areas beyond his understanding. He expected Peter to be plausible, almost convincing at times, but not that convincing. Either the two of them were in collusion or … or what?

    He took another look at Louise. Did she look like a groupie? One of those strange women attracted to notorious prisoners?

    He didn’t think so. She’d have to be a consummate actress if she were. And Pendennis wasn’t allowed private correspondence.

    Which meant…

    His mind began to race. No. It couldn't be! A higher dimensional effect? John Bruce had been the first man to travel through the higher dimensions. Could that have affected his mind? Dimension Theory remained a mystery to Ziegler - he stood firm with the traditional wing that denied its pre-eminence in the field of psychology. But there were many that expounded it as the key to the understanding of the human brain. He felt out of his depth. He could see his book on Pendennis fade with every new thought.

    "What happens now?" asked Louise as they neared the exit. It was the first words she’d spoken since he’d ended the session. She looked lost and subdued.

    "Er … I don't know," he said. "I'll need to talk to my colleagues about this. Thank you very much for coming." He didn't mean it but the words came out as a dismissal. Perhaps, subconsciously, it was. He needed time alone to think things through.

    "Is that it?" snapped Louise. "Thank you and good bye? You brought me here. You got me involved. What the hell happened back there?"

    She was close to tears and starting to shout. Two guards at the reception desk had stopped talking and were looking their way. Ziegler shifted his weight onto his other foot.

    It was then that he made his mistake. He gave her a name. Nick Stubbs, Professor of Applied Astropsychology, one of the gurus of the Higher Dimensional lobby.

    "He might be able to help."

    As he watched her climb into her battered pick-up, he cursed himself for thinking aloud, giving a name to a line of thought that was merely passing through. Bazley would hit the roof. There's nothing so intense as the rivalry between two factions of the same profession. They were incompatible. You could not believe in one without disbelieving totally in everything the other stood for. And he had just given the other side an entrée into the world of Peter Pendennis.

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