Hector led me to a pool hall near the hospital after the meeting. The bartender there gave me a dark look until I ordered a tonic water. It was a small town, after all.
Hector racked and I broke, but I didn’t sink anything. Hector quickly dropped the 15 ball. “So, what’s up with you still being an undergrad? What are you, like twenty-five?”
I leaned on my cue. “Twenty-four.”
“On the seven-year plan or something?” The 11 just missed the side pocket.
I started examining the table. “No, I just took an indirect route after high school.”
“Did you travel or something?”
“Sort of.” Time to change the subject. Memory Lane was sporting a big old “BRIDGE OUT” sign as far as I was concerned. I took my shot, the 2 ball in the corner pocket. No luck.
“Whoops – my fault,” Hector said.
“I screwed that up my own.”
“Don’t think so. Shoulders tense and a lack of focus following a short, non-informative response to my question? I stepped into a no-go zone. As I said, my fault.”
From anyone else, it would have sounded presumptuous; but he said it in such a matter-of-fact way that it was hard to get upset.
“No, it’s all right,” I found myself saying, “It’s just...I was homeless for a few years.”
“Were you actually out on the streets?”
“Not more than a few months total. Most of the time I crashed with friends, or friends of friends, for as long as they’d let me stay. I saved some cash, took advantage of a friend’s dad who had some pull here, got a scholarship.”
“Wow, dude. Good for you.”
“Thanks. So,” I said, “Professor Harte talks like that all the time? I thought it was just to put his classes to sleep so that he only had to give half a lecture.”
“I’ve heard that one before. Nah, Harte’s just really into the psychological effect of words and symbols, language affecting perception and all of that. He’s not trying to be complicated; he’s trying to be extremely precise. It usually means that we need to translate for him, though.”
“I definitely need a translation. What have I gotten myself into?”
“Well,” he said, aiming and sinking the 14, “you’ll get the full run-down on your informed consent form, but basically you’ve signed up for the first-stage clinical trial of a drug cocktail that’s designed to enhance your subconscious activity.”
“I’ve what now?”
“It’s not that different from standard psychoanalysis and dream interpretation. You can’t dream, though, so the drug will help you conceptualize whatever’s going on in your subconscious that’s blocking you when you try to sleep. Then we talk about what you see.”
Second thoughts began lining up in my head. “Does this miracle drug have a name?”
Hector lined up his next shot. “Yeah, it’s about thirty-eight syllables long. But those of us on a first-name basis with it just call it Visulex.” He dropped the 12, looked up. “Look, don’t let it weird you out.” Dropped the 9. “This could help you. I know the Professor seems like he’s out of it, but he knows what he's doing.” And the 10. “As Lily would be happy to tell you at length.”
“Oh, yeah. Lily Breckenridge is a true believer, dude. I don’t think she’s hot for the Professor, but good luck getting her to notice you exist while he’s around.” He grinned, and sank the 13. “Couldn’t blame you for trying, though.” The 11 went next; I was glad I didn’t have money on this game.
“So you think I’m wasting my time?”
Hector shrugged. “Is attempting to be friendly to an attractive woman ever a waste of time? Besides, it might be good for her to unwind a bit.”
“If I’m part of this project, I imagine I might be spending some time with Ms. Breckenridge,” I said with mock thoughtfulness.
“You might, if you were assigned to her for your counseling sessions. As it happens, you’re assigned to me.” Hector paced around the table like a great cat stalking its prey. “But, seeing as we now have a pre-existing friendship here, I think I can persuade Ms. Breckenridge that it would be inappropriate for me to handle your case, and that it would be better for the project if we traded assignments.”
Who was I to object to such convincing reasoning? “We must think only of the project, Mr. Ojeda.”
“Indeed, Mr. Larkin,” Hector said, sinking the 8 ball.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 3.1]