Mind Games

The intercom buzzed on Johnny Mercury’s desk. “Your two o’clock appointment is here,” Kelly, his receptionist, said.

“Send her in,” Johnny said, coming around to the front of his desk. His office was opulent with wood-paneled walls, wooden desk and wet-bar, over-stuffed leather chair and couch. The thick, pale blue rug that filled the office gleamed under the overhead fluorescents.

A tall, black-haired woman, mid-thirties Johnny guessed, with translucent green eyes entered his office carrying a portable cryogenic canister. She was dressed in a pretty but inexpensive rose-colored pants suit.

“Miss Stephon,” Johnny said, flashing his best smile, “so nice to meet you.” He took her outstretched hand in his and felt a mild electric shock.

“Oh, sorry,” she said. “It must be these shoes. They seem to attract static. Please, call me Kate.”

“Call me Johnny,” he said smiling. He motioned to the chair in front of his desk. “Please, sit down and make yourself comfortable.”

She placed the cryogenic canister on the floor, and sat back in the chair, stroking the arm. “Is this real leather?”

“Yes. It cost an obscene amount of money, but I like my little pleasures,” he said.

“It must be wonderful to be able to live like this,” she said looking around the office.

“In my line of work, image is everything. Can I get you something to drink?”

“No, thank you, I’m fine.”

“Well then,” he said, sitting behind his desk, “what can I do for you?”

“Well, this may sound a bit strange,” she said.

“I hear strange stuff all the time. It’s part of the job.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true.” She picked up the canister and placed it on the desk. “This is my father’s brain. He died yesterday of a heart attack. I want you take it to Mind Recovery, Incorporated.”

Johnny hid his surprise. “I am sorry to hear your father is dead. I remember seeing him often on the tridees. He was a brilliant physicist. I don’t recall seeing his death mentioned, though.”

“Because of what he was working on, we have kept it quiet until we can recover the contents of his brain.”

“If I may ask? What was he working on?”

She paused for a moment, biting her lower lip. “I guess it won’t hurt to tell you, as long as you keep the information to yourself.”

“Confidentiality is a must in the courier business,” he assured her.

“My father was working on a gravity polarizer. An anti-gravity unit, to put it crudely.”

“And you want to recover his research?”

“Yes. Well, the Institute for Advanced Research does. They funded his research. Personally, I am not sure what I think about having my father’s brain scanned.”

“I can understand that,” he said. “Mind recovery is quite invasive.” He cocked his head to one side. “The procedure is very expensive and not always successful. Why not just use his notes?”

“My father was a bit eccentric,” Kate said smiling apologetically. “He never kept any notes. He had an eidetic memory and said notes were ‘for the weak minded’.”

“I see,” Johnny said, nodding. “You said ‘we’ earlier. I take it you work for the Institute as well?”

She nodded. “I was my father’s assistant.”

“Please don’t be offended, but I have to ask. Why come to me? This all seems pretty straightforward. Why not take it yourself?”

“The Institute has received information that someone may try to steal his brain, extract the information and sell it on the black market.”

“You could probably get a military escort, if that were the case.”

“The military may be part of it. They have been trying to get the research classified for military use only. Since the Institute doesn’t accept government funding, they haven’t been able to; so far. They couldn’t make their case for national security either. But if they stole it…” She raised her hands in a “what can you do?” gesture.

“Interesting. Do you have a source for your information?”

Kate shook her head. “I guess it was some anonymous tip.”

“Obviously you feel it was credible, since you have come to me.”

“I thought it best not to take any chances.”

“And rightly so,” he nodded. “Well, then, I see no reason not to help you.”

He sat for a moment, thinking, then asked, “Is there anything else I should know?”

“No, I think that covers it,” she said.

“Very well, then.” Johnny stood and led Kate to the door. “Kelly will give you a receipt for the canister. I’ll call you as soon as I deliver it.”

“When can I expect your call? The batteries on the canister will last a week, but we would like to get the information recovered as soon as possible.”

“I understand. I will be leaving tonight, as soon as I can book a flight. I’ll put the brain in my safe until I leave.”

“Thank you, Johnny,” she said, flashing him a bright smile.

He returned her smile. “I appreciate the business. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

He closed the door and sat behind his desk, looking at the small, silver canister.

“What do you think, Sam?” He asked, absently rubbing his right shoe on the carpet and touching the metal handle of a desk drawer.

A wall panel, or what looked like a wall panel, moved, changed to a pale flesh-color and turned into a naked woman. She strode across the room, opened the closet, slipped on a gold jumpsuit and then curled up on the couch, facing him. Her hair and eyes were the color of chrome.

“Sounds a bit run-of-the-mill,” Samantha said. “I’m surprised you took the job.”

“I’m not so sure,” he said. “She may be right about someone wanting the brain. It could prove interesting.”

Samantha’s haired turned red, her eyes turned green and her features flowed like melting wax. Johnny never got used to seeing his shape-shifting partner assume a new identity.

“If Kelly knew you were imitating her, she would skin you alive,” he said. “If you had skin, that is.”

“I know,” Samantha purred. “That’s what makes it so much fun.”

Johnny shook his head and punched the intercom on his desk. “Kelly, could you book me a flight to D.C. for this evening? Thanks.”

Johnny turned back to Samantha who had resumed her normal appearance. “Could you place the brain in the safe, love? I need to make a phone call.”

Johnny looked at himself in the mirrored-walls of the elevator as it fell to the parking garage. He smoothed down an errant hair and adjusted his tie. He checked the readout on the cryogenic canister. The internal temperature was just above absolute zero, just where it should be.

As he stepped out of the elevator doors, two burly men grabbed him by the arms. “Keep quiet and you won’t get hurt,” said the man gripping his right arm. He had a thick scar that ran the length of his jaw. The other thug was missing an eye.

“You know you could get a new eye,” he said to One-Eye. “Not that it would improve your looks any.” One-Eye just stared like a Cyclops at him.

“Shut your trap,” Scarface said, “or I’ll shut it for you.”

“You should work on your comebacks,” Johnny said. Scarface twisted his arm. “Okay, okay. I get the message.”

“Now,” Scarface said, “we’re going over to that blue Mustang. We just want the brain, that’s all.”

“I have heard that before. You get the brain and I get two slugs in the head,” Johnny said sourly.

“We were paid to get the brain. If they had wanted you dead, you’d be dead.”

“Okay, point taken,” Johnny said.

The thugs pulled on his arms and began to walk him toward the Mustang. A nondescript, black sedan whipped around the corner and screeched to a stop in front of them. Two men jumped from the car and fired silenced pistols at the thugs. Scarface and One-Eye dropped to the ground without a sound. Johnny stood perfectly still. The driver of the sedan pointed his long-barreled pistol at Johnny.

“I’ll take that canister,” the driver said.

Johnny sighed and handed it over. The driver placed it on the front seat while the passenger kept pistol pointed at him. Then both men jumped back into the car and the sedan took off, tires squealing. Johnny knelt by the thugs. Both were quite dead, shot right through the heart. As he stood, an unmarked Metro squad car pulled around the corner and Inspector Highworth stepped from the car.

“Were you camped out in front of my office or something?” Johnny asked.

“We got an anonymous tip that a murder was going down here. Looks like we were a bit late.” The Inspector looked at the bodies. “So what happened Mercury? Clients didn’t pay their bill?”

“Funny,” Johnny said. He recounted the events to Highworth.

“Inspector, over here,” Jackson, Highworth’s assistant, said.

“Come on,” Highworth said. Jackson pulled a pistol from under a parked car with a gloved hand. It was a military issue Enforcer. He waved a portable fingerprint scanner over the gun, looked at the screen and then handed the scanner to Highworth.

“Your prints are all over this gun,” Highworth said. “What do you want to bet that this is the murder weapon?”

“I don’t like to gamble,” Johnny said.

“All right, Mercury. Let’s take a trip.”

At the police station, Johnny called Kate and explained the situation. She arrived an hour later, looking haggard. “They won’t let me bail you out,” she said to him in the visitor’s room.

“I was afraid of that,” he said. “I should have a bond hearing in the morning. Since I have never been charged before, the judge should let me out then.”

“My father’s brain could already be scanned by then,” she said, shaking her head.

“Sorry. There’s not much I can do right now.”

“I know. I’m sorry I got you mixed up in this. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow then, at the hearing.”

Johnny nodded. It was all he could do.

It was just after midnight when a masked intruder slipped into Johnny’s darkened office and scanned the walls with a small flashlight. The intruder felt along the walls, and then pressed a panel with a gloved hand. The panel swung open to reveal an electronic safe.

Slipping a small, square box out of a satchel, the intruder pressed it against the door of the safe. The box hummed for a moment, then displayed a series of numbers on its small screen. The intruder punched in the numbers on the safe’s keypad and the safe clicked and the door unlatched. The intruder reached into the safe and retrieved the cryogenic canister.

The office lights winked on.

“Didn’t get what you were after earlier?” Johnny asked, stepping out of the closet with Inspector Highworth following him. Highworth pulled the mask off the thief and smiled. It was Kate.

“I just left you at the police station!” She said.

“Tell me Kate. Why are you here, looking in my safe, when you know your father’s brain was stolen?” Johnny asked. She glared at him but didn’t answer.

“I’ll tell you then. Because you knew that the stolen canister was empty. You knew because you arranged to have it stolen. It was actually a pretty good plan. First, you hired a couple of thugs to attempt to steal the canister, then hired a couple more to kill them, really steal the canister, and leave a murder weapon covered in my prints.

“You set the stage nicely with that story about the anonymous tip the Institute received and about the possible military connection. I called the Institute and sure enough, they did get a phone call telling them that someone was going to attempt to steal the brain. I assume that was you. I also assume it was you that called in that tip to the police.

“Having your thugs use military handguns was also clever. If for some reason the police didn’t pin the whole thing on me, it would look like the military had stolen the brain. The military would deny it, of course, but they deny everything. Everything seemed to go according to plan, but when you looked into the canister you didn’t find your father’s brain. You must have realized then, I had switched containers. I had mentioned earlier that I was putting it in my safe, so you thought it was still here and came to get it.”

“How did you know?” She asked, a note of defeat creeping into her voice.

“That little electric shock when I shook your hand. It was a fingerprint reader wasn’t it?”

She nodded, a puzzled look on her face.

“You see, my carpet has an anti-static coating on it to prevent those nasty little shocks. I have used readers myself, on occasion. A thin layer of neoskin over your real skin and once you press the flesh, zap, it records a full set of fingerprints. Easy to transfer to any nonporous surface, such as a gun.”

Johnny paused, a puzzled expression on his face. “That leaves why. Why steal your father’s brain?”

She stared at him and Johnny could see the bitterness on her face. “Why? Because of the life we had to live. We could barely buy the essentials on what the Institute doled out for his research. My mother left him, and me, because of it.”

She waved her hand at Johnny’s office. “We could have lived like this. He had hundreds of offers to work in the corporate sector. We didn’t have to live like paupers, but he didn’t want to work for money, he wanted to work for humankind. ‘For the betterment of all’, he would say. I guess his family wasn’t included in that.”

Johnny shook his head sadly. “She’s all yours, Inspector.”

“Jackson, if you please,” Highworth said to a uniform police officer standing in the office doorway. Jackson led her out of the office.

“We’ll have no trouble getting the names of her accomplices,” Highworth said.

“What a waste,” Johnny said. “Oh, could you let Samantha out of jail? She hates to be cooped up.”

“Sure. And that reminds me Mercury. Next time you time pull a switch like that, I’ll rap you a good one. I just about crapped my pants when she started changing in the car.”

Johnny laughed. “I’ll remember that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a brain to deliver.”