Read Killing Time Online

Authors: Caleb Carr

Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #General, #Psychological, #Thrillers, #Technological, #Presidents, #Twenty-First Century, #Assassination, #Psychology Teachers

Killing Time

Caleb Carr
Killing Time

 

Copyright (C) Caleb
Carr 2000

 

 

 

This book is dedicated
to SUZANNE GLUCK

Anyone who has a problem
would do well to take it up with her

 

I have but one lamp
by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience.

 I know no way of judging
the future but by the past.

—PATRICK HENRY, 1775

 

 
CHAPTER 1

 

SOMEWHERE IN THE MITUMBA
MOUNTAIN RANGE OF CENTRAL AFRICA, SEPTEMBER 2024

 

We leave at daylight, so I must
write quickly. All reports indicate that my pursuers are now very close: the
same scouts who for the last two days have reported seeing a phantom airship
moving steadily down from the northeast, setting fire to the earth as it goes,
now say that they have spotted the vessel near Lake Albert. My host, Chief
Dugumbe, has at last given up his insistence that I allow his warriors to help
me stand and fight, and instead offers an escort of fifty men to cover my
escape. Although I'm grateful, I've told him that so large a group would be too
conspicuous. I'll take only my good friend Mutesa, the man who first dragged my
exhausted body out of this high jungle, along with two or three others armed
with some of the better French and American automatic weapons. We'll make straight
for the coast, where I hope to find passage to a place even more remote than
these mountains.

It seems years since fate cast me
among Dugumbe's tribe, though in reality it's been only nine months; but then
reality has ceased to have much meaning for me. It was a desire to get that
meaning back that originally made me choose this place to hide, this remote,
beautiful corner of Africa that has been forever plagued by tribal wars. At
the time the brutality of such conflicts seemed to me secondary to the fact
that the ancient grievances fueling them had been handed down from generation
to generation by word of mouth alone; I thought this a place where I might be
at least marginally sure that the human behavior around me was not being
manipulated by the unseen hands of those who, through mastery of the wondrous
yet sinister technologies of our "information age," have obliterated
the line between truth and fiction, between reality and a terrifying world in
which one's eyes, ears, and heart can no longer be trusted.

There are no newspapers here, no
televisions, and above all no computers, which means no damned Internet.
Dugumbe forbids it all. His explanation for this stance is simple, though no
less profound for its simplicity: information, he insists, is not knowledge.
The lessons passed on from one's elders, taught by the wisest of them but
recorded only in the mind, these, Dugumbe has always said, represent true
knowledge. The media I've mentioned can only divert a man from such wisdom and
enslave him to what Dugumbe calls the worst of all devils: confusion. There was
a time when I—a man of the West, the possessor of not one but two
doctorates—would have laughed at and disdained such beliefs; and in truth,
during the time I've been here the laws and folklore of these people have come
to trouble me deeply. Yet in a world stuffed full of deliberately warped
information, of manufactured "truths" that have ignited conflicts far
greater than Dugumbe's tribal struggles, I now find myself clinging to the core
of the old king's philosophy even more tightly than he does.

There—I've just heard it. Distant
but unmistakable: the thunderous rumble that heralds their approach. It'll
appear out of the sky soon, that spectral ship; or perhaps it will rise up out
of the waters of Lake Albert. And then the burning will begin again,
particularly if Dugumbe attempts to forcefully resist the extraordinary brother
and sister who command the vessel. Yes, time is running out, and I must write
faster—though just what purpose my writing serves is not quite
so
clear.
Is it for the sake of my own sanity, to reassure myself that it all truly
happened? Or is it for some larger goal, perhaps the creation of a document
that I can feed out over what has become my own devil, the Internet, and
thereby fight fire with fire? The latter theory assumes, of course, that
someone will believe me. But I can't let such doubts prevent the attempt.
Someone
must listen, and, even more important, someone must
understand...

For it is the greatest truth of
our age: information is not knowledge.

 

CHAPTER 2

 

In retrospect, the pattern was
there to be seen by anyone attentive enough to trace it. A remarkable series of
"discoveries" in history, anthropology, and archaeology had made
headlines for several years; but they were all, on their surface, attributable
to the great advances made possible in each of those fields by the continued
march and intermingling of bio- and information technology, and so those of us
who might have detected a controlling presence at work simply got on with our
lives. Our lives; yes, even
I
had a life, before all this began...

In fact, by the standards of
modern capitalism I had a good life, one graced by both money and professional
respect. A psychiatrist by training, I taught criminal psychiatry and
psychology in New York (the city of my birth and childhood) at John Jay
University, once a comparatively small college of criminal justice that had
grown, during the movement toward privatized prisons that gained such enormous
momentum during the first two decades of this century, to become one of the
wealthiest educational institutions in the country. Even the crash of '07 and
the resultant worldwide recession had not been enough to stop John Jay's
expansion: the school has always produced America's best correctional officers,
and by 2023, with mandatory drug and quality-of-life punishments so stringent
that rally two percent of the nation's population was behind bars, the United
States needed nothing so much as prison guards. All of which allowed those who,
like me, taught the headier subjects at John Jay to be paid a more-than-decent
salary. In addition, I'd recently written a best-selling book,
The
Psychological History of the United States
(the second of my degrees being
in history), and so I could actually afford to live in Manhattan.

It was those two areas of
expertise—criminology and history— that brought a handsome, mysterious woman to
my office on September 13, 2023. It was a grim day in the city, with the air
so still and filthy that the mayor had asked the populace to venture outside
only if their business was urgent. This my visitor's certainly seemed to be:
from the first it was obvious that she was profoundly shaken, and I tried to be
as gentle as possible as I led her to a chair. She asked in a hushed tone if I
were indeed Dr. Gideon Wolfe; assured that I was, she informed me that she was
Mrs. Vera Price, and I recalled instantly that she was the wife of a certain
John Price, who'd been one of the movie and theme-park industry's leading
special effects wizards until he'd been murdered outside his New York apartment
building a few days earlier. Murdered, I might add, in a particularly
unpleasant way: his body had been torn to such tiny pieces by some unknown
weapon that only recourse to his DNA records had made identification possible.
I offered my condolences and asked if there'd been any progress on the case,
only to be told that there hadn't been and probably never would be—not unless I
helped her. "They," it seemed, wouldn't permit it.

Wondering just who
"they" might be, I continued to listen as Mrs. Price explained that
she and her husband had had two children, the first of whom had died, like
forty million other people worldwide, during the staphylococcus epidemic of
2006. The Prices' second child, a daughter, was now in high school in the
city, and even she, Mrs. Price claimed, had been threatened by
"them."

"Who?" I finally asked,
suspecting that this might be a case of hysterical paranoia. "What do they
want? And why come to me about it?"

"I remembered a television
interview you did last year," she answered, rummaging through her bag,
"and downloaded it. Crime and history—those are your fields, right? Well,
then, here—" She revealed a silvery computer disc and tossed it onto my
desk. "Take a look at that. They confiscated the original, but I found a
copy in my husband's safe-deposit box."

"But—"

"Not now. I just wanted to
bring you the disc. Come to my house tonight if you think there's any way you
can help. Here's the address."

The flutter of a slip of paper,
and she was back out the door, leaving me nothing to do but shake my head and
slip the disc into the drive of my computer.

It took all of one minute to look
at the images that were burnt onto the thing; and then I found myself grabbing
for the wireless phone in my wallet in a state of agitated shock. I began
punching a familiar sequence of numbers, until Vera Price's words about
"them" came back to me. I ended the wireless call and picked up the
land line on my desk. Whoever "they" were, they couldn't have tapped
it— not yet.

I redialed the number, then heard
a disgruntled voice: "Max Jenkins."

"Max," I said to my
oldest friend in the world, a former city cop who was now a private detective.
"Don't move."

"What do you mean, 'don't
move'? What the hell kind of a way is that to talk to people, you bloodless
Anglo-Saxon bastard? I'm going out to lunch."

"Oh?" I countered.
"And suppose I told you I'm looking at possible evidence that Tariq
Khaldun didn't shoot Forrester?"

Silence for an instant; then:
"Is that insane statement supposed to make me less hungry?"

"No, Max—"

"Because it isn't—"

"Max, will you shut up?
We're talking about the murder of the president."

"No,
you're
talking
about it.
I'm
talking about lunch."

I sighed. "How about if I
bring the food?"

"How about if you bring it
fast?
"

 

CHAPTER 3

 

Twenty minutes later, Max and I
were sitting in front of a bank of computers that nearly covered an old desk in
his office on Twenty-Second Street near the Hudson River. As we stared at his
main screen, we did our worst to a couple of vegetable burgers I'd picked up
from the deli downstairs, so engrossed in what we were seeing— even the jaded
Max—that we didn't even have time to engage in our usual nostalgia for the days
before the devastating national
E. coli
outbreak of 2021, when you could
still get a real hamburger at something other than the most careful (and
expensive) restaurants in town.

On the screen in front of us was
the by then deathly familiar scene of three years earlier: the podium in the
hotel ballroom in Chicago; the impressive figure of President Emily Forrester
striding up, wiping a few beads of sweat from her forehead and preparing to
accept the nomination of her party for a second term; and, in the distance, the
face, the assassin's face that had been enlarged and made familiar
to
every
man, woman, and child in the country since the discovery just a year ago of the
private digicam images taken by some still anonymous person in the crowd. It
was a face that, after only a two-month search, had been given a name: Tariq
Khaldun, minor functionary in the Afghan consulate in Chicago. Justice had been
swift: Khaldun, constantly and pathetically shouting his innocence, had been
convicted within months and had recently begun serving a life sentence in a
maximum-security facility outside Kansas City. As a result, diplomatic
relations between the United States and Afghanistan, always fragile, had been
strained almost to the breaking point.

But Max and I had other problems
to worry about that day, specifically the fact that on the disc given to me by
Mrs. Price the images, instead of proceeding on to the scene of panic that
usually followed the assassination, suddenly disappeared; the screen went black
for a few seconds, then came alive again with a replay of the crime, one in
which the area where the eye was accustomed to seeing Khaldun's face was a
carefully delineated blank. Next the screen went black a second time, and
finally a third version of the same sequence appeared; but in this go-round, the
man wielding the gun in the background was someone entirely different: Asian,
maybe Chinese, certainly not Afghan.

I turned to my bearded friend.
"What do you think?"

Eyes on the screen as he chewed
on a sliver of potato, Max answered, "I think they cook these fries in
llama dung." He tossed his paper dish aside.

"The disc, Max," I said
impatiently. "Is it evidence of a forgery or not?"

Max shrugged. "Could be.
Nobody was better than Price when it came to image manipulation—and we all know
that you can't believe a goddamned thing you don't see firsthand anymore. But
this isn't setting off any alarms in
my
software."

Other books

Badger's Moon by Peter Tremayne
Daddy's Girl by Poison Pixie Publishing
The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch
East of the River by J. R. Roberts
Hard Magic by Laura Anne Gilman
Naughty List by Willa Edwards
One Christmas Knight by Robyn Grady