Tuesday, 28 July 2009

BINARY CODE Chapter 19 The Theoretical House

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Proving a theory is like building a house. If the foundation of logic is solid, the frame of analysis sound, and the angles of support symmetric, then hanging the doors and windows and walls of proof on the skeleton of supposition is merely a question of application. We were sitting in the Richmond Airport. I was going to catch a plane back to New York, and Tess was heading back south to North Carolina. She held my hand easily, naturally, as if we had been this close our whole lives. The silence between us carried just as much weight as words. "What are you going to do?" she asked. This was a question with a thousand and one meanings and twice as many answers. "What do you mean? Today? Next week? Over the long term? About us?" I said it good naturedly, and she took it the same way. She smiled. "It wasn't a loaded question. Start with today..." "Today..." I said. "Today I am going to figure out a way to get back to see you. That means thinking about everything else in my life ..." She picked her head off my shoulder and looked straight through my eyes. "And yours..." I added. "You know, Evan. You don't have to hurry into anything. I'm not going anywhere." I knew what she meant by that. "Neither am I, Tess," I said. We sat in silence, watching people move by at different speeds and with differing degrees of care on their faces. An airport is a good place to view the full gamut of human emotions. In the anonymity of transience people let down their guards. "What about our mystery?" she said. I looked around as people milled back and forth, oblivious to us or to what we were talking about. "It all revolves around the doctor. I think he's the key. Without his complicity my idea makes no sense. Since he obviously wasn't from around Matthews, it's probably going to be easier to find him out about him in New York." I squeezed her hand. "Power, money, and pride. It's all there, Tess. People haven't really changed much over the years. They still do bad things for stupid reasons. And a lot of times they get away with it." The plane was called, cutting short our conversation. I looked at Tess and one of those seemingly incongruous thoughts passed through my head. "Isn't it strange?" I asked her. "What?" "I calculated it once. When you're forty years old, you've lived over 21 million minutes. Yet out of all that time, there are really only so few that count for anything, so few that have any bearing on the direction you take in life, and only two that start you off or end it all." "Oh, that sounds ominous," she said. "No, I didn't mean it like that. I meant these past few days. They were important moments...a new beginning, Tess. We're going on a trip...and I wonder where we'll end up." "As long as we're together," she said. Suddenly a sad smile creased her face. I nodded with my eyelashes. I kissed her and held her tightly, her body a perfect fit against mine. "I'll call you tonight," I said, and as I entered the tunnel at the gate I looked back at her, her shoulders sloping towards the floor, her arm half-raised in an attentuated girl scout salute, a fake pout on her face masking the sadness we both felt. I slept on the plane. When I awoke the lights of Manhattan were ambling past as we banked towards LaGuardia. My mind raced back to earlier that day at Valhalla, when the two of us were trying to eke out a few last moments on the hammock. It's just like God, I had thought to myself. Every so often he lets us all climb out of the valleys of despair, but he makes sure that the slog up the mountain is long and hard. And when we get to the peak, we can't stay there too long. The air is too rarefied, and even though the view stretches endlessly before us, it's an illusion. We'll have the memory, but already we have to start the descent just to survive. My mind and heart were hiving off in two directions like jet fighters at some airshow. Had Tess been there, perhaps I would have ignored my mind and just followed the whims of my heart. Back alone in the chill of the Northeast however, the warm hand of my curiosity was leading me, and I pressed forward to confirm the theory quietly percolating in my subconscious. My phone call to Tess that night was long and frustrating, the magic of technology making her voice seem right next to me, dangling the false closeness maddeningly out of reach. The next night's call was different. "Guess where I've been today?" I began. "Where?" she humoured me. "I went up to New Haven to the Medical School to look through the AMA files they have there..." There was an excited tone in my voice. "And?" Tess was impatient. "Doctor Riley was pretty famous himself. There's a wing of the hospital named after him." "A wing? Which hospital?" "The Yale Hospital. I visited it myself. There's more..." I was being cruel. "Guess what kind of wing?" Tess was losing patience. "Go on, Evan. Tell me." "The Malcolm Riley Cardiology Wing." "Cardiology..." Tess exhaled. "It gets better. Guess where the funds came from to build it?" She was ahead of me. "UBI." "You got it. Every year until he died in 1936." "Jesus." Tess exclaimed. "I also found out his specialty in the journals," I continued. "He was one of the pioneers of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. He was the first person to use adrenalin to restart hearts. This guy was a clockmaker, Tess. He could start or stop the ticker at his whim. He would know if it were a heart attack, or more importantly, how to make it look like one. And who was going to argue with him in a small county hospital in Gloucester?" There was a stunned silence at the other end of the phone. What had seemed a theory suddenly seemed to make sense. "Faust." Tess seemed to spit out the word. "What?" I hadn't heard what she said. "Making a deal with the devil," she said bitterly. "The bastards." "Can we prove anything?" There was firm resolve in her voice. "Proving a murder eighty years on when the murderers are long since dead will be next to impossible and useless anyway. But it doesn't matter anyway." "What do you mean?" Tess asked, quick to respond. "We have ammunition, or rather your family has ammunition. We may not be able to get back at MacEnzie or his pal, but we can hit his family where it hurts. The Shareholder's Agreement, Tess. It's real alright, and we have Mary who can back it up with what she said about your great-grandfather's words to MacEnzie. We are partners again. Again. The agreement at 1819 is valid. Valid enough to make MacEnzie want to kill old Helmut." "So you think that was the main reason?" "An inventor starts a company with a businessman. The company does well. The businessman sees the possibilities way beyond their initial success. Big isn't bad, he thinks. He buys out the inventor, but he realises when the inventor's gone that he still needs his expertise. He brings him back again, but this time the inventor has wised up. He wants more of a say in the business side. Big egos clash. Something has to give, and the businessman is ruthless enough to win out and get rid of the old thorn in his side." I let that sink in, and then pressed on. "He's smart enough to get away with it, and he eases his conscience by giving some of the blood money for good deeds and by enshrining his dead partner as an icon of the twentieth century. And when nobody ever produces the missing shareholder's agreement, a myth is born. The company grows up around a doctored history, and bad deeds are erased." There was a sharp intake of breath at the other end of the phone. Something between a gasp and a sigh. "Oh me....."she said. "I think you're right." The enormity of it all filtered through the silence on the line. "What are we going to do?" she continued. "We know a lawyer, right?" I offered. "I'll call Dewey and get his opinion..." and then thinking ahead, I added: "Do you think you can go to 1819 and meet me in Charleston by this weekend?" "What should I tell the others? My parents? Stokely?" My brain was suddenly spinning. Between the two of us, a theory was only a theory. Brought out into the open, it would become set in concrete, either as truth or as the ramblings of an active imagination. It would have far reaching implications, both for us and for the family. We were about to cross our own little Rubicon, and rightly or wrongly, I preferred that we do it alone. "When does Stokely return?" Oddly enough, this was the first time we had talked of Stokely since going to Valhalla. "Not until next week," she replied. "Do we wait?" "What do you think?" she came back, the ball in my court. "I don't think either of us want to tell him over the phone with him in Asia, do you? He won't be able to do anything from there, will he?" "No." "And do you want to tell your parents or the others? It is still a theory." "Just us then." "Just us." As simple as that, a club had been created, a secret club with only two members. Perhaps it was the wrong thing to do. Perhaps in retrospect we should have co-opted the others, especially Stokely, by bringing them in at the beginning. I after all, was an outsider. I had nothing to gain. I just wanted to be with Tess. In any case, it was set. I called Dewey, and told him that the two of us were going to be in Charleston for the weekend. He sounded bemused that we were coming as a pair, but was as hospitable as ever, suggesting we all stay out at their house on Sullivan's Island. I didn't tell him anything. Tess and I agreed that we should collect our thoughts by each of us writing down independently what we had done from finding the agreement to our conversation with Mary. That way we would be sure to have a story to tell Dewey that was organised and as close to the truth as our memories would allow. Tess agreed to fly first to Washington, make a copy of the Shareholder's Agreement, and meet me Saturday morning in Charleston. We had built our theoretical house. Now we would live in it.

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