Answers Without Questions- Mel Cartagena

Posted: May 9, 2011 in Short Stories
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photo by Melvin Cartagena

Answers Without Questions

By Mel Cartagena



Subject: Answers without questions


Don’t hear from you anymore ever since you got transferred to forensic pathology. Either the work is so easy you don’t want to share the gravy train with me, or you’re too busy to send me a social email.

Either way, that’s what I’m writing to you about. In doing some spring cleaning over here I came across this document. It looks like one of your former cases.

The content looks like the answers to a Q & A session that never took place, about things that never happened, except for the part about the fatal beating of William Rhodell.

It was among the notes of your one of your most famous cases, the one that almost killed his girlfriend, and beat to death that private investigator she hired to find him, who it turns out she was having an affair with. The things people do. I bring it to your attention because it’s interesting to see how he’s created a saga of paranoia and mind control over a case of marital infidelity. And it looks like you figure prominently in these fantasies.   

There are other ‘reports’ among the many pages in his room,

Different formats that go from hardboiled detective    first-person narrations to conversation transcripts to pieces like the one attached in this message, but he has spun what amounts to a sordid affair into a heroic-romantic tale. Such consistency in delusions is remarkable in a mental patient. Either he compliments his hyperactive imagination with great storytelling skills or he has demystified creative writing to the point where he could take anything and turn it into a novel. (I’ve always been of the opinion that there should be more work in all media from mental patients.)

Well, let’s try and get in touch sometime, sincerely,


1)   I’m fine, thank you.

2)   I went by the name Corso, Jason, aka Jay. Sometimes it was Corbo. It depended on the time period I was working in.

3)   1.82 m, brown/blue, 81 kg.

4)   Worked for Hinterlands for 7 years, objective present time.

5)   Found out about them from a newspaper ad.


7)   No.

8)   The interview was a roundabout, frustrating experience at first, as was the second interview, but I assumed that spies talk in such a fashion, and the very strangeness of it made it appealing. Eventually, after a few meetings that revolved around post-modern literature, the recruiter told me what it was about.

9)   It’s a long time until you die. Even a day can be a long time to spend in your own company. Most of a lifetime is spent trying to escape yourself. Realizing this, and knowing what Hinterlands was about, I decided I might as well be getting paid to be somebody else.

10)  Yes.

11)  My specialty was pattern recognition and subversion.

12)  Yes.

13)  Eidetic recall implants surgically installed on my temples.

14)  No, they don’t work.

15)  They tested me after decommissioning surgery.

16)  No. All I can recall of the previous interrogation sessions are fragments. The effect is like walking down a street with heavy activity. You only get pieces of the activity, bits and pieces from a larger canvas you can never fully see.

17)  Yes.

18)  Because memories are private. They are fuzzy, and toned in sepia, and they are mine. Recall was intrusive, as it never belonged to me. I was an instrument of observation for Hinterlands, but it didn’t bother me, not at first.

19)  Yes.

20)  I was a class 1-B jaunter, officially. Unofficially I had class 1-A jaunting abilities I picked up on my own, and this enabled me to escape Hinterlands surveillance for relatively long stretches of time. At my peak I was able to displace myself across all of time and space.

21)  So I could be everywhere and nowhere at once.

22)  Because in doing so I could escape the space-time continuum for a little while. Existence is repetition, history is repetition. The only thing that changes are the technology and the names of the characters. All of us are doomed to repeat what has happened before.

23)  Yes.

24)  My greatest goal now is to become the main character in a hardboiled/detective novel series.

25)  Yes.

26)  The Parker series, by Richard Stark; and the Burke series by, Andrew Vachss.

27)  They exist for only one thing. They do this one thing and they go into hibernation, so to speak. They get shelved until the next book, or until the reader picks up the book and brings them to life by reading the book. They are precise and existentially accurate. Their lives are segments of character-specific action, followed by a long rest between books. They are never stuck in traffic, or waiting in line at the DMV. They never wait in anxiety for the results to an AIDS test, or to see if they’ll be fired from their jobs for a mistake they did. And when the book is finished, they’re free of the burden of being themselves for a while.

28)  I don’t see it as me becoming corrupt. Rather, my views have changed.

29)  That’s your opinion. The only difference is, you have the people in power convinced of your view of things, and I’m alone in my beliefs.

30)  I’d say it was in Berkeley, California, where my views changed. I was on assignment there during the civil unrest of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

31)  I was working my way into the inner circle of friends of Philip K. Dick, the writer. Part of my cover identity required providing drugs for the kids that crashed there, and eventually, for Mr. Dick himself.

32)  Yes.

33)  It was indirect contact at first. I’d met Rhodell a few weeks before at a party, but didn’t think too much of it. Then, in procuring a stimulant known as the House of Mirrors, I stumbled into his operation.

34)  People I made acquaintances with said he was always asking about me, but I didn’t make too much of it because by then paranoia had set in. Everyone thought everyone else was a spook or a narc out get them. The Philip K. Dick syndrome had spread to the entire Bay Area, you could say.

35)  Rhodell approached me at a party. He leaned into me and said he knew what I was, knew what I really was.

36)  When I didn’t react to his statement he said he was ‘one of us.’

37)  A few days later I found a note posted to my door in the rooming house I was living in, in downtown Berkeley.

38)  ‘Meet me at Point Isabel Shoreline Park at 2:00 PM.’ It was signed Rhodell.

39)  The conversation was roundabout, circumspect. It was like being back at the Hinterlands Training Center. Rhodell’s cadences and speech rhythms had the distinct stamp of Hinterlands training. He also dropped enough names from the academy to convince me he was indeed ‘one of us’.

40)  He also quoted Jaeger.

41) Hans Jaeger. Nineteenth Century Norwegian writer/philosopher/anarchist.

42)  “A passion to destroy is also a passion.”

43)  It was not so much me rebelling against Hinterlands as not seeing a reason why not.

44)  It didn’t seem to make a difference to me one way or the other, though Rhodell did use practical arguments in trying to convince me to join his drug-dealing  venture. I didn’t see the point in telling him I was already convinced.

45)  He said that we were not doing anything other Hinterlands operatives weren’t doing already.

46)  Yes.

47)  He said O’Brien was a better Case Officer than Benway, that O’Brien simply reports incidents and passes them up the chain of command, whereas Benway has his own investigation team, the Rouge Agents Division. He said Benway sends them out to do things like ‘confiscating’ an Agent’s contraband for their own purposes, among other things.

48)  As I said earlier, everything is repetition, so it made no difference what I did. So I didn’t see why we shouldn’t run a side operation for profit while in assignment at Berkeley.

49)  I guess it wouldn’t make sense to you, but the first and second World Wars don’t make sense to me, and neither does the rise of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. Korea and Vietnam didn’t make sense either, though I’m sure you can find plenty of justification for them. There’s a very thin line between understanding and self-deception.

50)  Rhodell and I consolidated.

51)  Sally, the girl I was with, she was going to UC Berkeley as a Philosophy major. She started handing out samples of the House of Mirrors to her friends.

52)  Rhodell knew some military researchers. They took money from him, but always insisted it was about making some kind of political statement when they supplied him with the drug.

53)  I set up a packaging and distribution center in a small warehouse I rented in the Richmond waterfront.

54)  Yes I did.

55)  The effect that made it so popular and gave it its name repelled me.

56)  It was like your field of vision on your left eye was mirrored on your right eye, for example. This could just as quickly flip to the opposite eye. I didn’t like that, so after one try I stopped using it.

57)  Mostly I smoked marihuana, and I did try acid on a few occasions. Eventually I stopped all drug use.

58)  It interfered with my recall abilities, which I needed to keep in working order for my assignment.

59)  I don’t think you have enough clearance to hear this.

60)  Well, that’s different then. Some of my assignment highlights are selling Abraham Zapruder the 8 mm camera he used to film the Kennedy assassination with. I also sold Mark David Chapman the .38 caliber Charter Arms gun he used to shoot and kill John Lennon. I also broke into Philip K. Dick’s house while he was out getting groceries and his car broke down, and stole some of his personal documents, reinforcing his paranoid tendencies. This is the famous incident which he blames on the feds.

61)  To me these assignments served no other purpose than to make martyrs and celebrities out of these people. These assignments also confirmed my belief that nothing made sense, so nothing I did mattered. So if Hinterlands was shaping history, then Rhodell and I were shaping our reality.

62)  Our business picked up.

63)  Sally made us some steady customers at UC, and some of them were students that came from downstate. They turned their friends on to the House of Mirrors at USC, UCLA, Cal Tech and so on. Soon, carloads of college kids were making trips to the Bay Area to buy our product in bulk, and it wasn’t long before people who fronted for Hollywood stars came around looking for what we had.

64)  A couple of students at UC Berkeley went blind for no reason. Healthy, young, well-off students with good health care and no history of hysterical blindness or other forms of blindness in their families.

65)  We assumed it was something else. Maybe a side effect from mixing the House of Mirrors with some other drug.

66)  When Sally told me that five out of five friends she introduced to the House of Mirrors went blind within days of each other. As best as she could recall, they lost their sight in the same order in which they tried the drug.

67)  Yes, it did sound like one of those endorsements from the AMA to get you to buy some product. Further proof that everything is a fiction of some kind, everything an advertisement of some sort.

68)  You’re the one that made me go on a tangent.

69)  I went to Rhodell and told him what was happening.

70)  He said what I’d assumed at first, that it was some kind of side effect from mixing different drugs.

71)  I persuaded him to try a little harder, that the coincidences were too many too close together to ignore.

72)  Rhodell said he’d look into the chemical composition of House of Mirrors, even as news of collective sudden blindness in college students in California universities were becoming nationwide news.

73)  Rhodell backtracked to the original R & D team that developed the drug prototype. Right around this time, Sally told me she was having trouble seeing freeway exit signs and things like that.

74)  Sally became scared. She was convinced it was federal spooks that were doing it. It was naïve of her, yet accurate in a way. After all, Rhodell and I were working for an agency in a nebulous capacity.

75) Rhodell said to keep an eye on Sally, and let him worry about the drug.

76)  Rhodell started disappearing for days at a time.

77)  Not at first. I was dealing with Sally, who was hysterical by now. She was convinced someone was following her around campus, even as her eyesight deteriorated.

78)  I lit a fire in the warehouse that destroyed the remaining supplies of the drug.

79)  Rhodell was furious. He said I had no right to do that without consulting with him.

80)  I asked him if he’d been following Sally.

81)  Rhodell acted defensive. Told me I was being paranoid, and letting a woman tell me what to do.

82)  I confronted him about some missing money.

83)  He got angry. He said he hadn’t touched any of the money we’d made, that I probably burned it in the fire I started.

84)  A researcher talked to the press in secret and admitted to being the main connection to a Berkeley drug dealer named William Rhodell. He said he was the lead scientist of the R & D team that developed the drug. He said the original purpose was to develop an immune system booster for soldiers in Vietnam, and that the drug was made from a genetically modified syphilitic spirochete. He also said he was disgusted that his scientific skills were being used to propagate a morally corrupt war.

85)  Sally didn’t go blind, but her eyesight deteriorated permanently. She was convinced that what saved her was that she’d stopped taking the drug sometime after I did. She said she wanted to talk to the police before more people went blind.

86)  Rhodell said we had to kill her.

87)  I told him that we could just jaunt ourselves away from that time and that mess.

88)  Rhodell insisted that is wasn’t going to be that simple. He said that such a massive psycho-social disturbance in history’s timeline would register as an abnormal spike in the chronostream. That Benway would see it for what it was and deploy a task force after us.

89)  I insisted that he didn’t know any of this for sure, that nothing was true and at best it was all rumors.

90)  He said he wouldn’t leave until Sally was dead.

91)  We got into a fight.

92)  I beat him with the butt of a gun.

93)  I’d started carrying one shortly after we started selling the House of Mirrors. Some people from Oakland wanted to force us into a partnership and Rhodell had told them no. I also noticed some people following me around at night, so I bought a used gun from a guy in a San Francisco gun show.

94)  I was not able to reason with Rhodell.

95)  He was more scared of Benway than anything else.

96)  I tried shooting him in the leg first at first, but the gun jammed up, wouldn’t fire. I’d never tried it before, so it’s possible I bought a defective gun.

97)  We rolled around on the floor. I swung at him with the gun and by accident connected with his left temple. Then I regained my footing, held him down on the floor, and kept hitting him until Agents from the Rouge Division materialized and arrested me on the spot.

98)  I had no idea he was dead at the moment, just unconscious.

99)  No, I didn’t mean to kill him.

100) It turns out Benway had no idea what we were doing. He was busy dealing with similar problems from other operatives in another time zone. O’Brien had suspected Rhodell for some time, and quietly started investigating him. In the end it’s what you don’t expect that gets you, so don’t worry about anything.



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