talonkarrde: (Default)
I had been watching the target for weeks now, watching as he stole and lied and charmed his way through the nights, and I was reasonably sure that I knew his path, style, and dealings. Tonight was my chance to put what I knew to the test.

I’d been following him almost every night, the same repetition of events with only backdrops changing. Last week, it was a high-profile dinner, a late-night soiree, and then the afterparty at a producer’s mansion every single day. Last week was New York, the week before that Paris, and I had seen more people on the Fortune 100 and Who’s Who of Hollywood than I ever thought I’d meet. But it was worth the time; I had stayed anonymous and figured out the alpha and omega of his modus operandi, and fuck, he was slick.

Slick enough that he never made a bet he couldn’t win, slick enough that even if you hated his fucking guts, you had to give him credit for pulling off things you could never pull off. Maybe if our positions were different, I would’ve appreciated him more, but I’ve never been in the business of giving people credit.

Come to think of it, I wasn’t much in the business of righting wrongs either, but ask any one of us and you’ll hear of a case we’ve taken outside of our normal affairs. It’s not about money, or righting wrongs, or anything as obnoxious as what someone considers legal; for me, it was getting a chance to go up against Goliath — and more than that, knowing I would win.

How often do you get to bring down a giant?

Tonight’s party was at the Burj Al Arab. Yes, that one, where Federer and Agassi played on the helipad a thousand feet above Dubai, the five star hotel that’s shaped like a sail. Twenty third floor, suite of a well known actor, known for a few indie films he did in his younger years and his strong male leads that tend to sweep women off their feet. Happily married now — or at least, that’s what the papers say. This party would give them something to think about, if only they could get in.

Here the target comes, striding through the room like he owns it, and I know, know, he’s looking for the next target. The next conquest, a word he’s used once or twice while joking with the guys, but the word isn’t a throwaway phrase for him. I watch as his eyes slide down necklines and around hips, and finally settle on a friend of mine. It surprises me; I thought he’d go for one of the bigger names. She doesn’t notice him, unfortunately, and he’s forced to walk over to her and slip into the conversation, which he does, smooth as butter, bringing out laughs from the two ladies she’s with.

If only we had got to him first, I think. Then maybe he’d be my partner instead of my target, and we’d be somewhere else. Kabul, maybe, or Beirut, or—

I watch as he casually touches her arm and asks if she wants another drink, and I have to marvel, even if it’s just for a second. Honeypot, I almost whisper, and I wonder if she’ll fall for it. She smiles, that small purse of the lips and crinkle of the eyes, the half-blush, and I can see him adjusting, changing his tone, altering himself to suit her, to win her. There’s no dallying around when he gets the drinks, just a quick order and he’s making a beeline back for her, and she’s gotten rid of the others.

She asks him for a toast, and I can’t help but wonder what he’ll come up with and sidle a bit closer.

Never lie, steal, cheat, or drink. But if you must lie, lie in the arms of the one you love. If you must steal, steal away from bad company. If you must cheat, cheat death. And if you must drink, drink in the moments that take your breath away.

Of course. A natural. And I watch her eyes soften, as she smiles and whispers into his ear, and I can’t hear what they’re saying, but I don’t need to. He chuckles quietly, letting his hand smoothly rest on the small of her back, and as they talk, you could be forgiven for thinking that they had known each other all their lives. 

She says something else, a few minutes later, and you can see it on his face and leans in to kiss the corner of her mouth before he leaves and she turns to find her friends, tell them where she's going, no doubt.

It's a few minutes after that, after I'm sure he’s waiting for her in a suite somewhere, that's when she comes over to me, my friend, my colleague, my black widow, and she pouts ever so prettily, and says, “Do you think we have him?”

Whether he’s an actor, a professional con-man, or whatever else, he can’t hold a candle to the training she has. We’ll know all about him soon enough, and our work here is just about finished. All I can say is this:

“Don’t have too much fun, Delilah.”
talonkarrde: (Default)
The main problem with deception is this: once you get really good at it, you find it almost impossible to stop. It's a skill, just like any other, and it's pure human nature to showcase what you're good at — whether it’s tennis, finance, or manipulating people.

Even when you want to tell the truth, it's hard not to put that slightly enhanced edge on your words that makes them easier to hear — that fine coating on sugar on a bitter pill, often. And when you want to mislead someone, of course, the talent comes out in full force, and every time you spin a beautiful web of lies that glitters and stands up to all attempts to break it, you fall in love with it a little more.

So you see, it was probably inevitable that I ended up in front of the high court, accused of everything from bribery and racketeering to mopery and dopery. There was a war going on, the judge thundered down at me, and I was taking up resources that could be used elsewhere. I would be facing years in a not-too-cushy prison, he said, and then perhaps I would be conscripted for the war as cannon fodder.

Confronted with that, I did the only thing that really made sense to me — I wove the most beautiful web ever.

I told the judges I wasn't always in control of myself, that I had other people in my head, that it was crowded in this body, and all I could do, sometimes, was sit back and watch. It was supplemented with evidence my defense lawyers came up with — video of me in public places, dressed differently, in different ‘personas’. A Russian factory manager named Vladimir, a French poet called Georges, a Southern gentleman called Tom Hicks, each of their — of my — actions were paraded in front of the judges. Their different accents, their different interactions with people, they were clearly not the same person — the only common thread was that, well, they all shared this body.

I could see the web in front of me, my falsehoods supporting one another, glittering like diamonds, as the judge tested it, watching the videos, watching me. I stood there as myself, looking weak and ashamed as the shrinks came in and gave their opinions, and my web trapped all of these experts.

#

The cameras in the asylum were always watching, and as a result, I spent my days fooling them, creating other people living inside my head, and showcasing my results to the cameras, visible and otherwise. When I was Vlad, I spoke wif a heevy accent, like dees. When Georges was around, he greeted the all the female residents in French — "Ah, mes amoures!" They started out as caricatures, but that was the point — they were immediately obvious as being different. They were easy to react to.

But it needed to be more than that, especially since I knew the authorities were still suspicious. In order to be more convincing, I needed to be them instinctively, without thinking; I constructed personas for them, thought-patterns, backgrounds. I learned languages from the books of my 'homelands' that I requested, and slipped more and more easily into their mindspaces, as I thought of it.

I diversified — they needed to have different skills, be completely independent, and so each one started learning something that would make sense for them to know. Georges became an excellent people-person, with a high EQ; he could calm even the most aggravated people down. Vladimir developed an eye for logistics — as a factory manager, he needed to make sure the cogs were always spinning optimally. And so on — the surprising thing was that my characters were all fairly good at their chosen skills. When Vlad was ‘front’, or in control, they asked him to improve the inventory management for our food. Tom was asked about survival skills, something he had picked up living alone in the bayous and forests of the South.

Once I established how the others’ minds would work, I practiced slipping into them on demand. I was good, but not good enough — I always had at least a few seconds of lag time when I ‘switched’. But I wanted it to be perfect, and soon realized that to do it properly, I needed to keep their minds in mine at all times, so that it was a simple matter of shifting who was ‘in charge’. Once I realized that, it was simple.

The 'switches', where I would change from one persona to another, would come with moments or cues that I knew the shrinks would pick up on, and I became an expert, never failing once to switch, even if it was extremely inconvenient for me. It was the point that it was inconvenient which would fool the shrinks, I knew — the same way doctors test for a real unconscious victim by putting a patient’s hand above their head. If the doctor let go and their hand smacked them in the face, they weren’t faking.

Letting my switches be inconvenient was a small price to pay not to be rotting in jail or worse, conscripted.

#

The main problem with deception is this: when you're good at lying to other people, you're also pretty damn good at lying to yourself. After all, you are just as human as the people you lie to, and deceiving yourself is often infinitely more useful than deceiving others.

Physiologically, you are most convincing if you're not lying when you're telling a lie. Simply put, the paradox explains that the best politicians, polygraph-busters, and successful con men all share something in common: we believe every word that's coming out of our lips as we’re saying them.

I opened my eyes one fine Friday morning and without thinking, flirted in French with the nurse that came in. I, Georges, paused for a moment, and realized that I had succeeded — I was all of those people I had constructed six months ago, and their thoughts were as natural to me as breathing. I believed in this lie that I was telling, and that meant the world had no choice but to believe, too.

For a week, it was a beautiful outcome. I was sharing headspace with my other personas, and could shift in and out of them at will. I was content in my deception; I would live a comfortable life here until I got tired of the others, pretended I was cured, and then go back to my old ways. I had beaten the system; maybe I could even make a book from it — under a pseudonym, of course.

I revelled in my success, and let go of my control, and that was the fatal mistake. Even then, I think, I should’ve seen the symptoms, the start of the whispers even when the others weren’t occupying my body, the tics that were definitively not myself. But I was busy celebrating, crowing my success at having completely deceived the Man.

I didn’t realize that I had also completely deceived myself.

Exactly a week after my ‘success’, I found myself alone in a hallway for a moment, and decided to revert back to myself, which is something that should have been simple. I hadn’t tried for a while, but it was necessary to keep up the deception. Here, though, I was reasonably sure there weren’t cameras; I wanted quiet for a moment from the others’ thoughts that I kept streaming.

I couldn’t.

They found me on the floor, clawing at my face.

"GET OUT, GET OUT OF MY HEAD—"

I was a spider, caught in my own beautiful web.

#

In the tormented mess of my mind, the languages I knew flowed into one another, my words as muddled as my thoughts. I spent a week on suicide watch, babbling nonsensically, switching between languages, between personas, between myself and myself and myself.

I had lost who I was and for a while, I could only find glimpses of sanity, moments when I knew my true name, when I knew who I really was; the rest were lost to me, their—my memories locked out. And even when I was myself, those switches that I had constructed to deceive the shrinks would kick in, unconsciously, and I would lose myself to Tom, or Vlad, or Georges. It could be minutes or days before I resurfaced, and each time, it was more wearying to hold on.

Those same shrinks that I had caught in my web were now my only hope. They spoke of disorders and personality changes and how my other personalities had finally ‘learned of each others’ existence’, as if it was some holy grail of psychology that they were witnessing. I wanted to tell them — I did tell them, when I was lucid enough — that it was bullshit, they weren’t witnessing enlightenment, just self-destruction.

But when do sane men listen to those committed?

Day by day, though, the psychologists that I had deceived so beautifully now saved me from that deception-turned-reality, extricated me from the web that bound me. Session by session, they tried to organize my thoughts, establish control, and somehow, somehow, it started to work. The other’s voices, their thoughts, no longer came together, at the same time; I could sort them out, tell who was speaking, and I grasped onto myself longer and longer. I was the alpha, the center, the front, and they were just creations, I kept telling myself.

With time, my ‘illness’, my deception, was cured — or at least, the symptoms addressed. There was me again, a mind that was, if not in perfect control, at least able to quell the others. It was, to me, the greatest irony — I was saved from the madness I had inflicted upon myself by the very people that I had fooled.

Inside the asylum, I learned to stop weaving tangled webs to deceive.

#

The main problem with deception is this: once you construct a lie, build a framework to support it, and then go forward with it, you can never take it back. Every time you convince someone of something, they put effort into believing it, they make decisions based on that belief, and they commit to that worldview that you have sold them.

Even if you go back on your words, show them proof that what you said was not the truth — if the initial deception was sound, they will always have doubts. They won’t trust what you told them at first, but neither will they trust the retraction, and are stuck in a state of limbo, of doubt. It is a crippling condition.

For a period of time after I was discharged, I was well. I was honest, I remembered what my errors had been and what price I had almost paid for them. I lived a boring life, working as a low level peon, bowing to the whims of secretaries when I used to seduce secretaries for their bosses’ passwords, working for the corporations I used to be able to bribe and blackmail and own from the shadows, with nothing but charisma and talent.

But there were times when I was given just the slightest opening, and, well, who would know if I made the truth a bit sweeter than it was? It wouldn’t hurt, certainly, and so I told a small untruth, and then another, and—

And then I found myself pounding on the door of the police station, begging to be taken back to the asylum. The voices were back, back in my head, and they wouldn’t leave. I could hear them, their voices chattering, clamouring, wanting to be the one to use these lips, to move these fingers, that to think with this mind.

I was caught by my web again — or perhaps, truly never freed from it. I couldn’t convince myself that the truth really was true, that I was only myself and the others never existed.

#

The general was a thin, severe man, with a beak of a nose and the countenance of a bird of prey. He watched me from across the table.

I had been in jail for three days, and I was expecting, after my full confession, to be taken out back and shot. From time to time, I would’ve welcomed it, given the tenuous nature of my grip on reality — on myself. It helped that there was nothing to prompt a switch, but I had to exert control to keep the others from rising to the surface, and I was getting tired. From time to time, I lost a few seconds to them, and couldn’t remember what they said or did.

I was losing it.

But here was this general, decorated with more medals than I had seen on any five other soldiers, sitting here in the interrogation chamber with me.

“Well?” I finally asked, after sitting there under his piercing stare for five minutes.

“I have reviewed every single video that has ever been taken of you,” he said quietly, his tone intensely even. “You are a master at your craft. This deception that you played on the court the first time — it bought you the safety of the asylum instead of the miserable conditions of a jail. From there, you developed your ‘other selves’ so as to pass every possible analysis, so that you would never be found out. You did it so well, though, that you lost who you were, didn’t you? And the psychologists and therapists helped you as best they can, but here you are, losing your mind, because you went back into the habit; you couldn’t resist.”

In a single speech, he had completely destroyed the web that I had constructed, erased it as if it had never been.

“You have two choices right now. If you go back out there, you’ll go back to your ways, and the voices will never leave you; you’ll never have any peace at all. Eventually, either the police will catch up to you, or you’ll kill yourself in a fit of madness. I’ve seen others do it, though none that are quite like you.”

I was still trying to fumble for my defenses, trying to come up with something, anything to distract him.

“The other choice you have is to work with me.”

My head snapped up.

“We need people that can do what you can, people that can blend in, take different personalities, that can pass into the ranks of the enemy and have a legend — a cover — that is absolutely solid. Your other talents that you have developed — logistics awareness, survival skills, a strong empathy sense — they’re all important skills that will make a difference in this war. We need you in the field, doing what you do best, and we need you to teach those skills to the others.”

And then, the kicker.

“And, of course, we would be supporting you constantly, with the best minds we have.”

To be able to weave all the webs I could; to have people depend on them; to never be caught in my own again. He knew my answer, of course, as he had known everything that was going to happen.

I think he almost smiled.

“Welcome to His Majesty’s covert strategic operations unit, Mister Charleston.”

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