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The following is an excerpt from a novel I spent 8 years on. The collection of master stills for the film began in August of 2000 with a convoy to the majestic Rocky Mountains, where we spent several days in the mountains just stopping whenever we found a particularly scenic place that I felt also lent something to the story. Our purpose was to acquire master shots, with the intention of filming the bulk of the associated scenes in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, in the Hiawatha National Forest. The scene below is this: The reporter, Graham Foster (who represents the audience in the book), has just left an interview with the fugitive recluse, "Einstein-for-our-time", scientist Walter McGregor. The interview is only shown in flashback through this scene, which has Foster calling his editor, Roth, in Washington, to break the news of what he's just been told by McGregor.

This excerpt takes place pretty early in the story, and tells the reader what's going on, and what's about to take place.


The Truth Variations


Noon, the day after

    In the car he backed out, turned around, and took off down McGregor’s driveway without the slightest awareness of these movements as they happened. Bouncing off through the potholes, Foster grabbed his phone from the seat beside him and put a speed-dial through to Washington. The conference button allowed him the use of his hands; right now there were too many other damn things to do besides hold the phone. On the floor by the passenger side was a bulky, nylon-covered case and, after putting the phone back into it’s cradle, he hoisted the awkward thing up onto the seat.

    "Washington Post. How may I direct your call?"

    "It’s Graham Foster, Gene. I need you to put me through to Roth right now." He was fighting to unzip the bag, navigate the huge chuck holes in McGregor’s mile-long driveway, digest the pieces of what he had just heard, and engineer some kind of plan all at the same time.

    "I’m checking the schedule."

    "Gene. Please. Whatever he’s doing, this is more important. "

    "I think he’s in a meeting, Graham—"

    "He’s expecting this, I promise." Filling the nylon case was a tape recorder. It would have been his back up if McGregor had wanted to talk anymore than three hours. Without taking his eyes off the road he reached into the back seat for his briefcase.

    "Roth here."

    His Grand Am hit the county road and he turned back the way he had come in, west toward the airport. No cops around so he floored it. "Roth, I think you may want to clear the room for this." He was breathing deep, forcing himself to calm down now, in through the nose and out through the mouth—halfway succeeding. By degrees he returned to his own actions. Having to navigate the narrow road to McGregor’s house and not drive himself up a tree in the process had helped immensely. With a clear head now, he was telling the editor-in-chief of the Washington Post to throw out whoever he was having a meeting with and listen exclusively to him—a reporter so low on the totem pole he was still taking the bus to work. McGregor had asked for him personally, and so Roth had been left with little choice but to okay the flight to Long Island. That meant Roth must have been champing at the bit to hear what had come out of it. Roth, he believed, was probably expecting the nature of this story to demand such an action. Right?

    He concentrated on opening the briefcase while he waited for the silence to end, balancing it on the tape recorder, which took up most of the seat. Just as he managed to open both clasps Roth abruptly snapped up the line and his voice, in the confines of the front seat, was deafening. "You got the floor, Graham. What’s up with McGregor?"

    With a quick smile Foster took a very deep breath, then dove in headfirst. "As we speak, he’s preparing to leave the country. In fact, he should be officially on the lam by the time I make it back to Washington. Apparently he was working on some kind of research for the government and it’s just blown up in his face somehow … he didn’t go into it, I have no idea why. Anyway, whatever it was, he’s set to duck out before the bullets fly. Now—I do know that the project had to do with some kind of experimental drug that opens the memory to scrutiny. I know that’s vague but he went off on a million jargon-filled tangents, so I’m going to play some of the tapes for you and see if you can follow it."

    Approaching seventy-five now he had to pass a red Toyota doing the posted forty-five. Out of the briefcase he fished all three of the tapes without slowing, then swept the case onto the floor. At random he chose one of these and slipped it into the tape recorder, pushed ‘play’ and turned up the volume.

    "—Evidence currently in the possession of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and that you anticipate a formal accusation—made officially by the Attorney General—pertaining to the utilization of an untested drug on unsuspecting recipients. Is that correct?"


    "And what, shall I say, is your formal response?"

    Brief pause. "Just as every lie, their accusation will be true in context, Mister Foster. First they will say that the drug is solely my own creation. That is true. However, what they may or may not mention is that the recipients were supplied to me directly by the Federal Bureau of Prisons—probably, if not definitely—with the previous knowledge of the FBI. They will say I was working under my own cognizance, yet not one experiment was undertaken by me, or any one of my staff, without the previous knowledge and approval of the appropriate persons in full … at least, I was lead to believe the appropriate persons were being made aware."

    "And who were these people, Doctor?"

    Brief pause. "Well, the only contact that I was allowed access to was Senator Ribaldi, of Virginia. If any major problems did arise it was he who found out second. I would say he visited our Capricorn facilities in Colorado, oh … I’d say at least fifteen times. (pause) That’s fifteen times in the course of five years. Obviously there were others involved—but I assure you my staff and I were confined strictly to a position affording nothing more than the necessary information absolutely needed to operate. This was an operation of considerably high secrecy. Matters of clearance were always handled with the utmost delicacy and I can appreciate that. Which is why you must stress that it is not my intention to directly implicate any single participant in this experiment even now. Including myself."

    "Blah Blah Blah." He jabbed the fast-forward button. Two seconds later, Play. "—Here to discuss the drug itself—its relevance, its intended purpose. As of this moment those in control still have a chance to avoid a mistake similar to the ones they always make. What I am doing is forcing them to confront the facts of what has taken place, to act in a truthful manner and henceforth avoid any deception of the American public."

    "But how are they deceiving, or about to deceive, the American public, Doctor?"

    "By implicating me as the lone gunman."

    Foster stopped the tape. He was really nowhere near the story.

    "What does this drug that’s solely his own creation do?" Roth wanted to know.


    "Consider any work of fiction you’ve ever read as a metaphorical comparison, Mister Foster. At the center of the conflict there are one or two characters driving the plot, representing the significance of the story to us. Surrounding them will be others who operate in a supportive capacity—necessary, though never as pronounced as the one or two in the center. From there flows a ripple effect concerning any number of bit players—extras, they’re called in American plays. These are usually common, unchanging properties. Static characters or stereotypes.

    "In this case, Mister Foster, the Theater is the human psyche. The Stage on which everything takes place is the Subconscious. But the Truth," he continued, "is the spotlight. At certain moments during the process it has the power and ability to cut through, to find access to the subject’s hopes, his desires, his fears, his childhood traumas and his dreams. The drug’s properties were designed to pass over the common similarities in the human condition, to illuminate only the most crucial player or players. Those facets of the human character that make it individual—it is these who are solidified in the forefront for us to examine. They are the items of the self that are wholly individual, Mister Foster."

    "Consider fully before you bring this to the rest of the country the potential of this experiment, and where it might have taken us; at the very least, you must say, a better understanding. The Truth was the possible means to a journey that would have given us our first visual examination of the human soul…"

    Cut. "I see," said Roth, "Still crazy after all these years."

    Just before he hit play again Foster said, "I think he might have actually pulled it off this time."

    "Doctor, I don’t mean to over-simplify, but (pause) are you saying you have actually bottled some kind of key to the human soul?" [Fast-forward] "The exploration of, or the search for, the human soul is nothing new. It began more than a hundred years ago with the French." Foster recalled the obvious pride when the man had said that, as if he were the physical culmination of a century’s research. McGregor’s attention had wandered out to the approaching storm then, the one breaking above him right now and Foster jabbed down the fast-forward button. Counting silently to five he pressed play again: "—simply, they offered to finance me completely for the next thirty years—any project I chose to pursue—in exchange for the rights to make the Truth their own. Their name for it was Manifest-Content Realization."


    "Manifest-Content, in layman terminology, is the substance of what you see in dreams, the stuff usually recalled upon waking. However, quite often what your subconscious manifests in a dream state is not the actual thoughts or feelings that originally inspired the dream. The true nature of what you are seeing has more than likely been disguised. The images your mind may provide you are most likely the symbols of something else.

    That belief happens to be the basis of modern psychoanalysis, Mister Foster. What lies behind such symbols quite often has much to do with the true constitution of your learned nature. The reasons that instigate our behavior often remain confined and largely unknown to us, surfacing only from time to time in a fashion that our conscious minds can withstand, distinct from whatever it was that made the truth too disturbing for us to face in it’s actual form."

    "It is the censor, a term initially coined by Freud, which decides how you will see such things in your dreams, Mister Foster. It is this guard, this checkpoint if you will, that will decide whether the images that make it through to your conscious mind will do so in their true forms or whether they will require a disguise. My goal, and the function of the Truth, was to override the power of this censor in a controlled atmosphere."

    "For how long, Doctor?"

    "How long?"

    "How long could such a defense be over-ridden?"

    "Well, for as long as the subject required (pause) in order to overcome those truths about him or herself that might constitute their inner dilemmas. To (pause) rectify himself if you will."

    "By hallucinating his true self, by artificial means, into his true reality."

    McGregor nodded almost approvingly though Foster wasn’t exactly sure why. "But I never intended for the Truth to apply to the purposes they eventually devised. This drug was born to fulfill an entirely different purpose—you have to see that. If we hadn’t been so impossibly rushed we might have ultimately brought man closer to some semblance of inner peace with himself. Quite possibly a gratification of almost spiritual proportions. Instead, since the earliest known civilizations mankind has been searching for the most effective ways to provoke his eventual suicide. How long do we have before he succeeds, Mister Foster? Precisely it was this instinct for destruction that I was seeking to understand, with the hopes of reversing it."

    The rain was starting to fall in the fat drops of a coming downpour. He ran his fingertips across the buttons without looking and finally pushed what he believed was fast-forward. He was coming onto the main highway now, finally heading back toward the city. "Where does it go from here, Graham?" asked Roth, loud and clear in the car’s front seat.

    "It gets better. Hang on." Shit! It wasn’t this tape. Keeping quiet, calm in front of the old man, he risked a glance down to find the windshield wiper control. By a stroke of pure luck he found it without too much of a search. He tried to remember which tape was the one he needed. One of the first ones, right?

    "What’s going on?"

    "Something went horribly wrong apparently. Now he’s thinking the people who were really in charge will want to send him up for it. The drug is his baby and very few others were involved as closely as he was. Directly he named Senator Ribaldi, the one from Virginia. That’s who I’m hitting next. He wouldn’t name anyone else on his own staff."

    "What exactly do they want to put him on the rack for?" Roth asked.

    The next time he pushed play it was the doctor’s yelling that boomed out at them, deafening he and Roth both. "—stole it out from under me and changed the spirit of the entire thing! They threatened to kill the entire project if I did not concede it to them. They utterly perverted its every intention and now they’re going to claim it was I who behaved in some sort of criminal fashion! That I went behind their backs on certain issues, that I made unjustified interventions with no prior acquiescence—"

    He stopped the tape and fished it out, grabbing another one at random. Again, play: "—Mister Foster. With the federal government behind me I had every sanction approved with little more than a phone call. Without them I would never have had access to subjects, test subjects with nothing at all to lose. They agreed to provide me with two individuals within the week, chosen by myself, after interviews conducted by myself—"

    "Right there!" Foster blurted out, stopping the tape. "The FBP allowed him the use of seven—live—federal—prisoners."

    "He said two."

    "No—he only tells us what happened to the first two. They died and he tells how, but I have to find it." Foster slapped his chosen tape into the deck and pushed play: "He lasted longer—about five hours in fact. After he had physically snapped through his own straps he proceeded to run around the room like a madman, screaming gibberish that nobody could possibly understand—"

    Rewind, half a second: "—first subject was undoubtedly thrown into an arena with his most incredible fear. His heart all but exploded through his chest. And such a result took less than one full hour to reach."

    Foster hit fast-forward.

    "Talk to me Graham."

    Instead he pushed play: "—the two who died."

    "Yes, the two who died because the levels in their inoculations were too high, the reactions therefore too intense. How could I have known—this is why we experiment in any scientific pursuit. What animal could possibly provide the landscape of human emotion that was needed? I was not prepared for the results. I had been far too consumed up to that point by the psychological reprisals of administering such a chemical into the human system. By the time I realized what somatic results were about to occur the poor man was in the process of extreme cardiac arrest (pause) there was nothing, at that point, that I could do."

    "Are you telling me then that only two separate experiments were conducted?"


    "No?" asked Roth.

    "Seven," McGregor answered. "Seven experiments altogether."

    "So what happened to the other five?"

    "The other five I cannot, and will not, discuss under any circumstances."

    Foster stopped the tape, "And he absolutely wouldn’t either, no matter how much I begged. But whatever it was it was worse than death apparently. Somewhere something got so seriously fucked up in this that everyone’s about to take for the hills. He’s letting this out to protect himself. Obviously there’s something going on here that isn’t going to stay quiet very much longer anyway. Otherwise, why would he bother squealing at all?" He was fast-forwarding on the new side.

    Play: "And the Truth was the hallucinogen. Was this drug some kind of advanced sodium pentathol?"

    McGregor had smiled. "I have no intention of seeing the ingredients of the twentieth century’s most important drug on the front page of the Washington Post tomorrow like some kind of new martini instructions. My records, my notes, they’ve all been destroyed—"

    Foster popped the tape out, turned it over, dropped it back in, and pushed play again. "Doctor," Foster was saying, "please, wait, what is it they’re going to accuse you of doing behind their backs?" Foster pictured once again how the doctor had hesitated, remembering his own anxiety. He had felt positive that the interview was over right there. The doctor, for an excruciating last pause, stared at his desktop, then the tape recorder, then his shoes, and finally then to a point somewhere out on the beach. He did not fast-forward the tape. If he did he knew he would probably overshoot the next words.

    "You must leave now, Mister Foster. That’s all I intend to say."

    "Doctor, there’s little hope of being accurate if I don’t know what happened to these test subjects—"

    "My final word is that we did succeed, Mister Foster. Just make sure you tell the American people that I did not fail. Now, goodbye."

     "Doctor," he might have said a little forcefully, "you can’t open a can of worms like this and just walk away from it. Please."

    "Leave, Foster, or I’ll have you thrown out."

    Jabbing the button, he killed the tape.

    Roth whispered, "My god, what the hell is this?"

    "Roth, I’m almost to the airport and traffic’s starting to get tricky. I need to call some helpers before I get on the plane."

    "Where the hell are you going now?"

    "I’m coming back home but I need to get the wheels turning on this."

    "Graham, we may need to put someone more seasoned on this."

    Foster, quite suddenly, went completely numb. "He asked specifically for me."

    "Yes and you’ll do his story. But it’s going to go a lot farther than McGregor very soon. How old are you, Graham?"

    "Twenty-six." He had no idea what to say. Begging was the first option that sprang to mind, and it was one thing he knew would sink him faster than anything else.

    "This is Cronkite country Graham, that’s all I’m saying. Larry King gets this kind of shit. If you were to screw this up—"

    "Roth it can’t happen."

    "Did he tell you why he asked for you?"

    "Yeah, he said he called the switchboard, asked to talk to the youngest journalist on the payroll."

    "That’s crazy."

    Foster shrugged. "He said, and I quote, ‘I want someone trying to make a name for themselves who doesn’t already have one. Someone who can make it their life’s focus, at least until the Truth comes out."

    "All that brain, and he’s a comedian. We’re going to have to talk more about this when you get back. All I can say for now is tread lightly, then we’ll see what happens."

    "Believe me I will," he said, but Roth had already cut the connection.

    It hadn’t seemed like a good idea to share how crazy he already felt. This was the brink of a career he had never really allowed himself to believe he would ever have the luck to find. Roth was right, of course. The appropriate move on his part would be to let a time-proven reporter take the reigns on this—but nothing about the situation so far had been appropriate. McGregor, wishing to divulge something like this, should have been divulging to no less than a room bursting with press. Assuming there was any way to break a scandal appropriately.

    Quickly he called the next number on his mental list. Melissa Hutchins, back in DC, same age, Harvard grad, working at a law firm downtown and already bored shitless. By the absolute mercy of the gods she was home. "Mel, its Graham. Listen carefully and write this down because I’m in the world’s greatest hurry, okay? In the next few days something really big is about to happen in this country and I’m hoping you’ll drop everything right now and do some leg work for me." He was seeing the signs for the airport.

    "What’s really big?"

    "Time and Life simultaneously, covers both."

    "You’re shitting me."

    "Not even a little. Are you in?"

    "Hell yeah I’m in. What’s the deal?"

    "Story later. I just got done giving it to Roth and I’m about to get on a plane. Now, I need you to get in contact with the office of Senator Anthony Ribaldi in Washington, or in Virginia—wherever the hell he happens to be at the moment. Tell him Walt McGregor has just given Graham Foster of the Washington Post the Truth story—specifically at ten am eastern, May the twenty-sixth. Ask him if he cares to comment before we run the story, but it has to be in the next few hours because we’re going to press with it tonight. Set up an appointment with him in regards to the Truth, in my name. Say you’re my secretary. I’ll bet every cent I ever make he’s in touch within the hour. Also, call the offices of the assistant director of the FBI, Robert Hayward. Tell him the same thing."

    "Got it, you ballsy son of a bitch."

    "Last but not least I have to find somebody who was on this doctor’s research team. Hayward and Ribaldi will both know damn well what you’re talking about and to get that is worth its weight in gold, Mel. It’s virtually everything. You won’t get it, but hope for a miracle anyway. ‘Bye."

    He killed the connection as he made the turn-off to the airport, still passing those without wings.



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