Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Demolished Man part 5: Reich Victorious

Continuing our look at Alfred Bester's space noir crime novel, The Demolished Man

As any mystery buff will tell you, a criminal investigation rests on three things: Means, Motive and Opportunity. Telepathic detective Lincoln Powell can prove that industrialist Ben Reich had the means and the opprtunity to kill his business rival, Craye D'Courtney. He thought he could prove the motive as well, but the coded message from D'Courtney to Reich believed to carry a rejection of Reich's murder offer was actually an acceptance. Reich had every reason, financially, to keep D'Courtney alive; and so the computer in the D.A.'s office which authorizes all prosecutions has thrown out the whole case. Has Reich successfully avoided Demolition?

The dreams won't stop.

He has killed his arch-enemy and rival, he has avoided the police at every turn, but still Ben Reich finds himself pursued in his nightmares by the relentless Man With No Face. He thought that the Man represented D'Courtney, but D'Courtney's dead; why does the Man still chase him?

He just returning to New York from Spaceland. Awakened from another of his nightmares, he goes into the shower of his stateroom to wash up before disembarking. He's just starting up the auto-massage when on a whim he ducks out of the alcove to call room service for a cup of coffee. That whim saves his life as an explosion rips through the sauna. Someone has taken the Detonation Bulbs he carries with him out of his luggage and planted them in the heads of the automatic massage unit.

Why would he carry mini-grenades with him? For self-defense, since guns seem unknown? As a JIC if he should need to kill another witness? We aren't told; just that; he always carried them. After all, even paranoids have enemies; and it seems that Ben Reich has one too.

When he arrives at his office, he calls his Chief of Espionage, 2nd Class Esper Ellery West. If someone is trying to assassinate him, Reich will need an esper to help him. Ellery is packing his desk. It seems that the Esper's Guild has decided that using telepathy to conduct corporate espionage is a violation of it's Ethical Code, and so West must resign. Reich offers to put West on private retainer, like his personal physician; but he learns that the Guild has ruled against exclusive practices as well. "It limits the service of peepers. We've got to be dedicated to the most good for the most people."

Reich is sure that Powell arranged this somehow, but West assures him this is not the case. The astute reader might even recall a hint this might happen in the cascading conversation at Powell's cocktail party before the murder.

Reich tries calling his accomplice, Gus Tate and gets a notice of disconnection. Tate is dead, killed by one of the goons sent by Keno Quizzard to eliminate Powell. Next he goes to his safe and once again narrowly escapes being caught in the explosion of a bomb.

He grabs "the malignant steel flower", the collapsible knife/pistol he used to murder D'Courtney, from the wreckage of his safe as well as the neuron scrambler he had taken from Chooka Frood's bodyguard, and another handful of Detonation Bulbs from his desk. Handy things to have. Ignoring the stares of his staff at his shredded clothing and the bleeding lacerations on his skin, he goes down to the basement garage to get a jumper. But as he turns the key in the car door, he hears the sound of another booby trap and dives for cover as the bomb in the jumper goes off, rupturing the fuel tank and spewing fuel over the garage.

Three assassination attempts in less than a day. Reich is not about to wait for more. He hails a cab for Chooka Frood's Rainbow House. He barges in, clobbers Chooka's bodyguard -- (Chooka really needs a better bodyguard; this is the second time Reich's mopped the floor with her) -- and accuses her of setting the booby traps.
"I beat the hell out of your girl-friend and I beat the hell out of you. So you got frabbed off and set those traps, right? ... It has to be you, Chooka. You're the only one with a gripe and the only one who hires gimpsters. That adds up to you, so let's get it squared off." He slapped the safety off the scrambler. "I've got no time for a two-bit hater with coffin-queer friends."
Chooka denies knowing anything about the bombs. She suggests it might be Quizzard, or Jerry Church; or maybe a peeper got the combination to his safe...

Reich makes the obvious connection. "My God... Oh my God... Yes," he says. "The cop. Powell. Yes. Mr. Holy Lincoln Powell." It all makes sense.

Immediately Reich comes up with a plan. He's getting good at improvisational murder. He has Chooka summon Powell on a pretext. While Powell is on his way to the Rainbow House, Reich scoots over to Powell's place to set a trap of his own. Encountering Mary Noyes in the garden, he paralyzes her with the neural scrambler. He carries Mary inside, deciding to kill her in the house, plant detonation bulbs on her body, and wait for Powell to find her. But before he can carry out the plan, he realizes he's being watched.
She was at the head of the stairs, kneeling and peeping through the banisters like a child. She was dressed like a child in tight little leotards with her hair drawn back and tied with ribbon. She looked at him with the droll, mischievous expression of a child. Barbara D'Courtney. 
"Hello," she said. 
Reich began to shake. 
"I'm Baba," she sad. 
Reich motioned to her faintly. 
She arose at once and came down the stairs, holding on to the banister carefully.  "I'm not s'posed to," she said.  "Are you Papa's friend?" 
He's face to face with the daughter of the man he killed and the only witness to the crime. And she doesn't know it. Her conscious mind has been regressed to that of a child as part of the therapy to help her cope with the psychic trauma of seeing her father's death. The "Papa" she's referring to, and whom she says is coming back soon, is Powell, who has been caring for her and is the only father her conscious mind currently remembers. Reich thinks she means her real father and that this is all part of some elaborate mind game.

He grabs Barbara roughly. As she struggles with him, Powell returns. Partway to Chooka's place he realized her call was a trick and hurried home; now he's back just in time to beat the living snot out of Reich.

Then Powell tells Reich that he's a free man. "Notice I said free. Not innocent." The case against him is closed. He explains how they had everything they needed to convict him except for the Objective Motive. "Of course I could throw this breaking and entering with deadly intent at you ... but it's too small a charge. Like shooting a popgun after you misfire with a cannon. You could probably beat it too."

Reich refuses to believe it and accuses Powell of planting the booby traps in the stateroom, in the safe and in the jumper. Powell has no idea what he's talking about, and so peeps into Reich's mind. What he sees shocks him.

"My God!" ... "That's it. ... That explains it ... And Old Man Mose was right. Passion motive, and we thought he was kittenish ... and Barbara's Siamese Twin Imge ... And D'Courtney's guilt ... No wonder Reich couldn't kill us at Chooka's ..." But he sees something else in Reich's mind that makes him realize that Reich isn't just a criminal who needs to be brought to justice; he poses an even greater threat to all of society.

At this point, we are as confused as Reich is; Powell does not explain what he peeped or how that led him to this conclusion. It takes a moment for Powell to regain his composure, and when he does he tells Reich flat out why the case against him collapsed. The coded message D'Courtney sent to Reich was an agreement to a merger; so Reich had no reason to want him dead.

Reich doesn't believe him. "The bastard refused." But Powell goes on.
"I'm not the man who's trying to murder you. That man is trying to kill you because he knows you're safe from Demolition. He's always known what I've just discovered ... that you're the deadly enemy of our entire future. ...He's your ancient enemy, Reich ... A man you'll never escape. ... The Man With No Face."
Reich runs out into the night, frantically trying to sort it all out: the nightmares, the assassination attempts, D'Courtney's message -- he's sure the message said "refused"! -- all mixed up with his relentless mantra: "Tension, apprehension and dissension have begun!"

In this feverish state he runs into someone we'd forgotten about: Galen Chevril, the young esper who tried to crash Maria Beaumont's party the night of the murder. Reich had warned the kid off to keep him from peeping his murder plan. As far as Chevril knows, Reich did him a favor that night and he's happy to help him out.

Reich takes Chevril to see the Police Commissioner. "I was almost murdered three times today."

Commissioner Crabbe is aghast. "Murdered! ... Of Course. That Powell is a fool. I should never have listened to him. The men who killed D'Courtney is trying to kill you." And he tells Reich how the D.A.'s computer had vindicated him.

Chevil confirms the truth of what the Commissioner says. "The Prosecution Computer has declined to authorize any action against you for the D'Courtney murder. Mr. Powell has been forced to abandon the case and ... well ... his career is very much in jeopardy."

This is the best possible news for Reich. He leaves the Commissioner's office laughing in triumph. He's beaten the murder rap, he's in a position to take over D'Courtney's empire; he has everything.
"And I'll own you!" he shouted, raising his arms to engulf the universe. "I'll won you all! Bodies, passions, and souls!"
That's when he catches glimpse of a tall, ominous, familiar figure on the street... A Man With No Face.
And then everything goes black.

NEXT:  Powell takes the ultimate risk; Mass Cathexis; Reich's triumph. And then all the stars go out. Demolition.

No comments: