Saturday, December 18, 2010

The brain-pickers

Jeff Bender was a psychic P.I. Technically, Jeff’s profession was illegal. Classified as a class B felony, colloquially known as “mind-rape.” Jeff was automatically banned from even stepping foot inside a casino.

However, there was a thriving black market for psychic P.I.’s, with a wide range of clients. They were handy in custody battles, where the ex-wife wanted the dirt on her no-good spouse. In competitive sports, where one player wanted to know the secret weakness of his opponent.

Although illegal, Jeff was a strictly off-the-books consultant to the Pentagon, where he could pick the brains of an enemy scientist.

Even though his profession was technically illegal, his crime was rarely enforced. The DA was afraid to prosecute a psychic P.I., since certain details concerning the DA’s youthful indiscretions or extracurricular interests might mysteriously find their way into the headlines a day after the indictment was handed down.

It took intense mental discipline to be a psychic P.I. You had to learn how to shut out the miscellaneous thoughts of all the men and women around you. And it was very disorienting to immerse yourself in someone else’s mind. Hard to maintain your personal identity. Your thoughts mingled with his, or hers.

After each case, it became harder to disengage your memories from the memories of the host. You needed time between cases to sort it out. Separate yourself from the entangling host.

To penetrate the mind of the host required one’s undivided attention. In his basement, Jeff had a soundproof room with a hospital bed, I.V. line, catheter, and so on, to keep his body under mild sedation and hydration for long hours while he tried to find his bearings inside the bewildering mind of the host.

Psychic detective work often involved a degree of serial mind-jumping. To extract a secret, you frequently had to approach the mind of the host through the mind of a trusted third party. Having that sympathetic connection made it easier to coax incriminating or embarrassing secrets from the mind of the host. After entering the mind of the host through the mind of a third party, you normally had to retrace your steps to regain consciousness.

In his current case, a mobster retained his services to pick the brains of a business rival. Jeff went through the mind of the businessman’s brother to reach into the mind of the host.

Unfortunately, this came with occupational hazards. While Jeff was successfully navigating the mind of the host, he suddenly felt a kickback, like a rifle recoiling. When he went back to check, he found out that his exit was gone. Where there had been a backdoor, there was now a wall.

As it turns out, the brother just died from a headshot in a gangland slaying. With his escape route cut off, that left Jeff trapped in the mind of the host.

So Jeff had to find another way out. In principle, it was possible to regain consciousness if he jumped into the mind of someone with whom he had an emotional bond. Someone who remembered him. A friend or relative. He could use that preexisting pathway to make the return trip.

However, his profession generated a bit if a dilemma in that regard. When you know what other people really think of you, it’s hard to maintain a friendship. As such, Jeff didn’t have any current friends. He wasn’t in a relationship. He gave up on girlfriends, for however understanding they were, he could always overhear their unspoken resentments. The things they thought of saying, wanted to say, but bit their tongue. The girl talk. What they said bout him when he wasn’t around.

And that applied to his other relationships, or lack thereof. His profession was a recipe for misanthrope. Had he know psychic detective work was so lonely, he would have chosen a different career. But it was too late now.

Was there anyone else he could use as a bridge to get back? He thought of classmates from junior high and high school. But that was so long ago. The emotional connections generally weakened over the years as you lost contact.

Still, he’d been to his 20th high school reunion last year, which gave him a chance, albeit brief, to renew his acquaintance with some students he knew way back when. But he was running out of time. His body could only survive untended for a few days while his mind played hooky. If his body died, he would be stuck in the head of this mobster for life. A distinctly unsavory prospect.

Jeff dipped into the minds of the classmates his chatted with at the reunion. But he didn’t mean that much to most of them, as he found out, trolling their minds.

However, there was one student who still cared about him. They had been good friends in junior high and high school. But that was before Brad got religion. Jeff couldn’t stand Christianity. It was incomprehensible to him how anyone could take the Bible seriously.

So they had a falling out shortly after Brad got saved. Not that Brad broke off the friendship. But Jeff lost all respect for Brad.

That was some twenty years ago. But now, ambling through the mind of his old school buddy, with whom he recently reconnoitered at their reunion, he discovered that Brad was the only one who continued to care about his long-long friend. Indeed, Brad had been praying for Jeff all these years.

But what is more, for the first time in his life, Jeff was seeing the Christian faith from the inside out. Through the eyes of his friend. He was privy to Brad’s inmost experience. And it suddenly fell into place. It suddenly made sense.

Of course, there was some sordid stuff in Brad’s mind. Not the sort of thing you’re proud of. Not the sort of thing you’d publicize.

But Jeff was used to that. Everybody had that sort of thing in the back of their minds. Often in the forefront. Whenever you mucked about in another man’s mind, you got your boots muddy. But Brad had something else. Something not of this world.

Jeff was able to use Brad’s mind as a catwalk to regain consciousness. He awakened, back in his body, lying on the hospital bed, with tubes and all.

He was the same, but not the same. For some of Brad’s memories were now a part of his memories. Memories of Brad’s conversion experience. Of answered prayer. Of God’s subtle, but fatherly providence in Brad’s life over the last twenty years or so. Passages of Scripture, committed to memory. Stanzas of hymns, inaudibly sung in the inner recesses of the mind.

Jeff couldn’t get that out of his head. It grew on him, like a vine.